I am writing this from the perspective of a white woman, who in recent days has become even more aware of this privilege, due to the horrific death of George Floyd – a black man who was murdered by a white police officer. Although this incident is far from an isolated one, but part of a sad, ongoing injustice that has been rife in America since their history began, the graphic footage of police brutality has caused many more people to speak up.
Granted, we should have all been speaking up and being proactively anti-racist all along, and it shouldn’t have taken the death of another black man for us to do so. Evidently, this is wrong, but it would be worse to dwell on this and not do anything. It is easy to have an excuse for not speaking out – I have had many over the years. Partly, I have been silent because I have felt I didn’t have the correct language to speak about these issues, that I don’t know enough, but also because I’m white and have previously felt that I don’t have a right to speak about racial issues. These are all ones that come from self ignorance, I can now admit. But I am trying to be better and that’s what counts. Recognizing your ignorance (and excuses) is the first step forward.
Over the past few days, I have been reflecting on everything to do with race; how I understand it, how I act upon it and how I can become better at being actively anti-racist. I’m not writing this post and claiming I am perfect (I’m far from it) but I am working on it in the best way that I can. I accept that it isn’t just these few weeks that matter, but it is a lifelong effort that everyone, but particularly white people must take.
I don’t have a huge platform, but I do have one and this is enough. Something you share or post could influence just one person to think differently – but that is enough. Thus, I feel it is necessary to write this post. I deplore everybody to do everything in their capacity to be actively anti-racist; in their communities, online, in work places and in every day life. Being against racism is simply not enough – we have to do more.
Britain is far from perfect. Our Prime Minister has been silent on events in Minneapolis and refuses to condemn the actions taken that ended George Floyd’s life. It was only when he was criticised by the leader of the opposition, more than a week on, that he bumbled his way through addressing it. During his previous career as a journalist, he blatantly used racist, inflammatory language. This is just one example, “It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.” And lest not forget our monarchy has been built on systematic exploitation of other races, and the current Duke of Edinburgh (Price Philip, the Queen’s husband) has been outwardly racist his whole life.
Growing up in an almost exclusively white town
I went to schools that barely had any black, or people of colour in the classrooms – students were almost completely white as well as my teachers. During my whole compulsory education, from the age of 5-18, I was never taught about black history and the realities of British led imperialism and slavery, it was never on the curriculum. It was only when I went to university and studied history that I began to understand it. It shouldn’t have taken until this age for me to wake up to the white bias of our classroom curriculum’s, and society’s ongoing, sheer denial of British imperialism. But I fear if I hadn’t have gone to university to study history specifically, I would be far more naive. In part, there is a degree of personal responsibility here, but also, a fundamental national one.
Black history and the horror of British imperialism should be at the forefront of the history we are taught from a young age. Most fundamentally, because black history is British history. We are taught the unblemished version of events, and grow up believing it until we are challenged by it, or realise we need to challenge it ourselves. For some, this process never comes to light. Instead of memorializing the great British war efforts, achievements and sense of national pride that history curriculum’s celebrate – we should be taught the realities of Britain’s past and role in harboring racial inequality.
At university, I studied the history of America, the origins of racial discrimination, the growth of white supremacy, and how inequalities still plague the country of “freedom”. In my final year, my special subject was in “Development” which focused on how Western powers – particularly America and Britain, had exploited African countries from the nineteenth century all the way up to present day. In a way, since being at university I am far more knowledgeable from a historical point of view – however, regrettably I have failed to speak out about it. But I am recognising that. I want to be better and to educate myself even further, and I encourage everybody to do the same, if you are not already doing so.
Social media and #blm
Although I think the blackout trend on social media had good intentions, I believe it ended up silencing black voices and the important educational content that had been circulating. I noticed it was primarily being used by white people, who had not spoken out before. I feared it was being used as some form of social media bandwagon that white people could jump on to claim they had done something and been anti-racist. When many of them had perhaps not done the bare minimum which has a greater impact – like signing the George Floyd petition and donating to good causes.
Social media is a good tool to spread educational content and have your voice heard – but the simple posting of a black square is not enough nor effective in my opinion. I didn’t engage in this – but instead, shared important educational resources and the links to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.
Changing reading habits to elevate black voices, authors and POC
As someone who reads a lot and whose online presence is geared towards writing book reviews, I am going to make a real effort to diversify what I review.
I naturally float more towards fiction and in the past have read The Colour Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Help and The Underground Railroad. But I admit this isn’t enough and is not good enough. I want to read more non-fiction about race, including Reni Eddo-Lodge’s, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Layla F Saad’s Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor. I acknowledge these are mere starting points and won’t be enough to simply diversify my reading habits, as this is a lifelong process – and one that I am going to be getting on board with starting. If anyone has any specific recommendations for books I should read, please let me know!
I have also made an effort to educate myself more with podcasts. I would recommend 1619, The New York Times podcast hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones and About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge. I have also donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund and signed the George Floyd petition – but I acknowledge that these actions are not a quick fix, the struggle is life long and I will always be doing what I can to speak out and educate myself. I haven’t documented this here to gloat about what I’ve done, but to encourage my readers to do the same and point them in the right direction.
Below I’m going to post a list of resources I have found helpful over the past weeks.
- As responses to George Floyd’s death go, #BlackOutTuesday was embarrassing, Fatima Bhutto
- In America, Black deaths are not a flaw in the system. They are the system, Derrick Johnson
- Fighting the racism that killed George Floyd requires more than hashtags, Nesrine Malik
- Reading list for elevating black voices:
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ELEVATING BLACK VOICES✊🏻✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 I have been following the situation in the US following the tragic murder of George Floyd. It disgusts me how someone can go to the shop to pick up a few things and never return home because of prejudiced actions against the colour of their skin. I don’t want to live in a world where people lose basic empathy based on physical difference. This is a crucial time to elevate black voices speaking out about their plight. As white allies we need to LISTEN and TAKE ACTION where we can and use our privilege to shield those who aren’t as privileged. That includes donating to charities and signing petitions like the ones I’ve shown here. ➖ Another thing that we should always be doing is reading the stories of black people that come from black authors. One of my university modules was African Literature and it showed me so many amazing novels that have had a profound impact on my reading. ➖ By casually incorporating black written novels, tv shows and films into our daily media consumption we become more empathetic and create space for more people to share their stories. We should support those who already have! This also goes for movies and tv shows which I have recommended too. ➖ I also wanted to include some stories that aren’t related to black struggles by black authors because there are so many that don’t get the same attention on here. ➖ We need to read up on the injustices created by white supremacy while they are so fresh on the news, and let black people know that their lives matter to us and we won’t idly stand by while they are killed by the people who are paid to defend them . #blacklivesmatter
- A comprehensive history of everything awful Boris Johnson has said, Micha Frazer-Carroll
- Instagram accounts: @candicebrathwaite, @theblackcurriculum, @rachel.cargle, @monachalabi, @winterbreeanne, @laylafsaad, @ninacorn, @kai_isaiah_jamal
- Further reading lists: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2020/jun/03/do-the-work-an-anti-racist-reading-list-layla-f-saad
I am by no means perfect. Feel free to call me out if I’ve said anything wrong, or could have phrased things differently. I am very much still learning, but as always, I am open to starting conversations and helping each other. If you have any other good resources please comment them below!
I hope this honest insight from me may have helped at least one person re-assess their actions and words. Together we must always be fighting for black voices to be given the respect they deserve. This fight is ongoing and long term, and it goes beyond the realm of posting on social media. Education is lifelong but I’m sure you’ll all be joining me in this process. Thank you for reading.
“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”Angela Davis, author of Women, Race, and Class.