Been trying to process my thoughts during a period of deep contemplation over the past week. Thinking about my experiences as a light-skinned mixed race British man. I wonder about how my experience might have been different if I was white or black.
I look back on my childhood with happy memories. Obvious racial abuse was rare for me but I definitely knew I was different. My mum used to tell me to stay out of trouble because even if I had nothing to do with it I would still be blamed.
A particular instance that stands out for me was when I was in year 6 of primary school; I had passed the 11+ exam to go to Grammar School and in the same year had been scouted to play football for Middlesbrough My Headteacher told my mum:
"Remi is a credit to his race".
Bless my headteacher - in her mind she was paying my mum the most glowing compliment. These words resonated with me then and have since become part of a story I tell people when they ask me what it was like growing up in a place where you were basically the only person of colour. Clearly, that was 25 years ago and I reckon any headteacher would now find that remark comical.
That said, right now these words feel particularly poignant, especially in the context of many well-intentioned, yet uninformed, white people coming to terms with their own privilege and what racism really is.
I often hear “I’m white and I grew up on a council estate with nothing – how have I had any sort of white privilege”.
I also hear “well Black Lives Matter is racist because what about white lives or Asian lives or Hispanic lives – all lives matter!”
Another one is, “It’s not as bad in the UK though – racism is much worse in the US”.
Then, “what are these people doing protesting, don’t they know we’re in the midst of a global pandemic?!”
And also, “but I didn’t do this – this was my ancestors and their ancestors, it’s nothing to do with me, I have my own worries to deal with.”
These comments I believe come from well-meaning white people but they miss the point.
- White privilege does not mean you have not had struggles it just means the colour of your skin is not an extra barrier – this illustrates it nicely https://www.courtneyahndesign.com/illustration/guide-white-privilege
- All lives matter – of course they do. When we say Black Lives Matter, we are shining a light on the particular plight of black people whose lives are negatively impacted at each and every layer of institution. All lives matter WHEN black lives matter.
- Racism seems much more overt in the US with the very vivid imagery of physical violence, the fact the police carry guns and the pure numbers of unarmed black people at the hands of the police. However, you only have to Google “police brutality black people UK” and there are plenty of examples there. On top of that, what you have here is more insidious and I’d urge you to look into systemic racism in the Met police for example – something I did a presentation on in my English class 20 years ago!
- Imagine feeling so desperate for change that you would risk your life to have your voice heard…
- It may indeed have been our ancestors that colonised and enslaved but those actions have on average greatly benefitted white people in comparison to their black counterparts – it is the same in western Europe as it is in the US.
Finally, I have been thinking a lot about the people who have been shamed for what they have / haven’t posted. I think if you have an elevated platform then getting pressed to say something just comes with the territory.
I know this can cause some distress or anxiety but ultimately this is a small hardship when you compared to what black people go through on a daily basis and have gone through for generations. I also believe that people find it difficult to find their voice on such subjects, especially on social media.
I’m the same. I’m not a massive social media poster and I’ve agonised for ages about how to express myself. I have always been passionate about this subject but still find it difficult to express my thoughts in a post. I also know that just because you haven’t posted something online doesn’t mean you don’t care. I know that spirited discussions on this subject will be going on all over the country which can only be a good thing.
I think the most important thing is for people to educate themselves, open their hearts, minds and LISTEN.
If you have already made your mind up that “I know I’m not racist so my job is done” then this post will be a slap in the face for you. It is an uncomfortable thing to admit to our biases and our privilege.
Think about how you can be proactively anti-racist. Be a leader on the subject at work. Call someone out for their prejudiced views, however uncomfortable that may make you or the other person feel.
EDUCATE YOURSELF – black history isn’t only colonialism and slavery. In the fight against climate change, I think about the companies trying to reach carbon neutrality and the companies trying to reach carbon negativity so they are trying to actually reverse some of the damage. I’d be delighted to hear people’s thoughts on this subject.
Whilst I have felt despair, anger and helplessness over the past few days, I’m sure you know my message comes from a place of love.