While #BlackOutTuesday was a lovely show of solidarity for one day, remember that if you truly believe that #BlackLivesMatter, your work doesn’t start and end with you changing your profile picture for a few hours, posting a neat slogan as your status, or taking a knee for a photo op.
Your anti-racist work is ongoing. It starts with you then spreads outwards. Claiming that you’re not racist isn’t enough, it never has been. It might give you a nice fuzzy feeling inside to think that you’re one of the good ones, but doing that absolves you of your responsibility to work towards dismantling racism.
Perhaps you don’t think that’s your job. That’s cool, but if that’s the case, then I’m afraid you aren’t as not racist as you thought, which is a terrible sentence on reflection – I’m not changing it though.
“Begin by just listening. This is probably the most important and useful thing you will ever do.”
You’ll hear a lot of people of colour say that it isn’t their role to educate you, that you need to do the work yourself, which is absolutely fine. Having to explain and justify racism to people who will argue the toss with you has an emotional toll, and it’s unfair to ask that of people. But if I’m going to challenge you to do more than black out your social media for a day, I’m gonna give you some starters for ten – it seems fair.
Begin by just listening. This is probably the most important and useful thing you will ever do. In most of our conversations, we really are just waiting for our turn to talk – see if you can notice that next time you’re chatting with someone. So when people of colour tell you about their experiences, try to listen from a genuine position of wanting to understand, rather than waiting for your turn to tell them they’re wrong.
Be prepared to learn about and accept the racism that exists in your own country, rather than pointing to where you think it’s worse, as if that offers some absolution. Instead of “I just don’t see what the fuss is about [golliwogs/blacking up/saying ‘coloured’/etc.], actually try to understand what the fuss is about those things.
- You could try to understand why saying #AllLivesMatter is problematic.
- You could try to understand why saying “I just don’t see colour” or “there’s only one race: the human race“, makes me want to kick you in the frikkin neck.
- You could try to understand why saying “riots never solved anything,” or “but what about the looting,” or “Martin Luther King wouldn’t have approved of this,” are all things that you say if you just don’t really think that Black lives matter at all.
And if you can really understand those things – which means you have to open up and not get all pissy and defensive about it – then you’re able to respond with clarity the next time you hear someone else say those things to you.
Read, listen, read some more, and then read some more. The internet is great for that, but so is a bookshop.
As I said, you have to be prepared to do this work yourself, rather than relying entirely on people of colour to point you in the right direction. However, I’m in a good mood and it’s important, so here’s some stuff that springs to mind…
- White fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism – Robin Diangelo
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
- Black and British: A Forgotten History – David Olusoga
- Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire – Akala
- Brit(ish) – Afua Hirsch
- The Good Immigrant -Nikesh Shukla
- The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander
- How to be and Anti-Racist – Ibram X. Kendi
- How to Argue With a Racist – Adam Rutherford
- 13th (Netflix)
- When They See Us (Netflix)
- Noughts and Crosses (BBC)
- The Central Park 5 (Amazon)
- How Racist Are You? – Jane Elliott’s Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise (Channel 4)
- This is Water – David Foster Wallace
- From White Racist to White Anti-Racist: the life-long journey – Tema Okun & dRworks
- White people assume niceness is the answer to racial inequality. It’s not – Robin DiAngelo
- ”White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Knapsack Peggy McIntosh
People (by no means an exhaustive list, just a few who spring to mind)
- 5’7″ Black Male
- Prof. Sunny Singh
- Dr Muna Abdi
- Pran Patel
- Ash Sarkar
- John Amaechi
- Reni Eddo-Lodge
- Guilaine Kinouani
- Brittany Packnett Cunningham
- Ibram X. Kendi
- Alikah Hughes
- Sophia Akel
- Ijeoma Oluo
- Black Cultural Archives
- Black History 365
I think that’s plenty to be going on with don’t you? It’s in no way an exhaustive list, it’s just what came to mind as I was writing this. I’ll keep checking back and updating it when I can be bothered, but if you have anything you’d like to add, use the comments below.
Now you’re in a position to start the work. Start small. I say small, but actually, this is a pretty big deal. Challenge your friends and your family, and your colleagues, and do it consistently.
If you hear an off-colour joke, a comment, something that you know isn’t ok, don’t let it go and smile uncomfortably, like we’ve all done so many times before. Maybe this is a big ask, but if you’re serious about it, if you really think dismantling racism is important, then you’ll put your neck on the line.
Be prepared to fall out with family members and to lose friends, because not everyone will appreciate what you have to say. This might sound harsh, but if you’re not willing to do this, then it doesn’t matter how not racist you are. You’re just maintaining a racist society in which black lives do not matter, because your own avoidance of discomfort is more important.
If that’s where you’re at, I get it. It can be difficult to speak out. But if that’s the case, get your blackout nonsense and #BLM hashtag outta my face.
I’ll leave you now with this, which is a great resource of more books, articles, organisations to follow, charities, and petitions to sign. Again, it’s a starting point for you, if you want to do the work.
If you do have any other useful resources, that you think others might find useful, please do add them in the comments section below.
Go forth now, and be more than not racist. By which I mean be anti-racist. Not be more racist. That would be silly.