“Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
– Michelle Obama
My blog usually consists of fashion and activities to do with your children; but this was a topic I had to talk about. I’m a 31 year old, white British woman; both of my parents are white British too. I was brought up in a household where racism was not tolerated; and my sport allowed me the opportunity to travel internationally, making friends with others from around the world. I have always been actively anti-racism; known as someone who is not afraid to call others out. As a friend, I am very loyal; there isn’t much I wouldn’t do for my friends. If I had to rate myself as a friend, I would have said I was a pretty good one. However, I recently discovered I was not as good as I had previously thought.
Although I have always been very anti-racism, happily calling others out; I was still so blind. The recent events have caused many of my friends to speak out more openly about their feelings and the racism they have personally faced. They have talked about their fears, endless exhaustion fighting it, and at times feelings of hopelessness. Now, I am not naive, I am very much aware that racism exists everywhere in society; but I am also very aware that I don’t see much of this as a white woman. Seeing these posts hit me hard; I was knocked off my feet, and reading many of these brought me close to tears (anyone who knows me, knows I am not one for crying or getting choked up). The reason they hit me so hard was because these are some of my happiest friends; the type of friends who light up any room they are in, always beaming ear-to-ear, and never have a bad word to say. I guess I naively thought that somehow they were immune from it; their glowing personalities somehow meant they didn’t face it. But to discover the hurt they were feeling; the endless impact it has on them mentally and emotionally – it left me speechless and ashamed.
I always open up a conversation with my friends asking how they are, what they have been up to since I last saw them, and will ask if there is anything they need help with; and I usually get the same sort of response each time – things have been good, work is work and they’re in need of a holiday. But I never once asked any of my friends about the discrimination they face; I never once asked them how it made them feel; I never once asked them how I could help them personally. I was blind to the racism they have faced, and I was blind to the hurt they were hiding. To my friends – I am so so sorry.
Like lots of families in lockdown, we have decorated our windows with rainbows and teddy bears. Naturally, with everything going on at the moment, we decided to create a Black Lives Matter window, to show our solidarity as we can’t join any marches at the moment. I posted this up on social media, captioned with the suggestion of using this time to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement with our children, what it meant and how we can continue to help work towards equality and fair treatment. However, it attracted a lot of negative attention; I was called racist towards white people, told it was intimidating, told I was pushing a fake narrative as it isn’t a big issue in the UK, I was cursed on a number of responses because they felt it was offensive for a white person to suggest such a thing – I was white so it wasn’t my problem. Well, I don’t think I have ever felt so angry about responses I have received – I felt a knot in my stomach. How could they be so awful? Why did they not care? Why not just scroll on? How could they be so heartless? They were in full support of rainbows, Easter eggs, and teddy bears in their windows – but showing support for those who loose their lives or face endless discrimination because of their skin colour, was intimidating and offensive? I had to compose myself each time before posting a response.
At this moment, I realised I had just had a taste of what it must be like. I cannot comprehend what that must be like to endure constantly, throughout your life; and the self control and restraint that it takes to keep ticking by without letting emotions boil over. I cannot imagine what strength it takes, to take it on the chin and keep going, without allowing it to make you crumble. To those who respond in such a way as they did; racism is everybody’s responsibility to fight. If you feel it doesn’t exist and it is somehow a false narrative, that is because you live a very privileged life, where you haven’t had to endure discrimination – or you are simply choosing to turn a blind eye because it doesn’t directly impact you. To say it isn’t as bad here in the UK, is like saying your car is fine because only the back seats are on fire, not the whole thing. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t personally drive a car with even a tail light on fire, I’d want to extinguish it. But the response that I struggled to wrap my head around the most, was the idea that the image of a fist was too intimidating – that it made them feel uncomfortable. I think it is safe to say, that those who have faced racism have faced far more pain and discomfort – the endless mental and emotional pain, and physical abuse some have suffered – and the pain of keeping this internalized without snapping back. If they have had to endure this throughout their lives; I am sure we can cope with the image of a fist.
Now, I will hold my hands up and admit, I can never fully understand what it is like. I have never feared for my life or safety; been discriminated against; or had opportunities turned away from me, because I was born white. If I see a police car behind me, I check my speed because I don’t want points on my licence; I’ve never had the worry of whether I was about to have my last moments on this earth. As a parent, I cannot imagine what it is like to fear for your children’s lives and safety because their skin colour could be a death sentence. This is the reason why this movement is so vital – nobody should ever face any of that. Why do I deserve that privilege more than someone else, because I am white? Why should others be denied this luxury – because that is what it is?
Race educator, Jane Elliott (a white woman), said to an auditorium full of people, “I want every white person in this room who would be happy to be treated as this society, in general, treats our citizens – our black citizens – if you, as a white person, would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in this society, please stand.” Unsurprisingly, no one moved. She paused. “You didn’t understand the directions. If you white folks want to be treated the way black people are, in this society, stand.” More marked silence and a lack of movement. She continued, “Nobody’s standing here. That says very plainly that you know what is happening. You know you don’t want it for you. I want to know why you’re so willing to accept it or allow it to happen to others.” – it certainly puts it into a better perspective. If you would not accept this for yourself, why do you allow it to happen to others?
Another quote that puts things into perspective – “If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal.” – Brene Brown. The next time you see something racist happening or being said, imagine it was directed at you. If it had been directed at you, how would you have felt and reacted? Why not show that same passion for someone else?
I recently watched President Obama speak to the nation in reaction to George Floyd’s death and read an article he published the previous day. He talked about the fire people have inside their bellies right now, and how these marches will pass; but it is important to keep this momentum going. Once things return back to normal, what can you do to keep this going? Posting memes, tweeting, Instagramming and updating your status on Facebook is fine, but what are you actively going to do to bring about real change? Right now, I am still figuring out the answer to this question myself – this movement has made me reevaluate what I have been doing, I know I can and need to do more. I need to have a good talk with many of my friends; and I definitely need to educate myself further.
One thing I know I can do, is educate our girls. Our girls are still very young (just 3, and 5 this month), they are blissfully colour blind, loving everyone as they are, the way they are. I had a look through our books; minus the reference books, almost all our books represent white lives or stories. This is not a conscious decision we have made; but we also did not actively seek out books to diversify our collection – we didn’t think to. We have now. I recently ordered a number of books to add to our collection – once they arrive, I will share them on my social media platforms. As our girls grow a little older, we will actively educate them on civil rights, the injustices and treatment that others faced in previous generations and still do today. We will teach them about those who broke through barriers, acting as a catalyst for change. But most importantly, we will teach them to be the change too. We will teach them to stand for what is right, even if it makes them unpopular. We will teach them to stand up for others, and speak out against those who seek to cause harm or upset. We will teach them that success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.
If you are wondering what you can do right now to be part of this change; there are a number of things you can do.
- Educate – Change starts in the home, with ourselves, our children and our family and friends. There are endless great resources online and available in stores. Read up on black history; key figures and moments that caused change; and the injustices they still face today.
- Call people out – The more people who do it, the more united we are. Every person who speaks or acts in a racist way (whether it is intentional or not) has family and friends that can call them out.
- Change your mindset – The events from the last few weeks have certainly made me do this. Take racism personally, as if it was being directed at you – then do something about it. If you have friends from different ethnic backgrounds; ask them about the racism they have faced – I promise you, their stories will make you see things in a different light.
- Vote – it costs nothing, but it has the ability to change things. Not just voting for large elections like presidencies, and general elections; but for local elections too. I will hold my hands up and admit that I have been guilty of not doing this. I have voted for every major election, but I have missed a number of local elections. For every person who thinks their vote won’t matter; these all add up and can swing the results. What do you have to lose, other than the person you vote for not getting in? What do you have to gain if they do?
- Donate – If you are in a position where you are able to, there are lots of great organisations you can donate to; from grass root levels upwards.
- Go out into the community – Have conversations. Do you have skills that you can offer? Do you have connections that can help? The more we talk to others, the more we learn.
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” – Martin Luther King. Jr
Unless we, as white members of society push for equality – there will always be inequality. My friend Imani used a great example during one of our conversations that put it perfectly – for us to break the sexism barriers, we needed men to work with us. We needed men to stand up for our rights too; until all men are fully on board, we would never be considered as fully equal. The Black Lives Matter movement is the same. There comes a point where we as white people need to make it our priority too; if we don’t, then true equality will never be reached.
This is a life long change; we will make mistakes along the way and that is OK – the main thing is we are actively being part of the bigger change.
I urge you, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 6 months from now – to ask yourself what you have actively done to be part of the change as a white member of society.
Here are some great resources that you might find useful;
Charities and funds
Petitions to sign
Articles and online resources to read
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colourblindness by Michelle Alexander
Me And White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Books for children
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Little Leaders: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Little Leaders: Visionary Women Around the World by Vashti Harrison
Little People, Big Dreams books by Isabel Sanchez Vegara
It’s OK to be Different by Aron Purtill
Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki – Shaw
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