Amongst a backdrop of CV19 with its disproportional impact on Black communities and growing racial tensions across America and the UK due to the murder of George Floyd, I spent a week muted on social media so I could instead listen to and amplify Black voices instead of centring myself. Here is some of what I learnt
1. I was not being a good ally. My allyship for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) fell into the “optical allyship” category. I was comfortable sharing posts on my social media stories and reading some books but I was certainly not stretching myself into anything that felt uncomfortable. But the truth is, anti racism work is uncomfortable and it is confronting because it involves unpacking and unlearning a lot of what we have accepted as truth all our lives. And that is the work of being an ally. To show up, and continue to show up – especially after the hashtags have stopped trending.
2. It’s not about me. It might sound like this is in contradiction to the point above, but its really important to remember that being an ally is not about us as individuals and we do not do it to serve ourselves. If we are doing this work because we think we “should” be doing it; because everyone else is; because it makes us feel better or even because Black people are asking us to then we are missing the point. We do this work – I do this work - because it is what is needed to create change and bring about equality. Doing this work because it makes us feel better means we will fail at it as soon as it starts to feel heavy; or when we get it wrong and get called out. Being antiracist is a choice and it needs to be a choice born from wanting life to be better for others.
3. The work is never ending. You don’t get to read a book; listen to some podcasts; follow some Black women and then get a certificate to confirm you are now part of the Antiracist Club. Being antiracist is a lifelong endeavour. It requires constant diligence to challenge racist behaviour; it requires repetitive self-work to unpick years of white privilege; it requires ongoing listening, understanding, believing and amplifying of BIPOC voices. There are over 400 years of abuse to undo and that won’t happen overnight. This is a long-haul situation.
4. Silence is Violence. For a long time, I thought my voice did not belong in anti-racism spaces (because I was white and this was a BIPOC problem, right?) and it was enough just to share the voice of others without adding anything of my own. The truth is, it is not enough, and never has been. To sit back in silence whilst others cry out that they cannot breathe is to chose the side of the oppressor. To be silent when others in our company are being racist is to endorse their behaviour. To stay silent perpetuates the status quo and that is an act of violence. My voice belongs in this space not because it is educated and qualified, but because we all have a duty to speak up and say “this cannot and must not continue”. My voice and your voice do belong in this space.
5. There are many ways to be an ally. There are many ways to support and participate in anti-racism work - you don’t need to be out on the streets protesting to be an ally. You can have conversations with your children, family, friends and co-workers about white privilege; you can write to your MP and demand change in policies that are harmful; you can spend your money with BIPOC owned businesses to help rebalance the distribution of wealth. Share and contribute to fund raising, petitions and campaigns; challenge your favourite brands on why they do not have more diverse models in their adverts; join work and community-based activism groups. The important thing is to understand that racism is a problem for White people to own and fix so we all have our part to play.
6. Debating How people show up can derail the conversation of Why they show up. If we get caught up in highlighting and complaining about things like protests turning violent or cancel culture being unfair, we get distracted from having conversations about the WHY that sits behind these events. If you disagree with how someone else shares their message – especially how BIPOC voice their pain – then I believe it’s better to move on that to get stuck in the weeds of debating “the best way”. There is no “One Way”, and there is no “Best Way”. As above, there are many ways to be an ally and as long as you are continuing to check in with your motivations and taking some form of action then you will keep moving forward and find your place in this space. Having said that, you will also at some point probably get it wrong and cause harm. This is not a time to retreat and give up – this is the time to acknowledge the harm; apologise where needed; relearn and do better.
7. Half the battle is internal, half is external. Our racism runs deep because it is institutional and systemic. Everything we see day in day out carries the echo of centuries old conditioning which is insidious and relentless. So, battling racism - the calling to be antiracist is partly an inside job to dismantle our own internal bias and then showing up in the world to bring down those institutions and systems so that future generations are freed from repeating the same patterns. Without doing that inner work first, then we don’t even see what needs to be fixed in the outer world. Without owning out own racism, we cannot dismantle the systems that instil it.
8. Emotional Labour is real. The emotional cost of showing up; having challenging
conversations; being shouted down; called names; told you are wrong over and over is exhausting. Having to explain time and time again the concepts of white privilege; white supremacy; gaslighting; tone policing etc takes its toll and I’ve only be actively doing it for a week. Imagine having to do it your entire life on top of already having to work twice as hard because of your skin colour? The Emotional Labour of this work is real and we should therefore not demand to be educated by BIPOC. It is on us to do our own research and that when we do go into BIPOC spaces we do so respectfully and with zero expectation to be educated on demand simply because right now is the time that we have decided to act. Resting in this work is a big factor if you want to continue it in an impactful, sustainable way – especially if you are Highly Sensitive and an Empath. As I said, this is a long-haul journey and not one that we can do without protecting our energy and being respectful of others also.
9. And so, my last point is – Pay BIPOC for their work. And I don’t just mean the anti-racism educators who we probably are all now following, but also BIPOC owned businesses across the industries. The wellness industry in particular has been white washed for far too long and I for one and welcoming in more diversity to where I get goods and services from. There are so many worthy and incredible BIPOC business owners out there who deserve more of your attention and your buying power. Being a conscious consumer and being discerning about where you spend your money is a powerful way to chip away at the pillars of White Supremacy by redistributing wealth and rewriting the story of what we value.
There is more that I could add and there is also more still to learn. What is important is that I now understand more and know it is 100% my place to have a voice in this space than that it is better to learn as I go, risking mistakes and recovering from them when they happen rather than sitting back and waiting for someone else who knows more than me to come along an fix the problem.
This is MY problem to fix as it is yours also if you are White. I hope you will join me in this journey and I welcome your reflections below.