…What feels different this time
Recent events in the US and over here in the UK have led to one good thing. That there have been more white readers, more well-intentioned white friends, more parents, more strangers, more people than I have ever experienced on social media- asking about how they can become more engaged and more educated about race.
The atmosphere, the discussions… for the first time since I can remember there is an acknowledgement from the mainstream- players out there who were more content to distance themselves from the race debate, who could, because of their privilege, dismiss racism as a thing of the past, taking a step further in understanding that racism is NOT a thing of the past and that it affects people of colour everyday.
It has inspired black friends, family and again, even strangers on social media sharing THEIR stories. Finally feeling like people are listening and that it is the right time, perhaps even a safe? moment, to speak so that their voice might be heard.
This feeling, this collective voice of those who need to speak out, and those who recognise the need to listen, while not universal, has definitely been palpable.
And so it is this appetite to learn, to absorb, to understand and to fight that I am writing this post.
What we must remember is that Black lives matter ALL the time. Not just when it is trending, not just when it’s a hashtag. Now is the time we, the privileged need to get to work and it’s on us to dismantle the system of racism. The work starts now.
Whatever point in the journey you are on, we all have more to learn. Some of you may be further along in your journey, having experienced racism through marriage or partnership with a black partner, others through their mixed race children, of whom they are more conscious than ever before that their children will have a different experience to their own.
But what should be, and is, most apparent, is that none of us should consider that we know it all. And that there are things that we can all do to change the narrative.
Aghast and disgust at what happened to George Floyd is not enough. Showing sympathy towards your black friend over her story of racism that she has experienced is just not enough. And when the dust settles from all of the protests, know what you want to do next. So that indifference, helplessness and cynicism don’t set in.
I read somewhere that the Montgomery Bus boycott took over a year to have any effect. This is the start of a long journey and one that does not just sit with our elected leaders, with the police force, with the murderers of George Floyd. But if we are to make any real change, it sits with everyone of us. And especially those of us raising the next generation of young people.
Here are a few concrete things that you can do:
Read, educate yourself:
Understand the terminology. It is critical that we all understand how implicit bias works, how it is different than overt forms of discrimination which were more prevalent in the past. Microaggressions is another term that is used frequently but not necessarily widely understood. Bias and prejudice displayed in interpersonal interactions is different than those which are structural in nature. Read, read and read some more. We are never finished when it comes to understanding and being compassionate.
- Test your implicit bias: https://www.mtvact.com/features/Look-Different
- Read ‘Deep Diversity’, a book written by Shakil Choudhury which explores the question about what is hidden beneath the surface in our everyday interactions and argues that “Us-versus-Them” is an unfortunate but normal part of the human experience due to reasons of both nature and nurture—and this is especially true regarding issues of race.-https://deepdiversity.animaleadership.com/
- Organise and take action, what you can do (US based) – https://www.obama.org/anguish-and-action/
- Access this comprehensive list of what to watch, what to read, who to follow: https://medium.com/wake-up-call/a-detailed-list-of-anti-racism-resources-a34b259a3eea
- Read groundbreaking book ‘White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism’ by Robin Diangelo– https://amzn.to/37gP0GU
- Read ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’, by Reni Eddo-Lodge– https://amzn.to/2AJo1HI
- Read ‘How to be anti-racist’ by Ibram X. Kendi- https://amzn.to/2MEVlT4
Educate your children:
As the saying goes, children are not born racist. And for many well-intentioned white parents, they believe that if they just teach their children that everyone is equal and that colour shouldn’t change that, that is enough. Just as many recognise the need for boys to be taught about gender equality and respect for women, white children need to be educated about the history of race relations. If we are to move on from this narrative, we need to acknowledge its effects first.
It’s critical that we as parents have done our own individual reflection and have the background and skills before we start to discuss it with our kids. Consider using a new MTV documentary film called White People to facilitate the discussion.
Before having any discussions about race and prejudice, it’s also important that children are imbibed with a sense of justice, and of progress, rather than being left with a sense of pity or helplessness. Be proactive about showing your children positive, strong images of black people.
Black professionals, black scientists, black athletes. This is where the narrative is often limited to social justice campaigners throughout history. But it is not just the Martin Luther Kings of our time but the Oprah Winfreys, Barack Obamas, Michael Jordans, Chimamanda Ngoze Adichies who have achieved greatness despite all odds.
Our children (especially our brown or black children) should be taught that they can achieve all things, not be limited by society or fear of what society can do. So race consciousness and conversations about inequality should always be set within that context. And if there is little diversity in your town, that means seeking out opportunities to be in places and interacting with people of different races in the next town or, in the movies you watch or the books you read. Whatever you have to do, you should do it.
Your children’s perception of who and what you believe isn’t going to centre around not what you say but on what they see. If you cannot name a single black friend or even say that you own any books featuring a black protagonist, then no matter what you say, your child will dismiss it. Because you don’t do anything differently, they will only grow up with the messages they get from society- those that will teach them to fear black men, to favour white because it’s more like ‘them’ or to overlook their own privilege.
Teach your child to be an agent of change against racial inequity, to navigate the complexities of race and to have a healthy racial identity while appreciating and respecting others- https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/audiences/parent-caregiver
Table Talk: Family Conversations about Current Events- https://www.adl.org/education/resources/tools-and-strategies/table-talk
Raising race-conscious children: A step by step guide to talking to kids at an early age about race- https://mixedracefamily.com/talking-to-children-about-racism/
FAQs to talking to your children about race. We all have a lot of questions. Like,
Why Not Focus Only on Our Similarities?, Won’t Discussing Differences Promote Prejudice? Should I Initiate Conversations About Differences? How Should I Respond When Children Notice Differences in Others? – https://www.adl.org/education/resources/tools-and-strategies/question-corner
How to talk to your children about race and racism- https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/7xvLw6Q4qbJBnkzkj6xm9Z/how-to-talk-to-your-children-about-race-and-racism
Need a video instead? How to talk to your kids about race- https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=how+to+talk+to+your+children+about+race&docid=608007218108235980&mid=0CBA81FFFB6015825A2A0CBA81FFFB6015825A2A&view=detail&FORM=VIRE
Buy diverse books and read them to your children:
Never has it been more important for children to see themselves and the society they live in reflected in the stories they read. Books can inspire discussions where many parents feel ill-equipped. They can teach, encourage, evoke empathy and even build confidence in young people. When my eldest daughter came home wanting to have ‘white skin’ like Mama, we knew we had our work cut out for us. That same day, I ordered at least 20 books off Amazon featuring girls and boys with brown skin and curly hair. Since then, I’ve witnessed her journey to loving herself and who she is.
But buying diverse books isn’t just for children of colour. It’s for white children too. If we are to battle against the narrative that white people are superior, we need to do it from every angle. That means being conscious about the books your children read. How many of them actually feature a black protagonist. Research suggests it’s a mere 1% of children’s books being published… 1 per cent.
Make sure you’re being proactive and conscious of the books that your children are reading and use them as a tool to teach about our racist history.
During this time of crisis and change, many are home with children of all ages. If you are looking for books to read, ADL’s collection address issues of identity, bias and bullying. The ADL featured books come with discussion guides for teachers and parents. https://www.adl.org/education-and-resources/resources-for-educators-parents-families/childrens-literature#.VagZrPlVhHz
A comprehensive list, perhaps THE list of all lists covering diverse books for all ages- https://mixedracefamily.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-diverse-books-with-multiracial-characters/
An age by age guide to children’s books about race- https://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/books/1291947/childrens-books-about-race-anti-racism-black-lives-matter
37 children’s books about racism and discrimination– https://coloursofus.com/37-childrens-books-to-help-talk-about-racism-discrimination/
Picture Books to help kids talk about racism– https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/picture-books-that-teach-kids-to-combat-racism
Be compassionate and listen:
Centre the voices of black people around you. Do not assume black friends or partners want to share their experiences but listen when they do. This is not about you or your experience when you witnessed racism, it’s about them so try hard not to interject, question, argue or justify their experiences. It only serves to silence people further.
Think Critically About the Media you absorb:
Encourage your family to be critical viewers of media, including print, television, internet, video, social media and other digital spaces. If your children are old enough, help them to analyze media portrayals of racial incidents in the news by thinking critically about what they read, hear and see. This includes exposing them to a wide variety of sources that illustrate different perspectives and opinions along the political spectrum.
In addition to traditional media, blogs and social media are good sources for this. Encourage your kids to ask questions that go beyond the surface: How do I know what I know? What is the perspective of the person writing or speaking? What influences their point of view? What are their biases? What don’t I see
Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu: Follow @SholaMos1
“A lawyer and political and women’s rights activist, Dr Mos-Shogbamimu caught many people’s attention in January when a clip of her appearance on This Morning quickly went viral. “It is not the job of black people and ethnic minorities to educate white people on racism perpetuated by white people,” she said during a discussion about racist attitudes towards Meghan Markle. “White folks need to educate themselves on racism.”
Afua Hirsch: Follow @afuahirsch
Afua Hirsch is a columnist and broadcaster best known for her 2018 book Brit(ish), a Sunday Times bestseller that unpacks issues of race and identity in the UK. “This is not ‘a crisis’,” she wrote in a recent piece for the Guardian. “What black people are experiencing the world over is a system that finds our bodies expendable, by design.
Munroe Bergdorf: Follow @munroebergdorf
The trans model and activist was let go as a brand ambassador for Loreal after speaking out about racism and white supremacy in an emotive Facebook post in 2017. “Brands need to be aware of their own track record,” she said in response to the brand posting a black square on black-out Tuesday. “It’s unacceptable to claim to stand with us, if the receipts show a history of silencing black voices.
“Speaking out can’t only be ‘worth it’ when you’re white. Black voices matter.”
Voting with your wallet is one of the best ways to effect change in a capitalist society. Many campaigners are calling on citizens to buy local and buy black. Plugging money back into the black community can help us to be part of the change we want to make happen.
Stand up NOW!
We hope that this moment has spurred you to new or greater action. But remember that anti-racist work is a long-term endeavor, something that continues when the hashtags stop trending. Take time to consider how you can make this work part of your daily life. Talk with your friends, talk with your family, and call out racism and white supremacy wherever you see it.
Your story starts here. What are you going to do to change history? This is the start of something greater and I urge everyone- no matter where you are in your journey- to read, understand, show up, have compassion, campaign and to be continuously moving towards better.