These are strange times indeed; who could have predicted a virus would have us all hiding indoors, effectively cancelling everyone’s year and bringing distress, hardship and grief to many. The surreal has become routine and the uncertainty is cultivating the best and worst of human characteristics with seemingly no middle ground.
I’ve managed my own disappointment and frustration by sharing funny memes and joking about Mother Nature putting us all on a time out for our relentless environmental sins; until Black Lives Matter became the focus. I was ashamed to be a UK citizen reading reports of right wing groups congregating in London last weekend. I’ve heard it said that the unique circumstances of quarantine may have intensified passions, but there was no excusing the aggressive display of entitlement under the guise of ‘protecting our monuments’. The level of arrogance was embarrassing.
I was chatting with my mum, who lives in Cape Town, about all this recently and she shared an interesting experience she had while working in London in the 70s. Her fellow nursing colleagues used to give her a bit of a hard time because of the Apartheid system that was then terrorising the population of South Africa, but my mum made some astute observations. The attitudes, language and behaviour of many Brits that she had interacted with were no less racist than what she’d seen in South Africa, the UK just didn’t have a name for it. Giving the oppressor a title made it an entity in it’s own right, and a focus for the resistance to combat.
My parents didn’t support Apartheid, but we still benefitted from it. I went to a school that remained segregated by law until my third year. We used to refer to the tan/beige/cream shade of colouring pencil as ‘skin colour’ without thinking anything of it. In the last few weeks I’ve read some honest accounts of prejudice pupils of colour experienced at this school that I was oblivious to which has been a wake up call.
The end of slavery in the UK and diminishment of colonialism did not mean any of the self appointed superiority ended, it just became an internalised understanding. It rears it’s head in casual phrases like: “Where are you from originally”; “You’re so articulate”; “I’m not racist, but…”; “These people…” Britain’s violent and sadistic history as the oppressor has been swept under the rug, because history is written by the ‘winners’. IT is the urgent duty of us white folk to shut up, listen and educate ourselves.
I have started reading, digesting, evaluating and discussing privilege and racism everyday. I am challenging myself to see my privilege for what it is and doing my best to consider different perspectives. In a feminist discussions I’ve had in the past any backlash received is generally from men who literally don’t see what the problem is. They therefore don’t agree there is a problem and cannot accept that their experience is unique, and that the world caters to them on a different level. It seems a similar knee-jerk response is happening with regards to racism; just because the microaggressions aren’t directed at you doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
I have been getting bogged down with the scope and scale of just how incredibly biased this world still is which has depressed me. My mum had some sage words again when she told me that I couldn’t fix the world, but I was doing the work on myself and talking to other people about it and that was what we all need to do.
Call it ignorance, call it the legacy of colonialism, call it systemic racism but name it. Call it out. It’s not difficult to find all around us and within us, but now it is time to face it, own it, challenge and dismantle it.
A petition is currently open to make teaching of the UK’s colonial past compulsory which I encourage any residents to sign, click here to go to the government’s site.
Read about London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s review of the city’s statues glorifying the legacy of white supremacy by clicking here.
As the Black Lives Matter trickles away from the top of our news feeds we cannot lose the momentum. I am currently reading the so far excellent “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, here are some more suggested reads thanks to the Guardian.
For the less than enthusiastic reader, I would suggest watching “13th” and “When They See Us” and one I am yet to see myself but is on my list: “I am Not Your Negro“. These films and series are centred on racism in the United States of America but the perspective given is still of great value.