Fellow White People: Let’s Play Our Part

Kelly Grehan

Before I start writing I want to give some context.  Reader, I am nervous about what I am about to write.  Whatever I write about, I aim to do it with truth and I usually sit down to write because something has touched me and I feel inspired to write.  I feel more nervous than usual because what I am about to say will be emotive and because I am going to write about race and racism and I am very aware the last thing that the world needs is white people talking about racism.

So why write at all?  Well, I feel as if white people can and must act as allies if racism is ever to be eradicated.

Also, last week I was on the receiving end of racist social media trolls, who were very vocal in their belief I was wrong in supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign. It began when I posted a meme on my facebook wall inviting people to take the knee. I received dozens of nasty replies.

This was nothing compared to the response I got, a few days later, that I had indeed taken the knee. These are few examples.

I don’t, in any way, want to equate my experience here with the horrendous online bullying and harassment suffered by people of colour. I just want to make the point that this what can be expected by those who do speak out, and to say it won’t stop me.

Aside from the migogonistic messages I received the most common theme seemed to be that these people believed by supporting black lives matters I was supporting violence and that taking a knee on my doorstep was akin to going on a violent rampage around the town.

It is time we, as white people start to question the dangerous tropes about black people we have been conditioned to believe.

I’ve tried hard to broaden my understanding of other people and their lived experiences.   I was touched by the performance from Dave the Rapper at this years Brits Awards where he paid tribute to Jack Merritt and called out Boris Johnson on his racism.  A line that particularly resonated with me was ’If you don’t want to get it, then you’re never gonna get how the news treats Kate versus how they treated Meghan.’ 

I truly believe the vitriol aimed at Meghan Markle has shone a light on the hidden prejudices in this country.  I think’’not getting it is’’ is the deliberate motivation of all those who keep posting ‘all lives matter.’

We are letting these people pretend to “not get it” because it suits them to believe that racism either doesn’t exist or is acceptable.

I think when you are from a privileged group you can never be sure if the information you are given about another group is true, or nonsense unless you make an effort to get to know people in those groups and we must challenge ourselves to understand each other.

As a child I lived in an area where people of colour were small in numbers.  In these cases – where someone is the only person of their ethnicity in a class they can easily become seen as the sole representative of that group so that if they eat a certain food, support a certain football team or like a certain subject people assume that all people from that background do too. This isn’t malicious, but it can lead to us making judgements. We need to start questioning ourselves about where we do this.

Then there is the subtle but ever present rhetoric that white people like myself receive so that, without us thinking about it, we are taught to regard black people as more prone to violence.  For me the most obvious example of this is the Notting Hill Carnival.  I recall every August Bank Holiday there were stories on the news which always seemed to be about fights and stabbings.  I honestly have no recollection of seeing any floats or dancers.  So, without my really thinking about it I assumed the event to be very, very violent and I never questioned this perception until years later when colleagues of mine were attending and I heard them talk about the joyous time they had.  It was then I began to question why the stories about this event are so skewed compared to those about other events.  

I’m reading  Girl, Woman, Other, a novel by Bernardine Evaristo, which won the Booker Prize.  It’s a fantastic novel.  But there are times when I have to examine my reaction to the characters – primarily black women and realise I am finding them intimidating and I have to question why this is.  I think it’s because there has been so little inclusion of women of colour in mainstream literature that it almost feels like something to adapt to.  And most of what we have received has been through a white narrative. 

None of us want to believe we have any prejudice. None of us want to believe we benefit from oppressive systems. Most of us want to do good.  And while those of us who are white, continued not to question the assumptions we make about those from other backgrounds, or the systems we are part of we are letting ourselves down. 

I ask everyone white to think about the impact racism has on us – because all of us suffer from a society where other members are oppressed. If you go around assuming some people on our community are more violent than others based upon their appearance you are filing yourself with needless fear. This is bad for your life. If your kids are frightened to bring home black friends and partners because of your reaction then you are hurting them.

For a long time, I felt I was doing my bit against racism by listening to people of colour and trying to amplify their voices.

Now I know that is inadequate. To be really anti-racist means to examine yourself and what mistakes you have made and where your prejudice has come from, and to keep learning

But more importantly we need to speak out against and hold accountable all those with racist views and all institutions that discriminate.

Let’s really do better.

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