On (Finally) Opening the Door to Anti-Racism

Buckle up, folks – this is going to be a long, uncomfortable one.

George Floyd.
Breonna Taylor.
Ahmaud Arbery.
Sean Reed.
Tony McDade.

These are just a few Black Americans who have been murdered in recent weeks and months at the hands of those empowered by systemic racism in America. This is just the tip of the iceberg of oppression, injustice and violence perpetuated against Black people and communities around the world. And my horror and outrage are not enough.

I am showing up far later than I have any excuse to. I am in my thirties and this is honestly the first time I have ever truly compelled myself to action in the face of systemic racism. It’s an uncomfortable admission. But this is not the time or the place for my discomfort, or any other emotion that may arise for me in finally choosing to confront my own prejudices, problematic thoughts and behaviours, unconscious (and conscious) biases, and complicity. This is the time to do the work.

This is a tiny first step on a long and very necessary road. I already know I will fuck up at some point. Probably many points. I also know that doing something, fucking it up, recognising my mistakes and continuing the journey to do better and be better is absolutely essential.

Over the last few days I have been presented with, and have sought out, a wealth of resources to challenge my perceptions, support me in educating myself and sign-post me to tangible actions I can take to support black communities, at home and around the world, in tackling the continuing injustice and oppression of racism. As I work my way through these resources, I intend to update this post to share those I find most useful. It can be overwhelming knowing where to start but I hope that by doing this I might encourage others to do the work in confronting their own role in perpetuating systemic racism as well.

NB: for the purposes of this discussion, when I say ‘we’ or ‘you’ or ‘us’, I generally mean White people. To my Black, Indigenous, People of Colour readers, you are always, always welcome here. This process is likely to be messy and whilst I am 100% open to being called out, corrected or sign posted that is not your job and I do not ask for or expect your labour. Thank you for your presence and your graciousness.

A Note on Performative Engagement and Virtue Signalling

When I first acknowledged to myself that I was, indeed, part of the problem, my first and overwhelming instinct was I MUST DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS. At least, that’s what I thought it was. On closer examination – after having already acted without proper thought – it turned out that my actual instinct was ‘I must be SEEN to be doing something’. This isn’t to say I didn’t genuinely want to make a change – I did and I do. But the first actions I chose to take were ones that would provide a visual demonstration to the world that I saw the issues and stood in solidarity with those affected – fundamentally, actions that prioritised ‘proving’ that I am a ‘good person’ over actually engaging with and addressing the issue.

This is performative engagement. This is value signalling. This is NOT allyship. Hashtags, black squares, broken heart emojis, statements of outrage – these are all things that serve to make us feel like we’re doing something without us actually doing anything. This isn’t a condemnation of any of those things. They have their place. But that place has to be alongside tangible action. These things centre ourselves in the narrative rather than the issue, rather than those who are suffering, rather than those whose voices need to be amplified. I have been guilty of performative engagement and value signalling and I know it’s something I need to maintain an active awareness of and check myself on before I post. Already, the learning curve is a steep one.

Misplaced good intentions create significant barriers to true engagement and are so easy to fall into. This journey will be one of constant evaluation, admission of mistakes, and course correction. This is the work.

I sat and thought for a considerable amount of time before beginning to write this blog. Is writing and sharing this centring myself in the narrative once more? Am I doing it for performative reasons? After questioning myself and my intentions, I have chosen to go ahead. I am sharing it from a position of genuinely wanting to provide support to others who are ready to embark on this journey of unlearning but, like me, may be unsure how or where to start. I hope, by being honest about my own clumsy beginnings, others will join me in the understanding that this process is not about being perfect – it’s about showing up and doing the work to do better and be better. If you’re on this journey too, I’d love to hear from you.

Finding The Right Resources

The resources I am starting to work through come from a range of originators, including black individuals, charitable and change-making organisations and white allies. I will not share any individual resources unless I have read and engaged with them myself but I will share resource lists for those who want to investigate sources of information themselves.

I have been humbled by how many videos, articles, blog posts, and countless other resources have poured forth from BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of colour) communities, and I will certainly be sharing some of these – we cannot do this work without listening to the voices of those who are directly impacted. However, I want emphasise strongly, for anyone who is embarking on this journey as well to remind myself, that Black people are not resources. It is not the job of Black people to educate White people about racism. We have to do the work. Do the research. If you have questions, do not ask your Black friends/neighbours/colleagues/social media connections. Instead, read a book, ask Google or talk to another White person who is engaging in this process of learning and unlearning. Also, listen. Listen to the Black voices that are out there. Because they’ve been trying to get our attention for a very, very long time.

There are such a huge number of resources out there and I am not going to be able to get through and read them all any time soon. This is going to be a lifelong journey. I am using this list and this list as a starting point, supplemented by other resources that I discover through friends, family, social media and active research along the way. I will pull out ones I engage with and find useful but you may find different things more helpful, so I encourage you to start your own process of working through the wealth of information and support that is out there.

Still with me? Here’s how I’m beginning.

Defining Racism

We have to go right back to basics in this journey because if we’ve not those right when we head out the door we’re going to find we’re walking in the wrong direction. Dictionary definitions of racism leave something to be desired because they do not convey the depth, pervasiveness and nuance of how it manifests and is perpetuated. The most useful definition/summary of racism that I have found at this point comes from this 2014 article from Scott Woods. Please go and read the whole thing and come back here when you’re done.

Amongst his observations, Woods writes: “Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not.” He also identifies that the problem with White people’s perception of racism is that we see it as a “conscious hate”. If I am honest about my own perceptions of racism, I recognise this as an accurate observation. I would absolutely put myself in the “I’m not racist” camp because I in no way hate Black, Indigenous or People of Colour and would certainly never consciously do or say anything with the purpose of harming them. BUT, as Woods points out, the problem with racism is that it is insidious: “it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you”.

We think of racism in terms of an active hatred but whilst that is absolutely one manifestation, there are many others. Woods identifies privilege, access, ignorance and apathy as some – and those are just the beginning.

We are born into a world that operates through systems built on racism and we internalise those oppressive and discriminatory foundations simply by moving through the world. We have to acknowledge and understand that before we can begin the work of unlearning. And Woods is crystal clear about the true extent of that work:

“There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.”

Scott Woods

If you didn’t already read Woods’ full article, go and do it now.

Allyship, Anti-Racism & Activism – What are they?

Having identified a little more clearly the nature of racism, we now also need to clarify the position we must take to effectively oppose and combat racism.

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”

Angela Davis

In beginning the internal work of identifying and addressing my own conscious and unconscious racism, and the external work of contributing to challenging and changing systemic and societal racism, these three terms have already cropped up a lot. There will be other terminology that will become central to the process as well, I’m sure, but these three have already asserted themselves as key.

From my understanding so far, there is overlap between these positions and associated actions, but they are also distinct. My reading to date led me to the definitions below, and I have linked to the resources that have brought me to this understanding of the terms:

Allyship – Being an ally doesn’t necessarily mean you fully understand what it feels like to be oppressed. It means you are taking on the struggle as your own, standing up even when you feel scared, transferring the benefits of your privilege to those who don’t have it and acknowledging that, whilst you too may feel pain, the conversation is not about you.

Anti-racism – The act of opposing racism/white supremacy in all forms – even the racism that exists within you and the forms you perpetuate with your behaviours. Identifying the root causes of racism and working to put an end to them.

Activism – Participating in activities that address the results of racism, but not necessarily the root causes of it, such as through financially supporting BIPOC run organisations that serve as direct lines of support to BIPOC communities; buying from BIPOC owned businesses; participating in marches and rallies; and boycotting racist and culturally appropriative business.

From these definitions, all three are vital but they also all have to happen in order for true and lasting change to occur. In isolation, they will not fully address the issues at hand.

I would really recommend reading both the Guide to Allyship and Anti-racism Starter Kit linked to for these definitions, as they gave me some helpful insights and provide useful questions for reflecting on and challenging existing perceptions and understandings.

Next Steps in Learning

Even just the above is a lot to take in. It has taken me three days of reading, reflection and questioning to get this far. Other things I have done in that time and will continue to do to progress my learning include:

  • Seeking out BIPOC accounts to follow on social media – this is not about following a ton of accounts just because they are run by Black people! It is about making the effort to find more diverse accounts which share my interests. For me, that meant finding BIPOC accounts posting primarily about books, writing, dance, illustration and feminism. I also sought out anti-racism educators to ensure I am being regularly exposed to content that will help me on this journey.
  • Creating a reading list of fiction and non-fiction books by BIPOC writers, or exploring racism, allyship and anti-racism. (I’m starting by registering to Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, picking up White Fragility and continuing to read Girl, Woman, Other.)
  • Starting a notebook to record this journey, including writing intentions and exploring some of the feelings that had already begun to arise from simply acknowledging the work I need to do.

Taking Tangible Action

The re-education is a huge part of this journey but it is also important to accompany the reading, listening and learning with real-world action – this issue isn’t going to sit quietly whilst it waits for me to catch up and people are dying.

There is a lot we can do but it isn’t realistic to try and do everything at once – if we do that we’re likely to get fatigued and overwhelmed, feel like it’s too much and give up. And we can’t afford for that to happen. So here are some simple, tangible things I am doing – and that you can do too. Most take only a couple of minutes and can be done on your phone.

  • Share resources – share links on social media or your own blog, lend and borrow books, whatever works for you. I created a #DoTheWork highlight on my Instagram account to bookmark and share useful posts and resources I come across on that platform.
  • Sign petitions – There are a lot of petitions you can support by signing and sharing. There’s a whole list of the on the Black Lives Matter resource document if you’re not sure where to start.
  • Write to your government representatives – There’s a lot floating round advising how to contact the Minneapolis Police Department and State representatives but for my readers here at home in the UK I want to urge you to write to your MP – this is not just a US issue. We’ve got a lot of work to do here as well. Find your MP and contact them here. Not sure what to write to them about? I started by demanding the suspension of exports of riot control equipment to the US – you can read my letter and feel free to use it as a template if you wish. You could also demand educational reform which teaches about Britain’s colonial past and history of slavery. Research the issues that impact the BIPOC communities in our country and write to your MP about tackling them.
  • Diversify your shopping habits – Wanting to order some books to help you read up on anti-racism? Rather than ordering from Amazon, place an order with a Black owned independent bookshop. Do the same for other shopping, from fashion to beauty – this post highlights some great Black owned businesses.

Other things you could do – should you feel able – include attending a vigil or protest (a quick search will bring up events near you), volunteering your time (again, Google is your friend in finding opportunities) or making a financial donation (there are many organisations listed in the resource documents linked above if you’re not sure where to donate; alternatively, carefully research local organisations supporting BIPOC communities and choose one that resonates with you). Whether or not you feel safe and able to participate in these options will depend on your personal physical, financial, and health circumstances, as well as any local lockdown restrictions.

I’m going to leave it here for now and go and rest my brain. As I continue my reeducation, I will continue to share resources here on Thrive In Chaos and on my social media platforms alongside my usual content.

However you choose to progress in this journey, keep yourself safe, take actions that are realistic for you, give yourself space to process and remember: it’s not about being perfect, it’s not about getting everything right first time, it’s not about trying to do and be everything at once, it’s about showing up, doing the work and trying to be better.

All my love and gratitude to you if you’ve read this far, my friends. I hope you’ll join me in this unlearning.

Go gently.

J x

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