Last year saw many people suddenly start to pay attention to extent of racism and white supremacy in our society and the damage it has wrought, and facing a reckoning with the role we ourselves have played in upholding and perpetuating these harmful systems. In June, I wrote this post sharing my first clumsy steps into the work of anti-racism, highlighting some of the resources I was turning to to help my reeducation and outlining some of the steps I intended to take to continue this work.
The news cycle has changed since I wrote that post but the issues remain and, in the interest of trying to keep myself accountable and in the hopes of encouraging others to continue their own anti-racism journeys, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been doing.
I have honestly learnt so much over the last 8 months that it’s hard to know where to start. I don’t want to go into tons of detail because there are so many books and resources out there that are far more eloquent than me, but there are a couple of really key things that have stuck with me so far and which really underpin all the other learning I’m doing.
The false good/bad binary
Coming to terms with the idea that I have and continue to contribute to and benefit from racist systems, and that some of my behaviour has perpetuated white supremacy was challenging. I had so firmly come to believe that racism/white supremacy and being a ‘good’ person were mutually exclusive, and was so invested in the idea of myself as a fundamentally ‘good’ person, that it felt like conceding any part in racism/white supremacy would mean I was a fundamentally ‘bad’ person. This false binary is actually a clever trick of white supremacy that conditions us to a) ignore the damaging structures we are a part of and b) believe that our intentions as ‘good’ people matter more than the impact of our words and actions (more on this below). Recognising that fundamentally ‘good’ people can still say and do racist things was a pivotal moment in my learning.
Impact over intention
Intentions matter. Of course they do. But they don’t matter above impact. Most of us would never intend to harm or discriminate against another person but the fact is that sometimes our words and actions do just that anyway. And all the good intentions in the world don’t make up for the damage that is done. So yes, intentions matter. But so does impact. If we are told that something we have said or done has perpetrated harm, rather than putting energy into demonstrating that we “didn’t mean” for it to happen, we need to put that energy into listening, acknowledging the harm that’s been done, apologising, seeking to rectify it if possible and learning from it so we don’t repeat the mistake.
Journalling the journey
As well as continuing to read, listen, diversify my social media feeds and creating a now vast reading list of books, articles and other resources, I have been engaging in reflective journalling to capture some of my learning, record the thoughts and emotions that come up and to provide a tangible anchor in this work. The very first thing I wrote in the notebook I keep for this purpose was the words of Vean Ima’s Ally Anthem, which she generously shared on Instagram. These words helped to ground and focus me when I began this work and they have become a touchstone that I return to again and again:
As I begin the work
and embark on this season of change
I am allowed to feel anxious
I am allowed to feel afraid
I am allowed to feel exposed
I will not weaponise my tears
I will not play the victim
I will not expect black women to fix me
I will never question the validity of the cause
When I want to quit
I will dig deeper and meet with my ugly
I will remember my discomfort is nothing compared to the violence my privilege has inflicted
I will remind myself of the side of history I wish to belong
I must be aware
That I will lose friends, positions and parts of myself
That this work will be my unravelling.
Today I declare I am committed to this work,
to break the soul ties with my privilege and proclaim a true and authentic allyship
for the first time in my life.
Vean’s beautiful words helped me hold space for the discomfort I felt as I embarked on this journey whilst simultaneously compelling me onwards and I am ever grateful for her graciousness in sharing this. I strongly recommend you go give her a follow – her work is inspiring.
Keeping notes as I navigate this process of learning and unlearning has been really useful – I’ve found it helpful to be able to flick back and reread my reflections from the beginning of this journey to see the learning unfold. As well as using this practice as and when I come across things that I want to reflect on, I have also got into the routine of setting aside a couple of hours every Wednesday evening to sit and dedicate some time to learning and reflection. Currently, I’m using this time to read and work through the reflective journal prompts in Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy, which I highly recommend.
In any sort of learning, having lines of accountability is important. I have been incredibly fortunate to have found a brilliant community to hold me accountable through the Women’s Equality Party Race Equality Caucus Allies. For the last 8 months, we have been working through various topics as a group, exploring different areas of anti-racism and expanding our knowledge and understanding about the ways in which white supremacy plays out around us. We have worked together through monthly zoom meetings, facilitated by the inimitable Claudia Crawley, a WhatsApp group chat and regular email resource round ups. The group is incredibly supportive and has offered a safe space to explore difficult issues, where everyone knows they will be held accountable and be supported to do better.
From sharing interesting articles, podcasts, TV programmes and pieces of research, to seeking and sharing advice on how to respond to situations in our work and personal lives, it has been so helpful to be part of a group of people all committed to doing this work – and open to sharing their fuck-ups along the way! Whilst we continue our learning through reading and discussion, we are now also beginning to plan how we can put our learning into action, particularly by supporting the efforts of the WEP Race Equality Caucus, and I’m excited to contribute to this work.
If you don’t already have people in your life who you can share and develop your anti-racism work with, I highly recommend seeking out a group or space where you can both tap into this kind of support and also maintain accountability. It really is helpful.
Taking tangible action
Putting our learning into action is an important part of anti-racism work. This might involve financial actions, such as diversifying where we shop to seek out and support Black-owned businesses or supporting charities through financial contributions (I have chosen to make a monthly donation to the Black lives Matter Global Network but if regular donations are outside your means you could consider a one-off donation if you’re able). If you are accessing resources and learning materials made available by Black educators and creators, and you have the financial means, you could also consider supporting their work through a platform like Patreon – I currently subscribe to Layla Saad’s Good Ancestor community, Rachel Ricketts‘ anti-racism work and Rachel Cargle’s The Great Unlearn through this platform and have found all three communities invaluable.
Responding to petitions and contacting government representatives are useful actions we can take, as well as looking out for specific causes and organisations that need our support, such as Sistah Space and Hull Sisters – two organisations providing essential services to Black and Asian women who are facing or fleeing domestic abuse, and who are both battling with their respective local councils in order to maintain a safe space to operate from.
The action we take will look different depending on our circumstances and there are so many ways to get involved. I’ll be continuing to seek out opportunities to put my learning into action, in both my personal and professional life, and carry on this clumsy learning journey of mine.
Where are you in your anti-racism journey? What learning points have stuck with you? How are you maintaining accountability as your continue this process?