George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Nina Pop. Ahmaud Arbery. These are just a few names you will have likely seen on international news and social media over the past few weeks. These are the latest in a long line of African Americans who have lost their lives because of individual and institutionalised racism or police brutality.
As a mixed-race Black British woman, social media has seemed LOUD to me this week. It feels as though lots of people have woken up to the injustices that Black people, and other people of colour, have been aware of for their entire lives. The show of support over the last few days has been an incredible change from the norm, but it has also been overwhelming for me and, although I can’t speak for others, I expect other Black people feel the same way too.
What you can do.
One of the questions I’ve been asked frequently by White people in the last few days is “what can I do to help?”. Political activist Angela Davis famously said:“In a racist society it’s not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist”. Anti-racism is an active pursuit and something every single one of us should be striving for. There are plenty of positive steps you can take to be more anti-racist. I’ve gone into a few steps in a little more detail below.
Reading is a great way to see the world from other people’s perspectives. I’ve included four of my favourite non-fiction and fiction books on race below, but there are plenty more out there. My choices focus on my experiences as a mixed-race Black woman, but there are so many other voices and experiences from different people of colour. Seek out and read books by those authors too!
Listen to podcasts on race and the “non-White” experience. Make your social media channels more diverse - follow more people of colour and positive race activists (following the authors of the books above is a good staring point). Watch films and tv shows that centre around people of colour. Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone has to go and watch Twelve Years a Slave. Instead, you could watch a comedy like Black-ish or a film like Moonlight. Both have Black leads, but don’t centre around racism. TED have an excellent range of talks on race, racism, identity and unconscious bias. Education is the first step to being able to join the conversation. Take control of your own learning.
Change and challenge your own thoughts and behaviours.
Without even realising, you are likely to have unconscious biases and stereotypes about race. You can’t just stop thinking these things, but you can challenge them and question why you think them. From there you can work to change – the first step is being aware of your thoughts and actions. For more information about unconscious bias, take a look at research by Project Implicit.
Challenge the racist behaviours and language of others.
In my experience, I’ve found that people are more comfortable being challenged on racism by someone of their own race. If your family members, colleagues or friends make discriminatory jokes, comments or display racist behaviours, then challenge them and explain why what they said or did is not OK. They’re more likely to listen to you than an individual who is directly affected by their words.
Educate your kids on racism and the importance of diversity.
Let’s make sure the next generation is equipped with knowledge early on to make a difference. Make sure your children are taught to “see colour”. By seeing colour, you acknowledge that everyone is different, and that these differences affect each one of our lives. Teach them that history is diverse — this is a huge issue within the British school system at the moment. Please teach your kids about racism in Britain and across the world. Speak openly about slavery. Teach them about the people of colour who fought for Britain in both world wars. Teach them the world is a diverse place. There are some excellent children’s books available that explain racism and diversity (@hereweeread on Instagram has lots of great suggestions) – use them!
There are also plenty of other suggestions for how you can help online from signing petitions to donating – just do a quick Google search.
How to support Black people and other people of colour than you know during this difficult time.
Line managers and colleagues in work environments, please be mindful that the events in the news may be affecting your Black colleagues. I know I have been distracted this week and have struggled to concentrate on my work.
Check in with you Black friends, colleagues and family members. Other people of colour (PoC) may also be finding these events difficult for the same or other reasons – whilst the Black experience is in the spotlight, other races and other forms of racism are not getting the airtime they deserve. These forms of racism also exist and affect people every day and it’s important to continue to acknowledge this. Ask how your PoC friends and colleagues are doing, listen and give them space. This will be an emotional and traumatic time for some. For me it brings up memories of experiencing racism that I’d rather forget.
Action over sympathy.
When I posted similar information on an internal communications app I use for my job today, one colleague asked "how can I sympathise without appearing to minimise the PoC experience?". Firstly, great question. Secondly, your sympathy isn’t necessarily helpful, even if you mean well. The best thing you can do is take action. Learn from, read about, listen to people of colour and then use what you learn to challenge your own thoughts and behaviours, and other people’s too. Yes, it’ll be uncomfortable, but it is harder for those who are experiencing racism first hand.
Take the first step on your own.
As with many Black people, and other people of colour, I’m not in the right head space to answer questions on racism right now. I need some time to process the news, events and overwhelming positive response on social media. Soon enough I’ll be back to answering questions, recommending readings and providing my personal view on the topic. In the meantime, take the time to educate yourselves. There’s a wealth of knowledge already out there waiting for you!