We go out there and we speak for the underprivileged. We do so because we can no longer tolerate racism and discrimination. We do so because we want a better world for our children. We are antiracism writers and activists. But every time we speak up, we put our lives and livelihoods at risk.
The reality is that the organizations we work for say that they are open to hearing about our black and brown experiences, they say they want to do something to stop racism and discrimination. They make big public announcements, engage in performative D&I, and set lofty goals.
That is what they do in front of the cameras, but when all backs are turned, they punish us for speaking up. They ostracize us, don’t promote us, restrict our chances for career advancement. They smile in our faces but stab us in the back. That’s the reality of speaking up about racism folks, you’re seen as a trouble-maker and you inexorably become a target.
If you’ve spoken up once, you realize how liberating it is. It emboldens you to speak up more, it gives you courage. People write to you and tell you how you speaking up has helped them, how sharing your experiences has validated theirs, and sometimes had a profound and positive impact on their lives. They ask you to continue speaking up because they don’t have the courage to. When you speak, you know that you represent so many people — you know that you are their voice. So you continue to.
But you continuously speaking up begins to make some people uncomfortable. They realize that you will not stop because George Floyd is now 6 foot under or that there was no justice for Breonna Taylor. They realize that you are unstoppable, that you are influential, and that your voice has power.
And then they begin to get afraid — afraid because they feel that you are threatening their very existence. But you are not, you are simply telling the world things need to change because your life is being invalidated every single day, and this situation cannot continue.
But soon you’ll realize that there is nothing more dangerous than a person who feels they are cornered. They will come for you, they will try to annihilate you. They’ll disseminate all types of misinformation about you, they’ll try to undermine your credibility, they will try to destroy you. Don’t give them a chance, keep writing, keep speaking.
And as I read about Timnit Gebru, a black senior ethicist at Google that got fired this week, I recognized the familiar pattern yet again. Gebru had spoken up about the company’s poor diversity and inclusion track record. She is a respected and renowned scientist who showed the inherent bias and discrimination built into artificial intelligence tools created by big techs the likes of Google.
She discovered that AI was up to 35 percent off when it came to recognizing black women’s faces. For white men, however, it was close to 100 percent accurate. The ramifications of this finding sends chills down my spine. AI which will most likely dictate the future of humankind is being programmed or taught to be racist.
This clearly means that the cycle of racism and oppression that black people have been subject to for centuries might go on for perpetuity. That is deeply concerning. I had seriously hoped we’d be done with racism once and for all once non-human beings are in charge, but apparently white people are programming their racism and privilege right into their tech. That’s simply appalling.
And so yes, we have to continue speaking up for the underprivileged because nothing ever changes if it is not questioned. There has never been a pacific revolution — there comes a point when the action of change itself, no matter how troubling or unsettling it may be, needs to happen. The only way we start that is by building awareness, mobilizing people, and getting them to take action for a cause. So while we the anti-racism activists may be the sacrificial lambs here, our work is needed more than ever before to bring about change.
This isn’t a walk in the park, you must know that people are trying to silence us. They are openly threatening us, by taking away our livelihoods by taking away our jobs, our income. You must understand, we cannot speak for long if we cannot eat, we cannot write for long if we cannot eat.
And so that is why it is important to support those who speak for the underprivileged. Share their voices with your network, join boycotts to support their rights, subscribe to their newsletters (Sharon Hurley Hall does an excellent job with her recently launched anti-racism newsletter).
You must concretely show that you want to hear our voices. Don’t just talk, act. This is how you move from performative allyship to real allyship. This is how you really make a difference.
Thank you for reading my perspective.