The system is broken BECAUSE it's fixed
How I learned about antiracism
“Would you like to watch that documentary on the American prison system that I mentioned?” mum asked me a couple of nights ago. “Sure,” I replied.
The film was “13th,” a documentary by Ava DuVarney. It’s visceral and completely and utterly devastating.
Minute by painful minute, it unrolls the tragic history of Black people in the USA. Factually. Without any sort of sentimentality. And it’s powerful.
By the end, we were filled with outrage and heartbreak. How could this have happened? How can it still be happening? And what can we do to bring an end to it.
What triggered my interest in antiracism?
You know about the recent murder of George Floyd by a policeman. And of Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Philando Castille.
Then there was Amy Cooper who weaponised her white privilege.
Community: the ties that bind us all together
One of the key tenets of my work with people is the importance of community in their lives. We all need meaningful connections with other people. Family. Friends. Coworkers.
We need to feel supported, respected and that we belong. We need to feel safe and secure in our communities as well. When these needs aren’t met, we cannot be healthy. Both our minds and our physical bodies rely on us having this security and feeling of being a part of a family and community.
So when we’re subject to a system of oppression and hate…
When we feel threatened, abused, and fear for our lives from early childhood right throughout our lives…
We suffer. All of us suffer. Every community that we’re in suffers.
How racism steals children's futures
Children who grow up experiencing a high number of adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs) have elevated risks of psychiatric illnesses and physical ill-health. And of course, they’re more likely to act out violently. This often gets them into trouble with the law.
The more ACEs you experience, the more your life opportunities are impacted as well. Even before you take into account all of the ongoing issues and racism that Black and Indigenous Americans and People of Colour face, you’ve got a system that stacks the deck against them in every way.
Because experiencing racism and witnessing it are ACEs. So is having your family ripped apart by discriminatory laws. So is being in fear for your safety every time you’re in the vicinity of the police.
Have you ever had "The Talk?"
When I was growing up in Northern Ireland, “THE TALK” with your parents was where they explained abut the birds and the bees.
And when I was growing up, Northern Ireland was a war-zone. It was during “The Troubles.” A time of sectarian and police violence.
Black kids in America are trained from an early age to be more adult than a police officer that might pull them over. There are even workshops teaching Black kids and their parents on how to get home safely and always hold their composure in the face of racism and hate.
I just found this out this week. Isn’t it horrendous? It’s not fair. I cried when I learned it. For about the millionth time this week.
But I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.
My experiences of racism
I’m a Person of Colour. I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of overt racism and microaggressions. I’ve been followed around shops. I’ve had someone urinate through my letterbox. I’ve had someone break my windows. I’ve been told “oh you’re ok. You’re not like those dirty Blacks.”
But I’ve never been petrified that the police were going to shoot me because of my skin colour.
So now that I’ve realised I have awful blind-spots when it comes to racism, I know I need to learn.
I’ve finally started hearing about anti-racism. And I agree. It’s not enough to sit back and think that being nice to people is enough.
Or that you already know about racism.
Or that having black friends or family members is enough to give you a true insight into how catastrophic the effects of racism are across the board.
We all have a responsibility to be antiracist
We all have to be actively anti-racist. And we all have to do “The Work.” Which means we have to learn about what anti-racism is and take action.
So this week, I’ve been dipping my toe into the water. It’s nauseating and overwhelming. But it’s so necessary. Because this needs to change.
It’s not fair. It’s not right. We can’t rely on politicians to change things if we’re not prepared to do something ourselves.
Using your vote to tell politicians they need to stand up against racism
You might say we need to vote to effect change. Yes. That’s true. But politicians keep an eye on the current to drive their policies. They look to us to see what’s popular and what’s going to get them the most votes. They gauge the mood of the populus.
So if we’re not telling them we’re sick of seeing the same racism and the same corruption, they aren’t going to shift the status quo.
There are powerful interests that benefit directly from Black oppression. There are companies that make a profit from imprisoning Black people. There are lobbyists who create the laws that the politicians sign off on.
This may be a fight that’s been ongoing for centuries. Maybe you thought it had already been won when segregation laws were eased. Instead, Black oppression laws and injustice became more opaque.
In decades, people will look back and ask how we could have permitted such cruelty to pass unnoticed. They’ll look back at how we’re acting now with the same revulsion we do at the slave trade. They’ll compare us to the German citizens permitting the nazis. They’ll ask “how could people have allowed that to happen?”
How you can join me in doing The Work in becoming antiracist
So how can you start doing “The Work,” too?
That’s what I’m learning. I’ve been finding helpful resources that other people are sharing.
I’m dedicated to learning more about anti-racism because I believe that all of us should have the same chance of a good life. And I hope that you’ll accompany me on this journey. It can be tough. Being actively antiracist can be stressful. It can feel intimidating and shameful. To help you manage these feelings, you can check out my post on how to deal with anxiety.
If you want to improve your relationships with other people, (and I know I do), particularly Black and Indigenous People of Colour and people from Black and Asian Minority Ethnicities, you’ll join me in doing The Work. And if you’re in the USA and you’d like to support Black-owned businesses, you can find some here.
This is a pivotal moment. We have the chance to work towards the betterment of society. If we want to reduce criminality and violence, protect police, and nurture young people to grow into happy and healthy adults, we need to all do The Work.
What’s the alternative? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Because Black Lives Matter. Our lives matter, too.