Photo above by JJ Ying on Unsplash
Is it too late for me to write about this? Surely I’ve missed the boat. I’m just another white person writing about race – what’s helpful about that? I’m ignorant. I’m biased. My words will be too weak, too sanitised, too full of my own white privilege to be taken seriously.
Surely, surely, this is performative allyship.
And yet, as these thoughts swirl around my mind, I feel that staying quiet and continuing as if nothing has happened, is worse. I’ve pondered this post for weeks, and many times hav come close to succumbing to my white guilt and shame, almost leaving the words where no-one could see them or judge me. Dr Brown’s words kept coming back to haunt me.
“To opt out of this conversation because you can’t do it perfectly, is the definition of privilege.”
Discomfort is necessary, and as I have written through my discomfort, I found I did have have something to say. A challenge to issue my fellow white readers that my white privilege enables me to say, without fear of being deemed angry, aggressive, rude or impatient.
If you are white and you know you need to read up, start here – this is a tiered list of resources, depending on where you are in your anti-racist journey.
But before you click on that link, answer me this.
Do you need to read another article, or do you need to start the work of anti-racism?
I’m going to say it. There’s harm in educating ourselves further, because it gets in the way of our actions. If we hide behind accumulating knowledge and don’t move to acting, speaking, trying and failing, we have not addressed our own complicity in a system that upholds white supremacy. If we buy into the lie that we need to know more before we say anything, we’ve settled into the white intellectual’s jaws. This is a privileged place where white people gather to read, pontificate and suggest more content to each other. When learning about anti-racism, this is where a lot of us begin, and then we get comfortable here. This is because it’s safer to read about racism and what anti-racism looks like than it is to fight for it. As I acknowledge that my learning will never finish, that can never be an excuse for me not to act. We must educate ourselves at the same time as we act.
If you’re reading this and you’re white, you’ve likely got all the information you need. You’ve likely got white friends and allies to discuss this with, in order that you don’t burden friends or leaders of colour in your community with your own white privilege, again. You’ve likely got feeds and multiple inboxes that are full of resources, ways to help, petitions to sign, and organisations that need your money to continue their work of justice and equity. You’ve likely got enough disposable income to pay for resources that will help you understand, and in turn support those who are emotionally labouring, day after day, to help the privileged see.
If you’re a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or Person of Colour) person reading this, you’ve been ‘doing this work’ your whole life. I apologise for my ignorance, my blindness, my racism, and my assumptions. I will do better, and that’s not for you to police. From what I hear, you’re asking me to stop hand-wringing or settling in my shame, and to stop assuming that good intentions and ant-racist knowledge is enough.
You want us to sit with discomfort in realising that, in a world designed for white people, this is not about us anymore. You want us to use the wealth we gained through colonising your land to lift up your causes and fight for your justice. You want us to use our voice and white privilege to intervene in bystander situations. You want us to admit that “racism is ours“ . You want us to realise that when we keep speaking up, often we’ve got it wrong, so we need to follow your lead. In order to do that, we need to make sure that you are put in positions of leadership and influence, where you can call out what’s happening and you have allies of all colours who stand by you and you are not afraid of racist consequences. You want us to stop ‘opportunity hoarding‘. You want us to sign petitions, march alongside you, donate to BIPOC-lead organisations and to vote with you in mind. I hear that you want us to do the emotional labour without the need for attention or “ally cookies” from you. You want us to act not because it’s now ‘on-brand’ to perform racial justice, but because it’s the right thing to do for all of humanity. It’s been the right thing to do for hundreds of years, and our privilege has blinded us. We are late. I am late.
White people, I think we know what we have to do.
I want Ijeoma Oluo, who wrote So You Want to Talk About Race, to close us out. She can say what I can’t.
This is not an easy process, and not fun. At times it may seem like no matter what you do, you are doing something wrong. But you’ll have to adjust to those feelings of shame and pain that come from being confronted with your own racism.
Fear the thought that right now, you could be contributing to the oppression of others and you don’t know it. But do not fear those who bring that oppression to light. Do not fear the opportunity to do better.
HT: A huge thank you to Serrut K Chawla for putting words to my feelings, and Anton Matthews who demonstrated a perfect example of moral licensing, and showed me that what’s going on at home is the best place to focus my attention and time.