White people need to talk about race
June 29, 2020
First of all I can assure you I have learnt more since writing this.
I have always advocated for equality and consider myself to uphold core values of fairness and equality. This is easier for me, because I benefit from these already.
So suddenly, #BlackLivesMatter…
My context starts growing up in St Andrews in Scotland where I was absorbing, unbeknown to me at the time, the massive benefits of white privilege. I grew up in a middle class area, went to a nice school and spent a lot of time at my local golf club. It is slightly unfair, though, to paint such an ideal picture. My life wasn’t plain sailing; and not everyone living where I grew up was so privileged, with many working-class people there too. I was born there. My father had to work hard to get there, having come from a council estate, paying his way working on building the M25 and, within 2 years, being the first person to get a 1st class honours degree from Cambridge (and later a PhD). However, I certainly grew up surrounded by white privilege and later learned a lot more about how I continue to benefit from this globally.
Since leaving where I grew up to begin my own life in Dundee, I have worked in hospitality management before re-qualifying and working in community education for 20 years. This has taken me on a journey of learning, meeting many people and travelling the world – all the way I was hugely benefiting from my whiteness and a British passport.
Now I live and work in Bradford with my two sons, who come from mixed heritage and are mixed-race.
Still I am learning about what it means to be white. I am learning more about white privilege, white working class and white guilt. But I also think about what the positive white narrative is for me to fall back on or willingly want to identify with?
Watching the awful scenes of George Flyod’s death shook me. I am much more aware of institutional racism and, in America specifically, the real threat in which this manifests. I also saw and read about the way this made black people feel in Bradford and how they have always felt like that I could not relate in any way to the white man involved. Why would someone do that? It was horrible. I also know that people in power can abuse this power for many reasons and it is not always about race.
Many black people will not be able to watch the video because racism is their lived experience and it would trigger deep trauma. It is not possible to ignore this, and nor should we, what is happening and the campaign Black Lives Matter. Clearly something needs to be done. There are many on-going attempts at resolving or tackling racism and much great work goes on every day in this area, especially from Racial Justice Network. There is no room for silence, we all need to be anti-racist.
When I was a young teenager I watched a documentary about Malcolm X and bought a hat which had his name on that I wore everywhere for months. I was mesmerised by his story, his cause and the way in which he conducted himself. I had no way at all of relating to this story though and had no idea of the context or lived experience of others and looking back have mixed feelings about this now. Many of my heroes were black, mainly because I enjoyed boxing and watching Mike Tyson and Muhammed Ali.
People like Martin Luther King and Ghandi and their noble causes inspire me. As a white person I don’t have any such person to follow really, except maybe being Scottish I have Sir William Wallace who challenged ‘British tyranny’ – although this is now a bit of a Hollywood story.
What can I do to make a change? Doing nothing is not going to help. Staying silent is not going to change anything. First of all, I need to talk to people about this and learn more. But talking about race can be hard or uncomfortable for white people. I find it easier, myself, having been in a position to do so safely and become more mature. Sometimes people are ok to talk about race but we are not going to like what we hear. Talking to my old white school friend about race he was certainly of the opinion that there is no problem with race, there is not a race issue, black people are fine, we all just need to get along. This is convenient for us white people. We have not had a problem with race.
This issue is very complex too: is it about black and white? Can white people experience racism? How is this linked to colonisation? – something I am always learning about. There are many opinions and narratives to understand and discuss and listen to as well.
First of all, we need to discuss race together. White people need to be able to learn about race and we also need to listen to and understand the experience of white people as one of many races and mixed cultures. We can then begin to un-learn racism and create a shared global narrative we can all identify with, where accountability can be taken and changes made.
Yes, white people also have struggles, especially young white working class. Not to mention the complex issues of life and, sadly, personal abuse. This is all to be considered as part of the discussion.
White people who benefit from privilege can also be scared of losing power which is another part of the dynamics of making change.
What must change immediately though is people suffering because of racism and people not feeling safe, anywhere, but especially in their own neighbourhoods, workplaces and schools. As allies, who are not black, and as white people, we must not be silent, we must be anti-racist. It is my feeling that while listening with black people; white people need to build a positive white narrative to identify with too. This can lower insecurities and we can help white people struggling within the white community. White people can learn more about their place in racism, accept and acknowledge their past and current privilege. We can then start to build a shared and equal narrative with other races. We can talk and listen to black people and make a change together.
Thank you to Racial Justice Network for their continued support and work in partnership.
To find out more about Racial Justice Network and their current Unlearning Racism Training and Campaigns please visits; https://racialjusticenetwork.co.uk/our-work/
Matthew Henderson, Project Support Officer