Race, racism & white privilege – Why it matters
COVID19 has really made us all stop and think about the inequalities in the world. I could tell you numerous facts and figures, but these are readily available with the click of a button. What I would really like to tell you about is how it hammered home to me personally the truth of systematic racism and inequalities in the world today.
The death of George Floyd impacted me so much that for the first time in fifty years I sought the support of a counsellor. The death of another human being was traumatizing enough, but what affected me more was the look on the face of Derek Chauvin, the police officer; it was his total disregard for another human being. I have seen this look before – on the murderer of a close and dear relative, a look which then haunted me for some time. I remember the same disregard whilst we sat in a five-week murder trial, although not motivated wholly by race but by greed to sustain a drug addiction; nonetheless, there was an element of racism present. The murderer had the very same look to that I saw on Chauvin’s face. This is the look I have seen in many micro-aggressions where race is a contributor – even if in different facets, and to varying extremes.
George Floyd’s death brought out an outpour of emotions, protests, discussions and the understanding of history and white privilege. However, I felt we had gone backwards and forwards at the same time, as what I next saw was many people and organisations showing their support for the Black Lives Matter Movement by increasing their voices around diversity: Was it a sudden need to show they were not racist?
What astonishes me is when white people begin the journey of introspection, it is only then the start of understanding white privilege. As a person of colour, although I was aware of this term, I too have had to educate myself about its full meaning and scope. What was startling to me was that after recognising one’s racial privilege, remarkably, the focus remained on the white person’s understanding; their uncomfortable truths and how it impacted them. I was surprised by the inability to reach out to those of us that had faced racism in its ugliest form. Not at any stage did they think to ask ‘how are you and how has this affected you?’
While this was not the case for everyone, as there were some true allies, I had to ask many of my white colleagues and friends if it had occurred to them how it felt to be judged, to consistently be the under-dog because of your name, the colour of your skin, how you speak and where you come from – even if you were born in the UK. The everyday micro-aggressions we deal with, day in, day out, have been disregarded for too long. They are challenges we face in every aspect of life, and have been exaggerated more by the COVID pandemic.
Let me give you an example: I run or walk in the park every day, totally aware of the 2 -metre rule. Why is it that I am expected to move out of the way for my white counterparts? Why is it that when I, a person of colour, or someone wearing a burka, is in a queue or complaining at a supermarket, it feels easier to disregard us, as compared to that of our white counterparts? That same ‘look’ reappears; I see the raised eyebrows, as if my feelings do not matter. I am made to feel that I am ‘causing a problem’ – or that I am a problem.
We all have some degree of unconscious preconceived notions. However, people in power are only just beginning to understand their biases and privileges. Consequently, in terms of racial awareness and understanding, we have some way to go.
So: is the outpour we have seen this year a knee jerk reaction, or is this truly the start of systematic change?
I ask myself this question every day and hope it is the latter, but I have been around too long and the cynic in me surfaces. I reflect upon the professions, organisations, and the people I have met during my thirty-five-year career and know life is still tricky for a person of colour. We are tough, bright, and resilient and yet still must work twice as hard to prove ourselves in the world of work.
Nevertheless, I want to end on a positive. My key observation is that we are making progress, slow but definite progress. I see and feel a change in the attitudes of people: managers, colleagues and unquestionably, the next generation. I pray every day that it lasts.
My personal guiding principle that focuses on equality is the following: Imagine that you have a family or siblings, one child or sibling is white, one is black and one is of an another ethnic background. Would you want any of them to be limited in their experiences, future, and prospects?
Please let us not just tick a box but make lasting change.
We are not the other, we are one.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Reflections, comments, discussion and opinion on EDI topics from Loughborough University staff and students