I write this blog post in hope that it serves as a useful resource for those looking to find their voice when they’re not sure what to say or how to say it in direct conversations or on social media. It is the first part of two. I am learning to be comfortable being challenged to educate myself and invite you to do so freely about anything in this article. I have also included some excerpt tiles for you to share to others who may be feeling similar.
Resources and ways you can help : https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/
The time for people to have used their platforms and privilege to speak out against the deep racism that has spread through our society like a disease was years ago. As a person of mixed race I regret staying quiet while I allowed that disease to spread like a cancer.
Silence can be harmful.
Silence in a white context prioritises the comfort of those who are benefiting from this systematic and consistent racism we’re seeing in policies, policing, schools and workplaces. Policies set at the expense of those exploited and victimised daily by them.
How many more of you now regret staying quiet in all those brutal moments that have passed?
In the 11 days since George Floyd was lynched by police on camera, the 84 days since Breonna Taylor was shot at least 8 times in her home by unwarranted police and the 103 days since Ahmaud Arbery went out for a Sunday jog and was hunted down by white supremacists, the support for the Black Lives Matter movement has grown, and now everyone is expected to speak out or be damned.
While I’m aware I’m speaking of silence as complicit here, be aware that for many black people silence is complicated right now. Many are silent because they are overwhelmed, protecting their mental health, grieving or don’t know what to say anymore, which is why it is so important that while people are not.
This specific incident is not a call for a white person’s coming out party it is very much a part of a non-white person’s everyday lived experience. This is not a trend, it is a commitment.
I understand race is an uncomfortable conversation for you, it’s uncomfortable for me. Possibly because we’re scared of saying the wrong thing, offending people, losing friends, causing distress or even having our safety threatened. But beware this fear of speaking out or discussing race only serves as a system, shaped over centuries, to keep white people silent and exploit those who are non-white.
So how can you break your silence with confidence?
For a start shake off that shame, guilt or embarrassment and channel it. You’re already reading this blog post which means you’re looking for ways to find your voice.
1. Don’t be afraid to be wrong
The best way to show your solidarity is to express your willingness to learn more.
You don’t need to do extensive research and preparation before. While learning about the history of racial injustice is helpful it’s not a prerequisite for talking with friends or family. You can do this while you’re having these conversations.
A lot of people have said they’re nervous about saying the wrong thing because they’re still learning and don’t want to be wrong. But when you take a risk, there is always that chance of being wrong. Don’t have too much pride to be scared of standing corrected. We all mess up sometimes, and if feedback is constructive the next time you speak out you will communicate clearer, more accurately and with confidence.
During this time some people will ask you to be quiet, others to speak out – it’s important to understand that both are needed. You will learn to understand what each moment needs.
If you’re sharing or discussing the facts then it is fairly hard to be wrong.
2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
Black and non-white people battle this feeling every single day. Is it time for you to take on this “burden?”
When you have these uncomfortable conversations with friends, family and acquaintances you will often find yourself switching into the role of the teacher. It’s important you’re aware that there are many who will disagree with you, and you might lose friends. Don’t let this temporary discomfort get in the way of speaking out.
The more you challenge the more thought you provoke. And while you may not sway the other person there and then, there is no shame to be had as you will have given them something to think about.
Beware, Deleting friends, unfollowing, unfriending or choosing to avoid or not respond to that person who said or posted something oppressive or racist only adds to the problem.
There will also be those who wish to provoke and cause further distress. Choose wisely where to expel your energies.
3. Avoid sharing violent images and/or graphic content
Until recently, I had only considered the anger I wanted to convey at the repeated violent images and videos I was seeing coming out of the US. The only way I felt I could convince non-black people to engage in the conversation was to shock them by sharing these images and videos via social media.
As a result of this a good friend of mine directed me to an article which referenced research which suggested that for people of colour frequent exposure to the shootings and violent torture of black people can have long-term mental health effects.
Vicarious traumas combined with the lived experiences of racism can create severe psychological problems similar to that of PTSD.
Imagine already having fear and anxiety when you feel a distrust toward those put in charge to keep you safe and instead seeing them killing people who look like you. This combined with everyday experiences of racism only contribute to a sense of alienation and isolation.
If you’re sharing these, then avoidance may not be an option for your black followers, black friends and black family members.
Charitable organisation Black Minds Matter UK have set up a fundraiser to pay in full for therapy sessions for black minds in need enabling them to choose a practitioner of their liking. You can donate here
4. Coming to terms with privilege isn’t easy
Coming to terms with your own privilege is not a pretty or fun experience, particularly if you’ve never addressed it before. Though, it is absolutely necessary to feel feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment throughout the process.
What’s really important is that you don’t forget this privilege in your discussions. A big part of white privilege is being able to forget part of who you are, an area of your identity that requires little attention to protect yourself from danger or discrimination – it can be easily forgotten. Forget your privilege and you’re losing the heart of your argument.
Similarly don’t forget that because the topic of race is sensitive it can lead to messy conversations. I touched upon how it can make you feel uncomfortable but this fear should not keep you silent.
5. Use your privilege
White privilege. let’s just think of this for a moment. White people can generally count on police for protection rather than harassment, are given more attention, respect and status in conversations than non-white people and most of what white people publish or release doesn’t become acclaimed, limited or qualified because of their race.
And this mostly starts in the early years of life where white children have much higher expectations at home and school and see more people like them represented in textbooks.
It’s not that white people don’t work hard for what they have built, but black and non-white people did not start from scratch. Remember active policies for racial justice stem from a misconception that people are given equal opportunities and begin at a level playing field.
The above highlights that this is not the case.
Once you’ve addressed your privilege, while it is nice to have moments where you can relate or empathise, don’t think that inserting personal experiences into the narrative is a good thing. Don’t take away the severity of the situation. Separate yourself from your ego.
Unfortunately for many people this means stepping out of your comfort zone. Afterall the very design of white supremacy makes it difficult to speak out against white supremacy. Race is a tricky topic to have a conversation about. Particularly if you’re privileged or sheltered enough not to have to think about it all the time. But you shouldn’t let this temporary discomfort get in the way of speaking out or raising the volume of your voice. Use that privilege.
In my next post I cover some talking points and challenges which may aid your confidence when speaking out against oppression, but for now find the strength to work on these points.
Resources and ways you can help : https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/