Let’s talk about what’s happening
It’s impossible to be the voice that brings new light to the urgent conversation about racism around the world. However, my brilliant friend, Emy, sent her allies an email to help us do our part. With her blessing, I am reproducing a note that touched me deeply.
If you want to learn more about Emy before you continue, I wrote about her last year: One-way ticket, what matters most to Emy
I really think we needed this disruption. A global kick in the arse. We can do better as a collective unit once we see ourselves as a unit with different beautiful parts. — Aishetu Fatima Dozie Dragon, @TheAishetu
Let’s talk about what’s happening
I hope you are all keeping safe and using these times of turmoil to be close to your loved ones and to reflect on what’s happening around us.
This time’s update is different but just as necessary, if not more. I am writing to share some of the thoughts that have been on my mind for the past weeks, month. The reason I am doing this isn’t for you to feel sorry for me — for us; but because I have the responsibility to engage with my entourage about this topic, and to push you to take some time to reflect, ask, change our mindset and hopefully change some of our behaviors. Thoughts might be all over the place and I apologize, but I am sure the intention will be understood.
As I am writing I realize that I am interchangeably using me, you and us because as a mixed-race woman who grew up in a white environment, I am on both sides of the coin and this contributes to my confusion and anger. More importantly, because I, you, we, are all part of the same system, regardless if we want it or not. This is to create a space for vulnerability, discussion, and action. We need to acknowledge our biases, have uncomfortable conversations, and ask the uncomfortable questions if we want to change the system.
Racism is not about a person or two people. Racism exists in a context in which white people hold institutional power in society and in which white superiority is captured in everyday thinking. Consequently and almost unconsciously, white people believe that they are entitled to and deserving of, more than people of color. Racism is a mix of prejudice (preconceived opinions based on reason or actual experience) and power (being in a position that allows you to do something) and as white people, our biases are backed by authority and institutional power.
Racism is not about good and bad people. Last month my mum asked me if I had ever experienced racism. The tone in her voice suggested that I hadn’t. At this stage, I realized I did not even know how to react to the question I had been expecting for the past 20 years. I was so taken aback that my response was terrible: “Of course I have, at school, university, work, on holidays and so on and this is one of the reasons why I left France and never moved back.” She acknowledged and this was the end.
I am not blaming anyone for not continuing the conversations because I agree that today we do not all have the tools to engage in constructive discussions about race, racism, and white supremacy. Whites are not taught to see themselves in racial terms, or that our societies are defining whiteness as the norm or standard for human. It just is. Those conversations easily become a series of amalgams between individuals, behaviors, religions, and precariousness based on sporadic events in our day to day to which it’s extremely difficult to counterargument as a black person. This is why we need to stop keeping quiet when we hear racist jokes or remarks, we need to consistently point out racist behaviors.
From what I have witnessed, when facing racism, we (as whites) are usually looking to have conversations or reach conclusions that reinforce our fundamental beliefs about black people (just to name a few: fathers usually leave the household, youth is delinquent, we are less educated and therefore not competent, formal or performing, we put pressure on the social security system by having too many children, we are lazy, if we escaped war/genocide/poverty it’s because our family is corrupted, etc). By failing to put attention to those automatic yet illogical connections our brains make, we unconsciously perpetuate white supremacy and contribute to individuals questioning their identity, worth, and belonging to a community/society.
It happens all the time, everywhere. Because we are liberal and educated people doesn’t mean we haven’t been involved. Here are some examples of how it can be perceived:
- It’s painful to realize that your dad was the only black person in your French family and no one ever questioned why.
- It utterly annoys to have to listen to some of your family members’ outrageous remarks on Blacks and Arabs and to have to pretend to buy into their justifications.
- It is frustrating every time someone takes the time to laugh at your last name but not to pronounce it properly.
- It triggers anger to be asked if the employer knew that you were black prior to hiring you.
- It breaks your heart that none of your family members / close friends asked how you felt, even when it’s everywhere in the news.
There are multidimensional ways of educating ourselves. Before you start exploring, start by leaving behind the mindset of ‘I am not concerned because I am not a racist’ and try thinking: ‘given that I am biased because I was born and raised in a society and environment in which white is the norm, how can I take a different look at what’s happening around me?’:
Educate yourself, understand the concepts, and learn to identify and correct situations. It is not black people’s role to teach us about racism.
- Books (both fiction and non-fiction); (latest read White Fragility, Don’t Touch my Hair, Americanah (all times favorite!)
- Movies / Documentaries;(latest watched: 13th, I am not your Negro)
- Books for children
- Amazing list with resources in French
Finally, ask yourself and reflect:
- Look at your neighborhood and ask yourself, why are we all looking the same?
- Look at your teams and ask yourself, why everyone else looks like you and what you could do about it?
- Look at how you interact(ed) with personnel in restaurants, hotels, Ubers, supermarkets, toilets, and ask yourself, where is this coming from?
If you’ve come this far, it means a lot to me that you spent the time to read these words, now go do your part!
More about Emy: One-way ticket, what matters most to Emy