Looking at Racism – part 2

Part 1 can be found here: https://unhiddenlight.blog/2020/06/25/looking-at-racism-part-1/

We all come at the subject of racism from different angles, some have been victims of racism and have been directly affected by the consequences of its evil. Some have been distributors of racist abuse, overtly racially prejudice people who are so comfortable in their own hate that they feel free to try and manifest their white supremacist views onto their fellow human beings. Then there are all the people in the middle ground. Those who don’t think they are racists, they wouldn’t say or do anything overtly racist, yet will so often ignore the issue, won’t stand up against it and certainly don’t look to the root cause and the effects of history. 

I read recently a theory that racism is really prejudice with power and that to convert your personal racial prejudice into action you need to be in a position to do so. The theory was being used to decry the theory of reverse racism and that such a thing is not possible, as white people in America and the UK hold the platforms of power. I understand the concept, yet the implication ads confusion as to what we are talking about when we say racism. Are we referencing the systems in place in our society that perpetuate racial divides and inequality for minorities, or are we talking about personal racially prejudice acts? I guess I would say the answer is yes, both. The line between systemic issues, personal prejudice and overtly enacted racism can be tricky tricky to draw, but it is easy to say it is all very wrong. Yet already we are seeing people rally against the notion that there is an inherent bias in our society.

The tricky thing is that we are conditioned towards individuality, so when you hear something like racism is a white people problem, or the oppression of black people is a result of white supremacy, it is easy to take it personally. The key is to remember that not all things apply to all people. Be open enough to listen to what is going on and see where it is applicable in your life. The danger in generalizing all people based on the actions of a few is that it creates divisiveness and reduces the capacity for reasoned conversation that can lead to real change. 

To suggest that all police officers are evil because of the actions of a few does a great injustice to the many who are genuinely trying to help their communities. Clearly there are problem people within the departments, major policy issues and absolutely leadership issues that need to be urgently addressed. Yet to say they are all bad minimizes the efforts of those who are trying to enact change internally. It is no different from saying all white people are racist, that is either deliberately inflammatory or plain ignorant. Yet at the very same time, all white people in England and America have benefited, whether realized or not, from racist systems both political and social. We have been submitted to racist ideology through our partially informed education processes that carefully omit large amounts of details from our history.

People are quick to try and generalize for the sake of simplification, maybe that is because it is such an enormously complex and heavy subject. Yet that creates these frustration points, but without the generalization, the initial conversation becomes so burdensome that you will not get to what actually needs to be discussed. This though is why you will see people respond to the black lives matter movement by saying all lives matter, or white lives matter too. Missing the entire point of the subject, sometimes willfully, but most often because they simply don’t understand what is actually being said.

We know that all lives should matter, but in our society there are clear and provable precedences that indicate whilst we declare all lives matter, our societal institutions, including the police, believe that black lives don’t actually matter as much as white lives. Yes if you look at the statistics more white people die at the hands of law enforcement in the USA than black people, however when you look at the statistics measured against the racial demographics of the country, there is a disproportionate disparity between the percentage of African Americans making up the population (13% vs 76% white) and the number of them being killed by law enforcement (24%). So we say black lives matter, to try and call attention to this continuing problem, because we need the most important question of all to be asked – WHY? 

Ok so maybe you say that yes these statistics may show that, but there is a large percentage of the black population in America that lives in low income neighborhoods and crime is always higher in these neighborhoods and so it makes sense for the disproportionate amount of deaths. (Side note, it really doesn’t, but a conversation on policing techniques is for another day after a ton more research) Again though, the question is WHY? 

Why are the descendants of a population of people that were brought to a country as slaves, literally kidnapped from their own home, and traded as livestock, thought of, treated and written into law as less than fully human; less affluent than the descendants of those that brought them here? It is a long and difficult story and there are many better teachers than me on the subject, but I implore you, if you are reading and you care, learn about the reality of our history, slavery, segregation, redlining etc, so that you can answer the WHY questions better.

It is easy to group all people from a country into the actions of that country. Take me for example, a white male from England who then moved to the USA. Two countries with proud histories and strong heritages, at least that is what they taught me. I could not tell you the specific day, or the specific incident, but a few years ago I started to look at things differently. I began to hear other stories about our history, different context and it made me stop and think. Some of the prejudices I was taught to hold as a child were just wrong. Why should I hold a grudge against the people of Argentina because our countries governments didn’t agree on the Falklands? 

In a Brian Zhand’s Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, he very poignantly states “What is an enemy? An enemy is someone whose story you haven’t heard.” When I started to look deeper into some of our history, to see the other sides of the stories, something awoke in me. A realization that, yes there is more to this than I have been told. This history of Britain and our “glorious” empire, might not have been fully covered in school. The great and proud history of the USA, sort of glosses over how it all began. 

I believe that is what is happening to millions of people across the world in these days. Like receiving a new eyeglasses prescription, we are finally seeing with clarity that which has been blurred for so long. The actions of our ancestors have had long term consequences and whether we realized it or not, we have been willing participants in the benefits of systems that have oppressed out fellow humans. Colonization, land theft and the associated genocide and obliteration of cultures  is not a proud history. Slavery, kidnapping people taking them into forced labor and the associated wealth built and compounded upon is not a proud history. People say, but look at the good white Christians who abolished slavery, sure that is a good thing. Yet look also at the white christians that coopted a message of love and peace to justify slavery and genocide for their own gain. If you are going to look at the good, you must also face the bad.

When you don’t know something, you don’t know it, maybe you can sense it, but you don’t know. Once you do know something, there is no going back, there is no changing the facts, you can try and hide from them, but that only lasts for so long. I believe the desire for truth and justice is written in our DNA. If you know your history, beyond the elementary whitewashed version you may have been taught in school, it is nothing short of heart breaking. 

I know it is not just our country, just about every nation has some form of unspeakable atrocities in their past. I also understand that you didn’t play a role in that just like I didn’t, there is nothing you can do to change that which was already done. I wasn’t involved in the slave trade, I am descendant from poor working class people from the north of England, life was no cupcake for most of them. I do however exist in a society that continues to live with the ripple effect of the dehumanization of people who are not white. Systems that have been put in place over time to circumvent every attempt to humanize all people and bring them true equal rights. Things like redlining, Jim Crow, even as recently in the UK as the wind rush scandal.

So what can I do? What can we do, as regular everyday people who are not setting policies maybe not even involved in hiring decisions? Just regular everyday people who are maybe only just having our eyes opened to the realities of all this? I believe at the very least, we can look in the mirror, we can examine our own existence and ask the hard questions. We can take the time and make the effort to learn the perspectives of others. We can, at the very least, learn to respect the human dignity and lived experience of everyone we meet. 

I have had this conversation in my head many times in recent years, what are my blind spots? Where do I hold onto prejudice and racism and how do I find a way to work on that and to remove it from my life? Not as an attempt to jump onto a bandwagon, but to try and ensure that I am living my life in practice, in accordance to the principals that I believe I hold to internally. That all people are created equal, that the purpose of life is love, that taking care of your neighbor is indeed all of our purpose for being here. Life is not about things, it is about relationships and it is my hope to do well with that, even with all my flaws and limitations.

There are subtle lessons I have learned about racism, I used to think that in order to treat everyone equally, it was was correct to see the human, not the skin tone. What I didn’t realize was that this minimizes the lived experience of your fellow human. Yes we are all once species, but to deny the history and the culture of someone to avoid being seen as racist is wrong. 

So yes, now I see color, I see my black friends, I acknowledge the awful history of slavery, this nation’s wealth that was built on the back of centuries of free labor performed on stolen lands with stolen people. I respect your right to your own culture, your own slang, your own music, I celebrate where our lives intersect, but I understand that your experience with this life is different to mine. I love fusion, but I understand totally that cultural appropriation is its own insensitive thing. There is a tension where differences can be held and celebrated without going too far (I hope that makes sense because I’m really struggling to articulate it fully). I want to love well.

All people should have the same rights both in law and in practice. Sadly in my countries, despite what is written in the law, this is not the case, but I pray one day it will be. 

How do I help to affect such a change? I can educate myself, read books, listen to podcasts, watch shows and movies that are tackling the subject. I can vote appropriately, researching the candidates in our local elections and voting with a conscience (here’s hoping for some candidates that are worth voting for!). There are other things you can do too, like supporting minority business where you can. Do you like to read? Try and find some books by minority authors, there are some excellent choices out there. Open your sphere of influence, open your circle of friendship, and your life will be richer as a result of it.

I can try to be the change I want to see in my small part of the world, with my limited sphere of influence, I can try to live with integrity. Sometimes that will mean I have to try and get over my fears and say something when it is not comfortable. 

Yet there is a level of grace to be given to people in this time on all sides, in my life time it certainly feels unprecedented. There are fears all around, confusion and a lot of misunderstanding. Arguing for the sake of arguing will mostly not help, but racism needs to be called out and confronted, I will no longer stand idly by.

You hope that when the opportunity for an awakening comes that it is received, but there are no guarantees.

Please remember to have grace for yourself too, this is not an easy journey and certainly not a quick one.

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