At school, when I was about 11yos I remember being shown a video about slavery, racism and the civil rights movement. It rocked me to my core. I felt my first huge flush of white guilt. I was outraged by my own skin colour, at how people that looked like me had done such despicable things. I was knocked sideways, and it stirred up a great ‘fire in my belly’ to do something about it!
However, in reality, I did a whole lot of nothing, nothing of any repute. I simply began identifying myself as ‘non-racist’ and argued with my grandad over the dinner table. Soon after that, I embraced everything black culture and upheld it, celebrated it, exalted it. I wanted to be on ‘their’ side. I looked to black music, language, countries for my redemption and solace and to quell this white guilt. And, as I have talked about before, what I now realise I did, was in fact to appropriate black culture. My own naive and uneducated way of attempting to be an anti-racist. I know now to do better.
Looking back, I see that I felt stopped in my plight, the plight so clear to my 11yo self who felt called to address the racial injustices of the world, and be a true ally.
I worried; about what others would think, whether I could even make any difference, about getting it right/wrong, or what might happen to me if I stood out in a crowd and be the only one to speak up. I was also scared of being vilified by those I was trying to ‘help’, or that I would be called-out for being racist, a ‘white saviour’ or bad feminist, and that I might lose credibility, or admittedly, even lose some of my own privileges, god forbid! Also, at play, was ultimately how much energy i needed to ‘give’ to this, when in reality I could totally ‘get away’ without addressing it, because it didn’t affect me directly.. And hey, there are other battles to fight right? All this, clearly my own white fragility and privilege at play with a good ol’ dose of ‘not my problem’.
We are now seeing so many people ‘stand up’ that haven’t before, it is everywhere in the media and there is a sense of solidarity like never before. Which I am so pleased to see this happening, it’s a shame of course that it hasn’t happened sooner, but I do believe it is never too late, what matters is right now, who we are being about it RIGHT NOW, and we must stand up RIGHT NOW!
I personally can see how much of a coward I have been. That there have been so many things that I believe in and have wanted to bring to light, and yet I’ve stood back, held my tongue and waited until others would go first, because I wanted to feel safe amongst a crowd. I have been a fraud with no conviction.
And, I am human and admittedly it is difficult to step up sometimes, so we must forgive ourselves for that – but guilt is not useful here! White guilt is not useful here! Because guilt is simply making it about us, and it’s not about us.
We have to take risks, speak up and be prepared to fail. If we get it wrong, we will learn.
I am committed to being a part of the solution and will use the Dear Teenage Me platform to do much more!
Personally, I am in awe of those who stood with Malcom X and marched peacefully in 1963, knowing that their lives would be at mortal risk. Finally, this is erupting and we are already late to the party. Like them we need to stand up, white people need to be the MAJORITY of people marching, protesting and making waves, to be of service to People Of Colour, using our white privilege in a positive way so that they can no longer be hurt by systemic racism.
And we must act with peace. Take our egos out of the equation and not make this situation worse. Always think hard about how our actions may affect POC.
The only way to overcome this plight is through love – as with anything. We must bring gentleness, understanding, innocence, goodwill, modesty, generosity, flexibility, proper principles, honesty.
White people can make a huge difference, we cannot expect POC to always be calm when the system has been hurting them for so long, they are disproportionately affected by EVERYTHING right now!
If I could talk to 11yo me, I would tell her to keep speaking up. And accept that you may get it wrong sometimes, but trust yourself and keep reading, learning and listening to others. The fire in your belly is not wrong! Do not speak for others, but empower others, help to give them a voice, use your privilege to help them rise up. Understand that POC in your life do not experience the same privileges as you, so be there for them and always speak up against injustices you witness. And stay safe wherever you are, together.
If you would like to read more about how you can be anti-racist – here are some great resources, and if you are based in the UK, there are two great books not mentioned on this webpage – Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” and Akala’s “Natives”. Our friends at Saffron Records instagram post also has some great links and resources.
by Lua Jones
Writer | Empowerer| Editor @ Dear Teenage Me
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