Sometimes, looking at things from a sideways angle is helpful...

Friday, 13 April 2012

Racism

I've always considered myself a reasonably good anti-racist, which is definitely a bad start to anything - when you consider yourself good at something, but in reality you know very little about it. I thought I was a decent anti-racist because I would never value (or devalue) anyone based on the colour of their skin. Tonight, I realised I was wrong about that.

I've been aware for a long time about the statistics of police brutality against black (or BME) people - and I thought I understood that, I thought that for as long as trans* people were being sexually assaulted by police, and disabled people dragged from wheelchairs, I  knew what it was like to be part of a group systemically discriminated against, but I was wrong - I was wrong to think that I knew what it was like to walk down the street and realise that I could be stopped and searched for the colour of my skin. I get met by pity often, for being a poor little cripple, but rarely do I get met by suspicion. As someone who tends to be read as a white, neurotypical, British male, I tend to be at little risk. I'm not neurotypical, I am physically impaired, and I'm a trans man, but of those things only the physical impairment is immediately visible and it's that that garners me pity.

Fellow white people: I don't know what it's like to be black, and I don't know what it's like to be black living in London; but nor do you. We all see people of our race represented in mainstream media, mainstream media doesn't tell people of our race that we should try to disguise our skin colour to be perceived as another race, and we're not stereotyped against for the colour of our skin. Our culture is the predominant one in society. We're privileged. White privilege is very real (and for a startling checklist on what it entails, have a look here: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html)

I grew up in a very white area, the first time I remember talking to someone who wasn't white was when I was admitted to hospital at fourteen, and this was a culture shock. These were people I didn't understand, and who I thought might be dangerous. Now I'm disgusted with my younger self for internalising societies messages.

My name's Matt and I'm a racist. I try very hard not to be but I grew up in a racist society. I try not to judge people on the colour of their skins, but messages seeped into my consciousness that I now have to challenge. I need to remember that one group of young men on a street corner I'm afraid will bash my young queer self is the same as another. I can't pretend not to see race - to say that would be to ignore my white privilege, and I can't pretend not to internalise the messages given to me by society, that have made me slightly racist, instead I have to challenge them, and fight them every step of the way.

These are things we, or I, as a white man can do to fight racism:
  • Taking visible stands against all forms of racism by both backing anti-racism organizations led by people targeted by racism as well as standing independently as a white person against racism;
  • Working on and eliminating our own racism and healing the places we have been silent and passive about racism;
  • Standing against one of the effects of racism by reminding targeted people of their goodness, intelligence, competence, and the importance of their relationships with one another;
  • Actively seeking correct information and healing from the ways we have been unaware and uninformed;
  • Building long-term friendships with people targeted by racism and challenging the racist messages of separation, difference, and fear;
  • Training and building groups of white allies committed to eliminating racism by assisting other whites to heal the damage done to us by racism;
  • Understanding that being allies to people targeted by racism is for our own benefit since it involves reclaiming our full humanity and having a world right for everyone, a world where everyone matters. 
(citation: http://www.rc.org/uer/TheRoleofWhites.html)

Maybe I can't do a lot, and maybe it'll be ineffective, and maybe I'll fuck up, like I probably have here, but the fact is that I don't know what it's like to be black, to suffer institutionalised racism from organisations such as the police, the organisations we look to to protect us. What I can do, and what I hope other white people will join me in doing, is read, learn and do what I can to be in a position to fight racism wherever I see or encounter it.

I don't want a cookie for this, it's me attempting, and probably failing, to meet the minimum standard of what being a decent human entails, but I'm trying.

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