Don’t Shout, Listen: Why my opinion on race issues is not needed

As I write this, the death of George Floyd has just been certified as homicide. The report states that his death was caused by Cardiac Arrest triggered by a police officer compressing his neck for more than eight minutes, while he was being restrained. The murder has sparked protests internationally.

I’m not about to get into the politics – to clarify, those discussions are important to have, but because my commentary isn’t needed. If reality is determined by historical context, then what happened to Floyd, and Trump holding up a bible as the country went up in flames is a fragment in a history of stories of struggles against racism, that are not mine to tell.

I call myself an ally of Black Lives Matter, and I think that the phrase ‘all lives matter’ is often a racist attempt to detract from the suffering that people in their position dont understand.

In understanding communication- which is something I have personally struggled with – I learnt about listening, understanding when my place in a conversation wasn’t needed. I also struggle with multiple voices speaking at once, often wanting to cut through the noise and hear off the people with the expertise.

In discussions of this issue, this is a point where I should stop shouting, and listen. There are multiple citations from writers of colour in this article. I have provided links to each one of them. Their stories are better told in their own voices. I hope you find them valuable.

Everyone’s Problem

Racism is ‘everyone’s problem’. Don’t misread my view as ‘White people do not have a role in issues of racism’. We do have a role to play, and examining yourself for the preconceptions you have of different races, words you use and racist sentiments which you over-hear and ignore, can be useful.

However, Ijeoma Oluo argues that a lot of the discussion from white people on racism focuses on how they can feel validated while ignoring the structures and systems they benefit from. She recalls that she was once told ‘this is very interesting, but its not going to help me make more black friends’

“Just once I want to speak to a room of white people who know they are there because they are the problem. Who know they are there to begin the work of seeing where they have been complicit and harmful so that they can start doing better. Because white supremacy is their construct, a construct they have benefited from, and deconstructing white supremacy is their duty”

Oluo, confronting racism is not about the needs and feelings of white people
Spot the difference

I have the privilege of witnessing media blatantly which favours my race, e.g in portraying the protests by people of colour as inherently violent. I probably have a generally more positive relationship with the police than many people of colour. Also, as well as being generally poorer, BAME minorities often suffer with worse health outcomes, including being at a higher risk of diseases like Covid-19, and having more trouble getting stamented for disabilities like autism, in some parts of the world.

My response when I’m told any of this should not be to shut up shop and say ‘yeah, well, I had negative experiences with autism’, but to realise the way I slot into the bigger picture as a white person, not to go through each day being proud that I’m not a racist.

In his essay on ‘White Fragility’ Robin DiAngelo argues that the process of realising racism as your responsibility need not be a self righteous process

“although all individuals play a role in keeping the system active, the responsibility for change is not equally shared. White racism is ultimately a white problem and the burden for interrupting it belongs to white people. Conversations about Whiteness might best happen within the context of a larger conversation about racism. It is useful to start at the micro level of analysis, and move to the macro, from the individual out to the interpersonal, societal and institutional”

DiAngrlo, White Fragility

Perhaps if we have a racist perception we can notice it and rather than suppressing that thought, ask why it exists and where it came from. It may be the case that aspects like media representation have altered your perception of how you see people of different ethnicities, and made you take a stereotypical, or discriminatory point of view.

My Opinion Doesn’t Matter

“Amid every conversation about nice white people feeling silenced by conversations about race, there is a sort of ironic and glaring lack of understanding or empathy for those of us who have been visibly marked out as different for our entire lives, and live the consequences. It’s truly a lifetime of self-censorship that people of colour have to live. The options are: speak your truth and face the reprisals, or bite your tongue and get ahead in life. It must be a strange life, always having permission to speak and feeling indignant when you’re finally asked to listen. It stems from white people’s never-questioned entitlement, I suppose”

Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race

Hopefully I’ve established that even though we all have a responsibility to stamp out racism; white people and people of colour are still often not aligned in that disscussion. People experience the world differently.

My responsibilty is not to go ‘well I think racism is this…’ but to question my own biases, ask why they are there, and not shout over people of colour when they get an opportunity to speak about these issues. That way I can be an ally in a disscussion I’m actually incapable of being an expert on.

This is not to speak for the experiences of all people of a certain race – I’m obviously not doing that. I’m sure a few people will be tempted to explain how they ‘don’t see colour’, however:

“Racism – both the personal kind and the systemic kind– isn’t necessarily triggered by the visual cue of another person’s skin color. Racism is about the social value we assign to people and their actions based on their physical attributes, and neither blind nor colorblind people avoid that acculturation just because they lack the visual cues”

Zach Stafford, When you say you ‘don’t see race’, you’re ignoring racism, not helping to solve it

So no, my opinion on the killing of George Floyd doesn’t matter. I hope I’ve made my readers think about some of these issues, but I wont be the one to lead the disscussion on them.

An Atypical Perspective…

Perspectives aren’t always equal: A fact which can be difficult to comprehend, especially if you struggle with cues, is that people may be coming at a situation from wildly different perspectives relating to their experiences. Realising our place in the discussion and knowing when to shut up, is vital to creating a safe and understanding disscussion on race.

Analyse your behaviours: I’m skilled at analysis. Finding small details and digging deeper to question their meaning. In a sense, we should all be applying that level of micro analysis to our biases and questioning racism even if there’s a nudge and a wink, or an ‘I’m not racist, but…’. It might be the case that you can trace those views back to the media you consume or the privileges afforded to you, yet recognising that can be important in realising wider forms of systemic oppression.

Dont Shout, listen: When it comes to conversations about topics, we’re already in a very crowded room. To shout over the noise with your view is tempting but unhelpful. Rather, we should refer to those with experience on the matter. Many people of colour are cut out of these discussions. Listening to them is therefore vital in stopping racism.

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