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Step Up, White People, And Be Heard!

August 16, 2017

The horrific terrorist incident on Saturday 12th August 2017 in Charlottesville, USA in which one woman was murdered and at least 19 people injured by a white supremacist driving his car into them, has pushed the United States further into the media spotlight, highlighting the extremism and bigotry suffered by people of colour in the United States.

Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, stated 24 hours after the incident (and in his first comment on the horror): “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.  On many sides.”

Group hug!

We are a multiracial humanity, with different experiences, oppressions and privileges.

We in the United Kingdom should not get complacent.  It happens here too, more than those of us with white privilege could ever know, because it isn’t reported.  The same weekend that the horror in Charlottesville was unfolding, my local area was commemorating the 40 year anniversary of Battle of Lewisham in which antifascist demonstrators protested the National Front march through Lewisham, Deptford and New Cross in south east London, areas with a high non-white demographic.

Our media is regularly publishing articles demonising the Islamic community; on Tuesday 15th August 2017 The Sun (a tabloid ‘news’paper) published a column by Trevor Kavanagh specifically claiming the entirety of the Islamic community creates “one unspoken fear, gagged by political correctness, which links Britain and the rest of Europe. The common denominator, almost unsayable until last week’s furore over Pakistani sex gangs, is Islam…What will we do about The Muslim Problem then [upon the UK exiting the EU?]”

IPSO has received “a total of 150 complaints about the piece to which you refer, mostly under Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice” and an open letter signed by more than 100 cross-party MPs has called for action as a result of this column.

Racist attacks have been on the rise since the Brexit vote, but that merely means that those with racist views have felt more legitimised in those views and able to comfortably opine and act in public.  The Independent reported that racist hate crimes had risen by over 100% by February 2017 and these are just the cases that are recorded by the police.

On Wednesday 16th August 2017 and at the time or writing, our Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to condemn the words of Donald Trump defending the actions of the fascists at Charlottesville, although she does at least recognise there is no equivalence between the counter-protestors and the fascists.  Our leaders are failing us.

I note there are still many claiming there is violence on both sides; this may be true but think about who the instigators of this violence are.  Think of the oppression of hundreds of years which is meted out in words, in legislation, in social bigotry and in physical pain.  There may be violence, but who is attacking and who is defending, in this situation?  If you think there is an even ground upon which the violence is being enacted, then you do not understand the situation.

Now is the time we need to stand up and be counted.  All of us, white people especially.  Those who are oppressed should not have to carry the weight of the fight against such oppression themselves.  Racism is not isolated incidents, it is pervasive and built into our systems of governance and our social interactions.  To be clear, RACE IS NOT A CHARACTER TRAIT.  Any assumptions based on race, or religion, or any arbitrary characteristic, is bigotry.

Our white privilege affords us a safety net that people of colour, people of oppressed groups, do not have, especially if you are a male white person with no visible disabilities.  We need to use this privilege to step up where it is not safe for those who are oppressed to do so.  Don’t step over or on those who are oppressed, but do be the stepping stone upon which they can step to become that which oppression denies them.

If you are struggling for what you can do, try these for a start:

  • Acknowledge your white privilege and open your eyes to see how it is enacted every day. This will be hard at first, but once you start, it will, sadly, get easier.
  • If a colleague, friend or family member makes a racist joke – don’t let it slide. Ask them what it is they find funny about it, or pretend you don’t understand it and get them to explain the meaning.  Then simply say you don’t find racism funny.  No-one should get a pass on being racist.
  • If you witness a racist incident, don’t be a passive onlooker. Support the person being abused and confront the racist person.  Do it on your own volition, not on behalf of the person being abused.  Redirect the ire; be the change you want to see.
  • Sign petitions, go on marches, be public and loud in your opposition to racism at every opportunity. You may get tired of it, but people suffering racist oppression don’t get a day off so nor should we.
  • If someone tells you of a racist incident they suffered, don’t demand proof, offer empathy.
  • Speak openly with your children about oppression and make an effort to open them up to the history and achievements of people of colour. Watch movies, TV programmes and books with people of colour as protagonists.  Representation matters to everyone.
  • Don’t expect a person of colour to educate you. Do it yourself.  Google, go to a library, ask for recommendations from friends if you feel they will be receptive.
  • If someone calls you out on something you have said, stop and listen and take time to think about what they are saying. White privilege blinds us; don’t get upset by someone who is trying to help you to see.  If it is in an angry tone, just put yourself in the shoes of the person calling out – how many racist comments or incidents would it take to be aimed at you before you got angry at every one? They are doing you a favour in trying to help you to see, don’t tone police, just listen.
  • You might suffer from bigotry for other reasons, such as sexuality, ability or gender. That doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from racism.  Privileges and oppressions intersect.  Don’t be the person who says “what white privilege? I’m *insert intersecting identity here*, I’m not privileged”.  It’s not a competition, it’s not an either/or situation.
  • Don’t claim to be ‘colour-blind’ or ‘not to see race’; that simply denies and silences the experiences of people of colour and denies your white privilege which you benefit from without having a choice in the matter. It’s offensive, so don’t do it.  That’s something I was called out on long ago, and I am very grateful for it.

As your practice in fighting white privilege grows, you will find more that you can do.

This is not a freedom of speech issue like the fascists are claiming it to be.  These same fascists turned up to their protest against the expressed will of the residents of Charlottesville, and many of whom turned up carrying guns, shields, mace, pepper spray and clubs, and in combat gear.

This is an issue about freedom from racism, hate, bigotry and violence, whether by word or deed.  Donald Trump is wrong; the violence was and is perpetrated by the fascists.

Mandela quote re racism is taughtMaybe one day, there will no longer be an “us and them”.  That’s my hope; that’s my dream.  Make it yours, too, and act.  To be passive is to be complicit; don’t be that person.  Be the answer, not the question.

More on the events in Charlottesville:

Witness and member of the multi-faith worship congregation threatened by white supremacists, the Rev Traci Blackman:

Vice News Tonight: The City Council allowed the march against the wishes of the residents of Charlottesville.  What the terror looked like, interviews with fascists attempting to justify their separatism and supremacist views.  CONTENT WARNING for aftermath of the car terror incident:

Fascist terrorist actions in the US in 2017 so far (incomplete as microagressions and ‘everyday racism’ is too numerous to count):


From → Ideology, political

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