It has been a year since George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, an officer from the Minneapolis Police Department in Minnesota. As a white person, I have a duty and an obligation to call out racism wherever I see it. I wanted to write this article in solidarity with BIPOC folk across the entire world.
After the events of last year, and the protests which followed across America and Europe in support of the Black Lives Matter political movement, I very quickly began to notice resistance from other white people. I noticed this resistance as a result of the knowledge I quickly gained on the subject. And sadly for us, this resistance goes unnoticed by other white people.
Some of these people directly condemn the Black Lives Matter movement, believing it to be a Marxist organisation designed to destroy the west. Others are vocal with their responses to BLM, including those that state the phrase ‘all lives matter’ as well as ‘white privilege doesn’t exist’.
I have a very hard time trying to convince people who are using social media to make their feelings and often emotional responses known. However, it is important to state why these phrases are problematic. Systematic oppression as a whole is a hierarchy – a structure of power which consolidates from the ground up.
Therefore racism starts off as covert, often small microaggressions that stay under the radar. This is where I feel that white people have a huge role to play in combatting racism because if we can recognise and notice it from the beginning, we will be able to better challenge it.
However, the hierarchical structure begins to take shape as covert actions start to become more prevalent, and noticed. Dog whistles and slurs may not be so obvious to some of us, but the more I’ve begun to educate myself, the more I’m starting to see them crop up, including on news broadcasts such as Fox News.
These dog whistles and slurs, may still go unnoticed however, and thus, you move further up the hierarchy. This is when covert words, actions and attitudes begin to translate into public policy, within public circles and other aspects of society, including in the workplace. As you begin to go further up, it becomes increasingly difficult to challenge.
Right at the top of the hierarchy is overt racism and white supremacy, which actively involves actions such as police brutality, genocide, occupation, and incarceration. To me, overt racism is the product of covert racism not being challenged within society, as attitudes from the ground up are evoked widely by those with far more callous intentions.
To me, this matters because white people such as myself have not been subject to these power structures. Rather, they have created them. Because of this, I and every single white person has white privilege. It is absolutely necessary to acknowledge this privilege because we can use it to dismantle racism, white supremacy, and other forms of systematic oppression.
Since white people created the hierarchical structures that result in racism, those of us who can should be using our privilege to directly challenge those who try to uphold it. At the same time, we need to listen to BIPOC folk who face racism on a daily basis, without hijacking their words, actions and voices.
This is why last year’s events in Minneapolis had such a huge significant effect on me, as a white person. I will never be able to truly understand these struggles. Indeed, no white person can. But that doesn’t mean we cannot stand with BIPOC people everywhere. I used this quote last year:
“I understand that I will never understand. However I stand with you.”
In my opinion, the very first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that it exists in the first place. That means acknowledging racism is a very real issue here. By acknowledging problems, we can work to find solutions, or try to address these problems as much as possible.
And here’s where some white people fail on this simple concept. In fact, just days after the events in Minneapolis, I witnessed white people from the UK claim that racism isn’t a problem here, and that our police are ‘fine’ because of it. Not only does this hurt BIPOC, but it also ensures that the hierarchial structures stay in place.
Soon, I witnessed a huge amount of resistance from other white people, mostly online but also in the form of direct action. Far-right protests organised in London brought along folk who were vocally racist, while police officers treated them completely differently to protesters in support of BLM.
This anger provoked by white people is known as white fragility. And for those white folk who want to unlearn racism and support BIPOC, it might seem relentless on social media to try and challenge such fragility. Indeed, vocal people are often looking for reactions, akin to bullies in the school playground. Therefore, your energy is not best focused on them and for the sake of your own health and wellbeing, always look after yourself.
The response from various communities has no doubt, been fantastic. Statues representing controversial figures with which belong in museums were toppled over. The subject of slavery, and colonialism belongs in the education curriculum and in museums. And in my opinion, it’s too easy to walk past a statue and not know who it is.
We need to decolonise education and ensure that the stories of history are told not from the victors but from those they oppressed. This starts as always, from the ground up. And we must be able to acknowledge events such as the territorial expansion of the United States that removed Native Americans from their homeland, under a belief known as Manifest Destiny.
In fact, the history of Britain and of America is often told from the viewpoint of the victors, including within our own education. As I grew up, I learned a lot about World Wars I and II, but what I didn’t learn was anything to do with the British empire. That came after school. I had no idea that where I was living might have had workhouses used by slave owners.
Because of what Native Americans faced, and what other indigenous people such as the Aborigines in Australia also faced, it is extremely important to acknowledge that indigenous people also face racism. Therefore that is why I like to use the term BIPOC to mean Black & Indigneous People of Colour.
Worryingly, another event which I have been following is the hijacking of language used by black people. The best example of this is the word ‘woke’ which has been weaponised by supporters of right wing politics, and which is now being reclaimed by the very people who used it before them. In fact, woke was never meant as a word to demonise equity and inclusion as a form of ‘political correctness’ but that’s exactly how groups such as white conservatives use the term today.
The word ‘woke’ depicted exactly what BIPOC folk face on a daily basis. Being attentive to social and racial issues around them. They had to remain aware and vigilant in order to stay alive. Being woke was and is, staying in touch with the struggles and the black experience, and understanding that the fight has been going on since the first day of arriving on settler lands.
Now ‘woke’ has been hijacked by the right in an attempt to play victim, usually in the form of complaining about ‘woke culture’ or ‘woke supremacy’. The problem of course as stated above is that this very simple concept goes out the window. For starters, ‘woke supremacy’ does not have the ability to create systemic harm and oppression. What this does do, however, is further emphasise how problematic white supremacy is.
Sadly, with a very polarised era in modern politics of the UK and the US, ‘woke’ was turned from social attentiveness into attacks on marginalised folk. What’s even stranger is that those using the term ‘woke’ often use it on other white people with more progressive or radical views. Because of the fact that I know the term ‘woke’ doesn’t affect me as a white person, and that white folk are using the term almost religiously, it is obvious what the intention is.
White supremacy is so problematic that people are willing to create a new enemy just to exercise that power against. This is actually resulting in political and social actions that include banning conversations on racism from education curriculums. These are much more vocal and forceful applications of white supremacy.
As a white person, acknowledging white privilege and the fact that I uphold the structures of white supremacy is a really important point. My opinion as an activist is not to give the attention that people such as Laurence Fox so desperately seek. What we have to remember is that this is systemic harm and not political games.
To summarise, the events of last year had such a profound effect on people in ways that can not be fully imagined. While it brought out the worst in some folk, it also became a widely discussed and acknowledged topic, bringing the spotlight onto not just police brutality, incarceration and genocide, but also the reality of white supremacy and white privilege as a whole.
I want to really emphasise that as a white person, it is not my job to ask BIPOC to educate me on racism and white supremacy. And it is not their job to utilise the emotional energy just to do so. But it is, and will always remain, a duty and an obligation for me to challenge racism and white supremacy wherever I see it.