When you are black or a person of colour in the UK, the United States and in many other countries where white people are the predominant race, you get to know of all the ‘intricacies, contradictions and double standards’ of racism. There is no such thing as being neutral or siting on the fence when it comes to racism. You are either for it or against it. This is why to us black people, the most recent racial injustice of George Floyd was repugnant but sadly not that shocking. For us, it wasn’t news. It was just a peek into the reality with which we’re all too familiar.
White privilege – a term some find upsetting and offensive – refers to the concept that people have basic rights and benefits simply because they are white. It doesn’t mean they haven’t suffered hardship or that they don’t have a tough life – just that their colour hasn’t made it harder. White people possess white privilege or white immunity from racial disease. And because of this, others of us, black people and people of colour, reap the social, political and existential pains of that racialised social skin. White privilege means having the luxury of being able to step outside without fearing that you’re going to be discriminated against or oppressed in any way because of the colour of your skin. White privilege is being able to voice your opinion without being called angry and aggressive. White privilege is being able to read newspapers and to turn on the television and see people of your race widely represented. White privilege is being able to move through life without being racially profiled or unfairly stereotyped.
This idea of white privilege is unseen and unconscious.
The most recent statistics from the UK Home Office and Ministry of Justice show:
■ In 2018-19, black people were more than nine times as likely to be stopped and searched by police as white people.
■ They were over three times as likely to be arrested as white people.
■ They were more than five times as likely to have force used against them by police as white people.
■ A quarter of the prison population comes from BAME backgrounds, despite representing just 14% of the population. In young offenders institutions, this increases to 50%.
At the moment, so many white people in the UK, America and in the majority of other countries are not prepared and not willing to have a courageous conversation about racism. Many of them would rather avoid the conversation. A lot of them would rather say how ‘all lives matter’. The above statistics and many other racial incidences that happen in your offices, your cities, and ones you read about in the media are the reasons the “Black Lives Matter” movement was established. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” is meant to signify the fact that black lives matter, but not that ONLY black lives matter. “We currently live in a society where black lives aren’t valued in the same way that white lives are”. Hence black lives matter. We obviously understand that white lives matter too, and that every life is valuable, but “not everyone’s life is in danger due to the colour of their skin. This is why those who are saying “all lives matter”, are not only reaffirming our entire social structures which centre around whiteness, but are offensive and counterproductive. All you are doing is discounting and diminishing the violence and discrimination black people face on a daily basis”.
I do not admit for instance that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been to those people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race or at any rate a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place. I do not admit it. I do not think the Red Indians had any right to say, ‘American continent belongs to us and we are not going to have any of these European settlers coming in here’. They had not the right, nor had they the power.Winston Churchill
What we need from all of you is to be an ally. An ally is a person who’s willing to stick their neck out and stand up for what’s right when they see something going wrong. It’s important that white people take action in their workplaces, in schools and society at large, but most importantly, educate yourselves about the issues. Changing your behaviors and actions starts with changing your thoughts. Educate yourself on why people are really protesting. Challenge yourself to identify whether you have any deeply embedded stereotypes or bigoted thoughts. Teach your children about different races and how your country wouldn’t be where it is today had it not been for black people and people of colour.
So while this time of unrest will certainly pass, racial injustices will remain and therefore the question becomes – what will you do to improve the lives of black people and people of colour? The responsibility really lies with you. You need to decide and pick a side. While I’m thrilled to see that many other white people are standing up and confronting racism, I can’t also help but wonder – will you still stand for us when #BlackLivesMatter stops trending?
*Title changed from, White People Are Not Ready to Confront Racism on 12 June 2020