I haven’t posted direct content about #BlackLivesMatter on social media just yet as… I didn’t know exactly what to say. Reposting an image shows solidarity but it somehow seems disingenuous if that’s all I’m doing. So I’ve taken the past couple of weeks to make a start at reviewing my own preconceived beliefs and, as the phrase goes, check my privilege. Stopping to listen and learn before adding my voice to the mix.
If, like me, you don’t know where to begin, I’d highly recommend picking up “Why I’m No Longer Taking to White People About Race”. I first heard about this through @OurSharedShelf two years ago and I am ashamed for not reading it sooner. If you were to judge a book by its cover you could assume it is controversial and provocative – but far from it, it talks about the honest truth. From the first chapter alone I have learnt more about Black history in the UK than was ever touched upon in my 13 years of full time education. It’s overwhelming to realise just how much has been hidden away and labelled as forgotten. The narrative delves into the foundations of how we have ended up with the world in which we live – how the system has developed to allow for white privilege and that this seeps into all aspects of our social systems. It is an insidious issue with significant effects of unequal opportunity and life outcomes, and we’ve simply become too used to it.
As an ardent feminist, this book has made me realise this movement is not in any way more immune to the effect of unfair race relations. It’s made me question what it means to be a feminist. Five days ago I would have passionately stated that feminism demanded equality, but now I realise that is the easy way out. That’s okay; we learn, we reflect, and we move forwards. The following excerpt evokes a hugely emotive response and describes the basis of my new understanding far more eloquently than I could:
“It’s clear that equality doesn’t quite cut it. Asking for a sliver of disproportional power is too polite a request. I don’t want to be included. Instead, I want to question who created the standard in the first place. After a lifetime of embodying difference, I have no desire to be equal. I want to deconstruct the structural power of a system that marked me out as different. I don’t wish to be assimilated into the status quo. I want to be liberated from all negative assumptions that my characteristics bring. The onus is not on me to change. Instead, it’s the world around me.
Equality is fine as a transitional demand, but it’s dishonest not to recognise it for what it is – the easy route. There is a difference between saying ‘we want to be included’ and saying ‘we want to reconstruct your exclusive system’. The former is more readily accepted into the mainstream.”
The Feminism Question, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
As a British South Asian woman I could easily fall into the trap of believing I’m pretty woke to the issue of systemic racism – and that’s true to a certain extent but overwhelmingly naïve in others. When it comes to advocating for Black Lives, we as a South Asian community have a lot to think about. We shy away from discussion but racist views are present within our culture and conversations. On family trips to Sri Lanka when I was little, probably no older than 10 years old, I’d ask to buy “Fair & Lovely” cream, so I could whiten my skin. I’d often been told how cute I looked was I was younger, verbatim “like a little white child”, and I wanted to transform my skin back to what I thought it “should” look like. It wasn’t thought of as much of an issue at the time; it was a widely bought product, all the girls were using it, everyone knew to stay out of the sun. Except for my dad who questioned me – “but why?”. Why did I want to change the colour of my skin? And that was the first time I realised I wasn’t above the peer pressure to conform. Pressure, in part from society’s portrayal of acceptable beauty standards, but more significantly from my own community’s prejudices. Why were we scared of having dark skin? What made it wrong? Undesirable? But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We need to change this.
And then there’s the guilt. Which isn’t unexpected, but isn’t exactly helpful. As Reni Eddo-Lodge asserts, “wallowing in despair would not get us anywhere”. The past weeks have reopened the conversation of race. It’s not new; it’s an occurrence that happens every so often when the persecution of POC is brought to the forefront of our minds through another callous act, but it’s another chance for us to talk. There’s no definitive end point to racism, at least not in our lifetimes, but it’s more than that – we desperately need to talk, to learn from the past and understand how we got to this point in order to change our actions moving forwards. In the last week I’ve had open and honest discussions with friends and colleagues, which has been refreshing and insightful – and scary. How is advocating for the persecuted a fear-inducing and seemingly rebellious notion? When you spend your life worrying about the implications of these conversations, worrying how your viewpoint will be received, it can be easier to stay silent. But this isn’t about easy. If you feel as passionately about challenging racist constructs, if your heart could burst from your chest with emotion, then you’re part of the movement. I implore you; have those conversations, educate yourself, speak your truth, and listen. If it’s uncomfortable, it’s probably worthwhile.