To say that the current protesting in the United States and the Black Lives Matter movement is trending right now would be an absolute understatement. This humanitarian pursuit (also known as Civil Rights Movement) is not new, nor is it reserved for the United States. Blacks and browns have experienced systemic racism all over the world and my country of Canada is not exempt. In speaking with various peoples of various backgrounds (including people of colour or POC), they express concerns about this movement losing steam and popularity only to reignite several years later after another case of police brutality against a minority. By my understanding, this is the second wave of mass protest of the BLM movement. The burning question is: how can we create lasting change?
The conversation around racial equality is an incredibly complex and sensitive one. For good reason, the inequality that groups such as BLM speak of have been around for a very long time. This history of racial injustice sometimes only receives a few paragraphs in educational textbooks. Why? I imagine this is because no one wants to focus on the crimes committed by first world nations. It is not easy to admit to the state sponsored genocide of American First Peoples. Nor is it easy to discuss how millions of African peoples were kidnapped as slaves and brought to various colonies around the world (Britain, Caribbean, America, Latin America, etc.) with extreme violence and oppression.* By admitting to guilt and therefore responsibility for these crimes and their contemporary consequences, there would need to be reparation. Admitting guilt would admit that there is a problem and a problem requires a solution. A solution that the state must come up with. What state wants to do that? Which is why we, as individuals, can no longer look away from what is going on. Not just in the United States, but around the world. We must demand change if we want to see change. Therefore, this can’t be just a fad. Something we post once on our various social media handles and sit back and relax believing that we did our part. It has to be a constant and it needs to be consistent.
I want to identify that I would fall under the category of white privileged and therefore, am unfit to answer this question. This is largely due to the fact that I can’t answer what the solution is, I can only speculate. I also know that by not saying anything at all is to be borderline complicit in the further continuation of systemic inequity and racism against blacks. So, I will write about this, full knowing that I am not the person to solve this problem but that I want to be part of the solution. I believe that the biggest contribution that I can provide is to continue to educate myself on racial inequity both historical and present as well as share my learnings with others- especially my children. I want to learn and hear more stories so I can bring them to light. I don’t want to be part of the fad, I want to be part of the change.
As mentioned, I believe that education is one method of changing the narrative and the systems of prejudice in various countries. In a book I have recently begun reading about the experiences of Blacks in Britain, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, she mentions a bit on a black sociology professor trying to put together a ” race-based” educational program for the police in the 1980s. The reason for which, was that Britain at the time was experiencing an influx in racial tension and “rioting”. The professor first wants to see what the general understanding on British Blacks is and sends out an open survey to police officers. Depending on his findings, he will be able to see whether or not the program should be anti-racist or multicultural in approach. The results of his survey provide ample evidence of racist beliefs held throughout the sample. It is important to note that the responses yielded similar themes associated to Blacks ranging from decreasing property value to increasing crime. This information encouraged the sociologist to pursue an anti-racist approach, rather than a multicultural approach to his program. However, this decision for an anti-racist program was turned down by the police department and the educational program was closed altogether as a result. This was a big a-ha moment to me, that there is a difference between multiculturalism and anti-racism.
But what is the difference between these two?
First let me briefly touch on my cultural lens. I am a heterosexual white male. Does this matter? Yes. I realize I am what is perhaps the poster child of what so many movements are going against. Typically speaking, when you think of racists who run the country and the agenda, who comes to mind? Straight white men who are rich and powerful. The only thing I am lacking is the mass influence and wealth. But maybe that does make me a good candidate to speak up. Maybe I can influence the other straight white men to have a different opinion? Or at least give their long held beliefs a second thought. Hence the whole purpose behind my blog and podcast, that we are probably wrong about everything. So why not try and get it right? Why not give it a second look? Why not hear someone else who has a different opinion or perspective than the ones we constantly surround ourselves with? Well, generally speaking, people don’t like doing this because it makes them feel uncomfortable. No one likes to be wrong. Which is problematic because at some point we are all wrong and until we challenge what we believe we could never be right. Phew, that was an aside but I believe it to be important… my point is, I have no clue what it is like to be a minority in a western nation, so how can I answer the question of what a different group than my own (read minority) needs? I can’t. All I can do is ask questions, shut up and listen. Which is very very hard for us (yes, I am talking about “us” white people) because we have been talking for so very long. It is time to listen to other voices.
This is where the difference between multiculturalism and anti-racism comes in. Multiculturalism is an interesting concept. It suggests that you have a country or place that is accepting of all different cultures and peoples. Everyone is included but not necessarily everyone gets along, or has to. However, there is a bit of a hidden piece to this. Where are all these cultures gathering? Usually in a place where they are the minority and there is a dominant culture. Usually, countries that are multicultural are also democratic, which means that decisions are made based on votes. Every individual gets a vote. So if you have a dominant culture and a bunch of different minority groups, it is likely that the majority will be making the decisions. If you are able to get the dominant culture or majority to think a certain way, then it its likely that they will be swayed to vote or direct their countries decisions in a certain way. Democracy isn’t perfect; however, it certainly beats the alternative of living in a fascist or communist country. At this moment in history, utopians don’t exist. Therefore, democracy is our safest choice. But, as one can easily deduce from this explanation, democratic countries and the voting power of the people can easily be exploited. I won’t name drop any current political leaders or explicitly list any of their tactics but by using emotive power of fear, you can be sure to convince anyone to think a certain way. Especially the uneducated. Therefore, multiculturalism, or the inclusion of different peoples and different groups is not enough to create a flourish democratic and egalitarian nation.
You need something more. You need to be honest. You need to be open. This is all a part of anti-racism. Which is the act of understanding the prejudicial views of others and then trying to educate them to thinking alternatively. It’s trying to figure out the x,y,z of why this individual or group dislikes this other group and then exploring the absurdity of these claims. You can do this by shaming people to think a certain way. But this can have mixed, often polarizing results. For example, calling someone who says they don’t care about BLM a racist is likely to make them oppositional rather than supportive. So this is definitely a tactic to avoid. Instead, I think it is good to listen to the views of the individual and go from there. In returning to our example of the person who doesn’t care about BLM, ask them why? Perhaps they have good reasons that have never been validated. Maybe they have been told their opinions don’t matter. We don’t know until we ask the questions. You may notice that people have some very searing opinions on the matter. As a white person, I know I have heard some things that I highly doubt would be shared with a person of colour. All the more reason for me to listen first and then ask questions. I won’t win anyone over by calling them a racist asshole. Maybe they say that this group is more prone to end up in prisons. Okay, but why is that? Start by talking about the legacy of how there came to be a disproportionate number of blacks in American prisons. You win people over by making them think. Maybe not immediately but eventually.
This is why anti-racist education is a strong medium for combating prejudice in our society and why the British sociologist wanted to go this direction rather than the multicultural approach. However, it is uncomfortable to openly discuss our own bias and prejudice. However, it is there. Anyone who says “I don’t see colour” is guilty of naivety. Anyone who says “all lives matter” is clearly missing the point. We are talking about Black lives. So you better start to see colour and understand that it has been misrepresented in historically and contemporary. We all have much to learn and we are all part of this conversation. The only way we are going to make change in our democratic society is by having the courage to be a part of this conversation. In conclusion, I am talking to white people: we have no idea what it is like to be a visible minority in Euro-western centric country because we are the majority. That might make you feel uneasy and if so good, it’s the truth. So we need to have these conversations but we need to do a lot more listening than speaking. White people have been doing most of the speaking for a long damn time (again, understatement), so it’s time to be quiet and listen. Trust me on this, you are going to want to be a part of the change.
Thank you for reading,
*That is not to say that these two examples are the only cases of oppression committed by colonizers, in fact, the list is rather exhaustive; however, the focus is on the impacts of systemic racism against blacks.
I like to think of my articles as an open dialogue. If you have questions, concerns, comments or if you think I am completely out to lunch- please do not hesitate to write in the comments below. Your thoughts will help me and they could help others see a different point.