You probably don’t think you’re a ‘racist’.
You’ve never ‘name called’ or openly jeered someone of a different skin colour to you (at least not directly or only in jest). You view the hate-filled actions of history past as ignorant and abhorrent – the slave trade, genocide and apartheid. And today when you see others booing an Indigenous football player or marching under banners of ‘White pride’ adorned with swastikas and snarling faces, you, along with the majority of society who would see themselves as ‘decent citizens’, shake your head and agree, “That’s just wrong.”
But identifying a deep seated social-ill and actively doing something about it are radically different things.
‘Hashtag solidarity’ and the posting of a sympathetic article written by another does not make you a reconciler or an activist, nor will it begin to come anywhere near what we need to end racism in society today.
We need to make this personal, and for many that is a confronting thought.
Thankfully we don’t have to get it ‘right’ straight away, and the path to reconciliation is predominantly one of asking questions and listening, not jumping forward with the answers.
Anyone can begin to fight racism in their own life and everyone has a responsibility to try.
5 steps to end racism in your own life
Note: The following 5 steps are adapted from the brilliant reflections of American writer Meredith Hastings, who first articulated the original version of these 5 steps in response to her experiences of race relations in the United States. You can read her article here.
1.) Start by asking questions.
It should come as a relief that what you say in regards to racism doesn’t have to be solution-oriented. That’s often a form of cultural hegemony talking anyway, buying into the idea that because we are of the majority/white/smart/educated/well employed, others will look to us for answers.
We don’t have to have answers before we say something – we can speak in order to learn, too. Good questions to start with:
- Would you like to be friends?
- How can I love you better as a person of a different ethnicity or race?
- Have you noticed me doing anything that’s offensive to you?
- Would you help me understand how I might be treating you unequally?
- What do we have in common?
2.) Acknowledge our silence and ask forgiveness.
We must empty ourselves of our privilege and recognise our silence is its own form of complicity with respect to the racist acts of history and the discrimination of today, by saying things like:
- I am so sorry for being silent. I promise to speak against any form of hatred I see from now on, because what happens to any of my brothers and sisters happens to me, too. Will you forgive me for not openly standing with you sooner?
- I admit I have not regarded you as my equal and have refused to search for ways I might be endorsing racist attitudes and behaviours. Will you forgive me and help me grow?
- I am sorry for what happened to Adam Goodes, the Stolen Generation, the first peoples of our nation and everywhere else where people have been marginalised based on skin colour alone. Those lives matter. Your life, your feelings, your voice – they all matter.
3. Hold each other accountable.
We have a responsibility to one another and to our brothers and sisters of other races, to have a zero-tolerance policy of racist remarks and micro-aggressions coming from others.
If you hear someone underplaying the issue of racism or worse, continuing in its participation by joking about it no matter how seemingly ‘harmless’ they or others around you believe it to be, say something.
Help your mistaken friend understand that their actions may be perceived as dismissing and minimising the unfair categorisation, hurt, and discrimination people from other races have dealt with for years.
Help your friend understand he/she will never know what it feels like to be at the mercy of unjust generalisations or stereotypes that can force a person of colour to earn the respect he/she is naturally given because he’s white/non-Indigenous.
And for Pete’s sake, don’t let anyone get by using offensive terms for other races; like taking only the first 3 letters of the entire name for Aborigines, calling our African-American friends N’s or slurring an Asian brother or sister with a title they would never use to refer to themselves.
4. Identify your ‘blind spots’ instead of defending your innocence.
The appropriate response to these conversations is not, “This doesn’t apply to me. I’m not racist.” A better response is to humble ourselves and ask, “Am I racist, or reinforcing racist attitudes or beliefs in any way?”
We will eliminate racism much more quickly if we try to identify where we are in the wrong rather than immediately claiming our innocence. There’s no danger in honest self-examination. (But there is much to be gained.)
5. Seek reconciliation in everyday life.
Are we saying we support integration with our mouths while we support modern-day segregation with our lives?
One of the quickest ways we’ll overcome negative attitudes toward other races is by getting out of our bubbles and into each other’s lives.
- Are we friends with people who are like us in every way, or do we seek to befriend and learn from people of other colours, religions, and opinions?
- Do we live in our cosy, Suburban paradises and avoid those ‘other parts of town’ at all costs?
- Do we send our children to private schools kilometres away from the nearest public school because it’s better, cleaner, or safer?
- Are we worshiping with believers of other races?
What about you? What would you add to this list of ways we can appropriately respond to conversations about race? How will you try to live differently to eliminate racism and love everyone equally? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
- RACISM. IT STOPS WITH ME – Join the campaign inviting Australians to reflect on what they can do to counter racism wherever it happens.
- Welcome to Australia – Check out this movement helping you say a big ‘Welcome to Australia‘ to asylum seekers, refugees, new arrivals and other migrants.