A few months ago the world was in uproar over George Floyd’s death. Everyone had an opinion about racism and the most intense social wars were fought behind keyboards in the midst of a global pandemic. As the dust settles, racism is less front and centre of many minds unless of course you’re a minority, in which case you have likely continued to experience the same microaggressions you did prior to the great “race awakening” we experienced not so long ago.
A few things I have learnt personally over the past few months and am continuing to navigate in the months to come:
You don’t have to educate everyone else about racism because you experience it.
There is so much out there: literature, podcasts, documentaries, essays, speeches – more than enough resources to educate those who want to learn. I have recently found myself in situations where the burden to educate continues to fall on me because I’m a black, African woman and that is exhausting. If people are too lazy to learn, over burdening yourself with educating them quickly becomes an emotionally exhausting task. Of course, there are some who are genuine in their search for knowledge but others only seek to antagonise you further and justify to themselves why they think you’re beneath them. I’ve had people ask questions about where I’m from, only to dismiss my response and continue to believe what they saw on TV or agree with whatever opinion lines up with their prejudice. These conversations are no longer worth the trauma.
It’s okay to lose racist friends.
One of the most beautiful things about 2020 for me has been getting to know where people stand when it comes to racism. It’s been enlightening to watch those who ignore, deflect, argue or flat out refuse to listen, and those who have kept uncomfortably silent in these turbulent times – we see it all. I have also watched with interest, those whose eyes have genuinely been opened by recent events. It has been a blessing to see people, not as who they portray themselves to be but for who they really are. It’s never a bad time to lose racist friends and rethink your circle.
When people make assumptions about you, let them.
Of course there are situations where we should definitely speak up and challenge racism. However, when you know who you are, believe in your capabilities and are comfortable in your own skin, people’s attempts to shake your foundation ultimately can’t win. If someone thinks you couldn’t possibly be smart, successful or beautiful because you’re black, that’s on them. Most people who make snap judgements about you don’t know you so what does it matter? You don’t have to take on or internalise what people assume about you. If you know it isn’t true, don’t waste a second worrying about it. Instead, make your goal proving to yourself that you can be all you have set out to be. Everything else is secondary.
Be furiously proud of who you are.
Now more than ever is the time to stop apologising for being “different”. You are who you are and you don’t need to change yourself for anybody’s comfort. Be your own beauty standard and embrace your whole, authentic self without apology.
Speak the whole truth.
Gone are the days of pandering to white feelings and coddling white guilt at the expense of our own real and very present hurts. I was talking to a friend earlier about the familiar way conversations about race tend to play out – someone says something offensive, other people react while looking for your reaction, the first person jumps in to explain why they didn’t mean it in an offensive way, the whole room turns awkward and somehow.. the burden (once again), falls on you to make them feel better about you not being offended. It’s exhausting! I think it is time to say how we really feel no matter how uncomfortable the situation. If you’re offended by racism, instead of trying desperately to keep the peace, say it. We are accustomed to substituting our own peace for other people’s comfort but how has that served us so far? So many people remain clueless because we allow them to make prejudiced comments around us and never call it out in conversation. Maybe someone will learn more from you saying “actually, that did offend me” versus hiding your true feelings to de-escalate a situation that more often than not, you didn’t choose to be the centre of.
Commit to change.
I’ve been amazed at how deep our world’s racial problems go – racial inequality is in everything! From political stages, to businesses and organisations built off the backs of slavery, to something as innocent as a Disney cartoon repeatedly referring to minorities as savages. Whether we admit it or not, we’ve been hard wired since we were kids to think that white is right – we all have so much unlearning to do on so many levels. Change is slow and painful but getting around the right people and committing to breaking down barriers, changing mindsets and recalibrating our own ways of thinking is a step in the right direction.