Tuesday, June 2, 2020

White people you have much work to do!: Your work has only just begun if you want to see an end to racism

So, here it is, after some thought this is my take on the racial tensions in US now and the way forward as I see it if we as a world are to deal with racism.

I realized in writing this that my voice on race in many ways is a pretty unique one. I live in Calgary where although the community is racially diverse, for a number of my white friends I am probably  one of very few black (afro) friends they have. However, in spite of that uniqueness, I have spent very little time talking to them about issues relating to race. It’s generally not the most palatable of topics to digest over coffee or when having a beer. But it really is something critical and now in the present climate feels to me like the best time for us to have this conversation.

So, what I am writing below I have decided to mainly be a message to you my white friends wherever you are in the world. I won’t call it ‘Dear White People’ that’s far too cliché, but it is mainly addressed to you and I hope you stick with it and read through this extended piece of writing to the end.

A disclaimer before I even set out, when I refer to ‘white people’ or ‘black people’ I am of course generalizing. I don’t mean ALL white people or ALL black people. I shouldn’t have to say that but I can already predict the reactions of ‘You don’t mean me!”Also, I have in mind white people who are open and genuinely see themselves as allies to black people and indeed to most social causes, not the ones who are open with their racism and xenophobia. Hopefully all of those latter type of white people have been removed from my friends list by now, but I guess you never know.

So here goes:
The murder of George Floyd coming after so many incidents of blacks being murdered at the hands of police just sends us back into the 'Here we go again' mode. But this time it seems just a little bit different and I have a flicker of hope that things might actually change this time. Never have I seen so many white people like yourselves jumping on to various social media, sharing memes, articles, making firm statements about how you’re standing with your black brothers and sisters in solid commitment to rid the world of this scourge called racism. As a black person it’s overwhelming and heartwarming but I can’t help asking myself the question ‘How long it will last?’ But for this moment at least it’s the ‘in thing’ to stand with the black community and victims of racial violence. For now, at least, ‘Black Lives Matter’ matters. But how long will it be before some newer shinier social justice object comes along for you the ‘woke’ white person to get behind and leave our plight along with George Floyd and Ahmad Arbery as merely part of yesterday’s news? I don’t know, but honestly I have seen enough over the last few days to be hopeful that this will not all pass over in a hurry.

I do hope this is a true awakening for the ‘woke’ and not merely a false dawn. But whatever it is, it does provide us black people a collective moment to speak from a pulpit that we don’t often have, and I am happy to make use of it.
The response to the violence and killing have not generally been too different from the norm. They just have a bit more resonance this time.
" The system much change"
" Black people's lives need to really MATTER"
" A man should not be judges by his skin colour"
" Racist police officers must be weeded out of the force and be accountable for their actions"

But on the other side of the coin there is the chorus of those who claim to be down with our cause but it comes across as more judgmental
" You guys are hurting the cause by looting and rioting?
" Your extreme response only hurts your cause?"
" I support your cause but not your use of violence!"

Those latter responses, those are the ones that I find exhausting. It’s not that the argument of whether to use force in protest or not isn’t a useful one. It’s that some of you spend far more time arguing with the mode of protest you think we should be using or not using, than you do talking or writing about the actual conditions, discrimination and racism that led to the protest being necessary in the first place. Some of you will claim in a sanctimonious manner that you care about both sides of the equation, what we’re protesting as well as how we protest. But no, sorry I don’t buy it, I see that as just a facade. When it comes to determining where your priorities lie, the question I always ask is “Where is your louder voice?”

If you write a post or article starting by firmly stating you are outraged by the death of George Floyd in the first sentence, but then spend the next three paragraphs talking about how riots and the use of excessive force aren’t going to solve anything or do anything to help black people, then I know exactly where your priorities are and what matters more to you.
But apart from that part of it, what really upsets me in times like this, is that many of you in the white community think it’s your responsibility to tell us black people what is the best way we should be protesting. My simple message to you if you think you want to do this is I don’t want to hear you, I don’t care what you have to say, I don’t care what you think.
It may seem harsh, it may seem exclusionary, but this is how it needs to be. Maybe, if you think about it the other way around it will make sense. I came up from Barbados 12 years ago to live in Calgary. At that time Alberta was very much a foreign land, I had to learn the ways of the province, the people the culture, the governance structure the way things were done here. In that first year or so I did a lot of listening, trying to understand why people did the things that they did, the customs of the land.

The view from the outside never the same
Occasionally, people would ask me what I thought of Calgary or Alberta being an outsider. I would sometimes give my view, they would listen, if what I said was interesting, they would nod or smile, but they weren’t looking for advice from me on how to run their province. And I wouldn’t dream of being so presumptious to think that I a new comer to the land knew better than them how they should be doing things. And I did not consider it to be a shunning or a silencing that people weren’t taking on board my suggestions seriously. I wouldn’t be consistently asking Albertans to prove to me why the systems they have here are better than the ones I am proposing based on my Barbados model. No, you know what’s best for you, I will try my best to adapt and comply unless of course I come across something that specifically affects my ability to live here, like racism for instance. But other than that, I listen and I learn. And that’s the way I daresay most immigrants that find themselves in a new place are. After I had spent a bit more time in Calgary, I spoke up a little more and made a few more comments on things, but nothing I put forward was made particularly forcefully. Even now after 12 years, I still see myself to a large extent being in a position of learning.
But when it comes to white people dealing with marginalize groups, the terms of engagement are quite different. Unlike me, that has at least now had a few years under my belt of lived experience in Calgary, you have not one day, not one single day of experience of what it’s like to navigate this world while having black skin. All of the hundreds, thousands, millions of you combined have a total of ZERO days experience, while in the case of me, one solitary black man I have clocked up 48 years.
Yet when it comes to discussing black issues you expect to be given time on the floor to put forward your thoughts on the relevant race issues. And not just time, often you want equal time or even more time than I have in order to put your views forward. In fact, in extreme cases even if you are the only white person in the group, you want more time than all of the black people present combined to put forward your view, which comes from a point of ignorance. Let me say this, you may have black friends, black grand-children, you might even be married to a black person for 50 years. You still don’t really know what is like, you simply have not had the lived experience.

Getting the white stamp of approval
Yes, in spite of your clear lack of experience with living our issues, there is a general expectation from you white people that we listen to you. You feel as if there is a need for us to get your white ‘stamp of approval’ for what is purely an ‘in house’ issue for us. You don’t only want us to sit and listen to your suggestions politely either, you expect us to give them serious consideration, and implement them too, unless we can make our case to YOUR level of satisfaction that our ideas are better. Many of you are happy to turn the whole thing into a debate, where we are the defendants and you get to evaluate the strength or paucity of the evidence we produce. If we don’t meet our burden of proof in trying to convince you that what we’re trying to do for ourselves is the best thing for us, you’ll say we are being stubborn and refusing to listen to well thought out arguments, don’t value sound logic and reasoning, and are only about using raw emotion to make decisions.
But why? Why do we need to get your stamp of approval for what are essentially OUR issues? I’ll answer my own question, it’s pretty simple really, it’s because you are the ones with the power, your white privilege gives you that. You have been socialized into that mindset, and so have we. The expectation that we are going to turn to you for guidance, in pretty much every situation, is not entirely your fault. It’s part of the institutionalized system that’s in place and you white people just like we black people were socialized into it from birth . You look at yourself as the standard, the mainstream, the gold star to which marginalized groups hope to reach someday. You see yourself as the gatekeeper, letting us know the kind of behaviour you will tolerate or not tolerate from us, if we hope to be given the honour one day of sitting at the table with you.
So, when we protest, many of you feel the need to ’tone police’ us which usually comes disguised as just giving us ‘helpful’ suggestions on what kind of behaviour might be most beneficial to our cause. However, it’s really less about what will really help us and more about what will inconvenience you to the least extent. And the thing is, since we black people have also been socialized to look at you as the authorities over us, we have often historically, played into your expectations, thanking you for your guidance and in many cases doing exactly what you suggest we should do. Many times we have been rewarded for our obedience and compliance. With the power you have, you bestow benefits to us accordingly. So rewards come to us if we are able to do what we want in a way that allows you to not have to change much about yourself. Bonus points go to us if while doing that we are doing we make you look like the ‘saviours’ that pulled us out of the dark, dire situation we existed in previously. We know you like that, it’s always good when you can casually let your other white friends know that you have the street cred to prove that you are a little more ‘woke’ and racially aware that the average person of your colour.
We know the things you like and we know you have the power, so over the years many of us have learnt how to play the game in a way that ensures that you keep winning. We have been the ones that have had to do the shifting and bending of our tactics in all kind of contortions, to meet your standard. Because, and I can’t say this enough, whether you are aware of it or not, you have the power. We know that however good or noble our cause is, however much what we are pushing for will empower us and give us what we need, if you don’t accept it, if it doesn’t fit with your needs and your wants it won’t ever get off the ground.

Stable society not always a fair society
For years, decades and centuries this has been very much the natural order. In a way it’s a perfect synergistic relationship. Both you whites and we non-whites have in many ways accepted our relative positions as just ‘the way it is’ in society. Sure, there have been uprisings, revolts and occasional riots, but generally speaking the stability of society and the status quo has remained. But stable society does not mean a fair society and that I think is what you as white people often miss. You assume because we go to work every day, smile with you, are fine having you as friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, wives and husbands, happily go for a beer on the weekend and have your kids and our kids meet for regular play dates, that all is well. We seem happy, we’re well adjusted, we aren’t going off on tirades about racial injustices every day, we will willingly give you a hug without hesitation ( at least when there’s no COVID-19) so we must be fine. Right? Surely even if racism is a problem and there is some inequality, it can’t be that BIG of a deal because we black people almost never broach the subject with you.
But there’s your blind spot, that is far from the truth. We do have a problem, often quite a big problem, but if we speak out we know we’ll have to face the consequences and they won’t be good. Many of us have learnt that the hard way. So, we share these issues we face when we get together with other black people, we just don’t bring them up in your presence. However, thankfully perhaps like the volcano with small increases in pressure over time, that stability of society and the power you enjoyed at the top of that pyramid for so many centuries is showing some very real signs of ripping apart. They may indeed be a new ‘order’ not that far away
In many ways, I think you as white people are happy to see this change in the ‘order’ as well. Because honestly, I know many of you sincerely want equality for us too, at least in a basic sense. You’re at least aware that you have some level of privilege and want to see others in society that have a different skin colour from you get some of the same opportunities you have had. You have a definite level of magnanimity and that’s wonderful. You want to see the end of at least of more explicit and violent forms of racism in groups like the KKK, the white supremacists that shoot up churches and mosques, the MAGA hat wearing Trump sycophants and yes the corrupt police that kill the black people seemingly almost at will down in the US.
And of course, we as black people yearn to see the eradication of these ideologies and toxic groups as well. So, from that perspective we have similar goals and walk in lock step. But then behind that comes the divergence. For many of you that are white, you only see racism when these major acts occur, for the rest of the time it can go under your radar. You don’t see racism day to day and it’s not totally your fault. In many ways you can’t see it, because we as blacks do a lot to hide it from you. We deliberately do that for the reasons mentioned above. We know that making you uncomfortable can have particular negative consequences, not for you, but for us.
But slowly but surely over the years we have been finding our voices, it’s come and gone with various civil rights movements but now we finally think we are ready to ‘speak our truth to power’ in unison. We recognize that maybe we can finally push for equality and not have the fear of your backlash from your perch of privilege. Still, that’s much easier said than done. Because in our push for equality, we actually at least within a certain context want to be leading you . That’s what our push toward anti-racism is all about. Yes, the structure for this to happen is going to be one where blacks broadly speaking take the lead and whites follow. And this is the sticking point, because for both of our groups we are being forced to take on roles which from the perspective of the old paradigm of society stability, are out of our respective comfort zones.

Role reversal 
In this model we let you know what we need you to do for us and you try to the best of your ability to give us the things that we ask for. Not a master/ slave relationship but more of a model where we are the managers and you are the ones working on the production floor operationalizing the overall plans and strategies that we have set. Why does it have to be that way? Because you are the ones and the only ones that truly have the power to be on the ‘operation floor’ doing the hands- on work to end racial oppression. While we as those on the receiving end of it for so long, are best placed to know how best it can be addressed. We don’t have all the answers on strategy either, but we have the best knowledge available. You are the perpetrators rather consciously or subconsciously of the racist ideas that subjugate us. We do not have the power to force you to think about us the way we would like you to think about us. That’s work you have to do, nothing we can do to relieve you of that burden, you have to do that heavy lifting.
We also need you to realize that addressing racism starts with you. I know this is another tough one for you. Most of you white people look at racism as something that other white people do. You are fine and often strong in decrying acts of racism performed by whites in society, so long as you can be assured that you yourself are pure and free from racism yourself. This may come as a surprise to you, but many of you that I have interacted with on a regular or semi regular basis have at some time or other done or said something to me that was racist. Did I bring it up at the time? No. Why? Because I knew if I did, it would very likely get in the way of a friendship. I value my friendships with you a lot so I never want to risk making you feel uncomfortable. I knew that whatever you said was made out of ignorance not malice, so I never judged you for it and never for a moment held it against you. But I knew if I brought it up you would take it as a slight on your character, or at least I feared that.
Society has taught us that pretty much the worst thing we can do to you a white person is call you a racist or suggest that you may have done something at some point that was racist. It’s a bit unfortunate, because I don’t think that as a white person you have anything to be ashamed of if you do something that is racist. It’s a natural consequence of being born into a world where you are a part of the dominant white culture. Had I been born into that, I would be doing the same as you. But our fear of calling you out for doing something racist, robs us of an opportunity to help you do better. Perhaps if you were more open in acknowledging the fact you have a potential to act in ways that are racist, we would feel more comfortable to help you if you do, without fearing for our own negative repercussions. Yes, society has taught us that it's Ok for us to live with our discomforts so long as we ensure that you don’t experience any. Again it all goes back to our socialization.

Dealing with racism starts with YOU
So as white people you need to look inward, the racist is not some evil cop over there in the US in Minneapolis. Racism really does start with you. If you work on yourself, you’re making an amazing difference in fighting off racism in the world. Change your way of thinking, and you can influence others to change theirs, and eventually societal attitudes will change. If societies attitudes change, the attitudes of white cops emerging in the system will change too, so will those of the “Karens” in the parks, it will eventually permeate right through.
So, How do you change and look at yourself? You will need to start by listening to us and not dismissing or trivializing our words when we talk about the things that cause us pain. We have pain of several generations, no just pain from a bullet to the chest or a knee to the neck and spinal cord, but in other attitudes that leave deep psychological scars that cause far more long term damage. Ideas that paint us as more likely to be criminals than you are, more likely to be athletes and musicians that managers or CEOs of tech companies. Ingrained ideas that Africans tend to be corrupt or that Caribbean people are all about sun, sea, sand and steel pan along with bikini clad women lying on a beach. These are all stereotypes that are there. Again, not your fault or ours it’s just the way society has presented and promoted certain groups of people.
Do we as black people also have some responsibility of changing the way we look at ourselves? Of course we do. And we’re doing it. We also need to get used to being in the driver’s seat if the change in roles I am talking about is to work. But for that we also need your co-operation. You need to be willing to allow us to lead you. Not constantly push back against us on the grounds that it’s just not fair to silence white people like this or absurdly cry out about ‘reverse racism’.
The other thing to bear in mind is that when we talk about us leading and you following, we don’t mean in every aspect of life, we just mean in this one critical area of ENDING RACISM. It may seem counter intuitive to say we need to discriminate in order to address the issue of discrimination, but that’s actually what we need. If we aim towards neutrality and ‘colour blindness’ in society today, all we are going to do is reinforce the inequalities and status quos that already exist. If we want change we need to change.
So that’s it, in a somewhat large nutshell. But it all really comes down mainly to one word. LISTEN. you just need to listen. And when I say listen, I mean listen to learn, not listen to try to find the fallacy or fault in our way of thinking just to once again take back the mic and give us your ‘better’ idea. Trust us, we’ll make some mistakes in leading us all through this fight, but overall we’ll be Ok. Because as black people we’re not looking to eliminate you or erase you white people from relevance, just as we know that you aren’t trying to do that to we who are black.
If we all play our parts in the new ‘order’, in due time, the inequality gap will start to shrink, we’ll start to flatten the curve of racial ineqaliity just as we have been able to do in our fight against the coronavirus. Racism is a pandemic today as vicious as any other but we can beat it. If we commit to it, and don’t let our masks cover our eyes in the process, maybe just maybe, we could be on the way to finally making Martin Luther King’s dream something close to a reality


  1. Hell, yeah! I'm very much a Son of Privilege, and I'll admit I didn't take the time to read this entire piece, but I can't find one damn thing I'd disagree within the parts I did read, probably about a third of it.

    We Children of Privilege have no business, none, insisting that people who have been excluded from so much that we take for granted, limit themselves to only the forms of protest that don't tread on our tender sensibilities. That's a load of used food.

    Well said, brother! Not that you need my approval, but it's yours anyway.

    1. Thanks so much Tom! Appreciate that. Will continue to share my experience as much as I can.

  2. I need more of your advice! Wow, thank you. My biggest most constant racist thought is that "I don't dislike black people (until adulthood I didn't know any, seriously. I come from the whitest place on earth). But my racist thought is that it seems black people already hate me. It is stupid, generalized and probably 90% wrong. I am white privilege so I am the enemy even if I try to not to be. You do touch on this, but I would sure appreciate more insight.

    1. Thanks for your comment and sharing your insight. I think you touch on an important point. In general black people do not hate white people. At least not any that I know. Indeed it's often the opposite, we have been taught to look up to you moreso. But as things have changed and we try to embrace ourselves and our pride in being black more and more, it may seem as though we are pushing you away and don't like what you stand for. But it's not that, you just need to give us the space to build up ourselves to release our own psychological shackles. You may not be able to fully understand that and that's Ok. We just need you to listen and support. Just my take on what might be happening. Interested to know if this touches what you're getting at. Would be happy to hear from you again.