Please stick with me here and read the whole article.
I am racist.
Three words that white people seem to choke on or are totally unable to own.
The more we scream and shout that we aren’t, the more we display our total discomfort with the concept. The reality.
I still benefit from the mechanisms of systemic racism and I have only just started to try to pick that apart. I’ve been trying to get my head around this for about 12 years but this is the first time I’ve written on it and this year has been the first time I’ve called it out publicly online. My silence and inaction have made me complicit, therefore – I have been racist.
“I am racist” are very hard words for white people to say. But say it we must. We cannot do what we need to do to help readdress these issues unless we first start with that acknowledgement and acceptance. We white people are born into privilege and socialised into a type of racism that most white people can’t even see because we aren’t looking for it . While researching for this piece, I came across an article by Kehinde Andrew, published in the Guardian.
“In his 2008 book, Racism and Education, Professor David Gillborn asks whether the racial inequalities that continue to plague Britain are a racist conspiracy or an unfortunate coincidence. He concludes that the problem is worse than either of those options, and that society is in fact structured so that it reproduces racial inequalities without the need for “racists”.
Regardless of our socioeconomic status, as white people, the skin we are born into immediately puts us in a different lane, one with less counter-current. Fact.
Our white privilege does not disappear because we are L, G, B or T. It is merely redefined. Fact.
To be explicitly clear, this is something that displays its symptoms right here in our community. If you want examples of heinous outcomes from this type of institutional racism try these:
- Black gay men are more likely to contract HIV than their white counterparts. In the US, 1 in 2 black gay men will become HIV positive in their lifetime.
- Our trans-siblings, particularly trans women of colour are hugely disproportionately affected by violence, murder and suicide. The average age of a trans woman of colour (worldwide) is 35. This is why Black Lives Matter!
Let’s just clarify, I might experience prejudice from people of colour because of my skin tone. I might be verbally abused and threatened with violence by people of colour because of my whiteness. But is that racist? No, not really. Those are actions based on some of the components that form racism, but it is not racism in the context I’m discussing. Ultimately, my privilege ensures that.
As white people, proving “we aren’t racist” is not about what actions we display towards people of colour. I’m not interested in those get out of jail free cards that white people try to pull.
“Oh, I have Asian friends” or “But I date black guys” or “I don’t see colour”.
Proving we are not racist is about what actions we take in relation to ourselves as white people. Are we prepared to acknowledge and accept this truth? Are we prepared to actively and demonstrably deconstruct a system that is biased towards us and work towards something that serves us all?
This is about equity not just equality. Let me explain: Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Equality aims to promote fairness, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same help.
Here’s a cute picture that explains it:
I think it’s fair to say we have several hundred years of “not everyone starting from the same place” to rectify. So equality is not enough.
Monroe Bergdorf has already pretty much said all of this. White people got mad and called for her to be sacked and run out of town. Well I’m saying the same thing here and now. Let’s see how many white people call for me to lose my job and for me to be ostracised.
Admittedly, I was anxious about writing this piece. Primarily because I have a platform. I front a campaign and I am very well known within my community, a predominantly white, gay male network. But surely those are exactly the reasons why I should be making noise about this. Not reasons to stay silent. What is feeding my anxiety? It is the instinct for self preservation. The sense that I shouldn’t rock the boat for an issue that isn’t “mine” and for people who aren’t like me. These are natural feelings. I’ve chosen to acknowledge them but not accept them.
What can we do?
It starts with listening. Listen to what people of colour are telling you. Be secure enough in yourself to accept that other people have different lived experiences and helping validate those experiences and amplify those voices does not diminish your own. Understand it is our job to school ourselves. Do not rely on other people to do that. You have to be willing to learn. It will be uncomfortable.
On 8th March I went along to Let’s Talk POC (People of Colour) to support my friends Nash and Ozzy, who were hosting the event. To be respectfully present as an ally and to learn. I had the pleasure of listening to many beautiful and moving stories from old friends and new. Lady Phyll closed the evening with a spellbinding outpouring of realness. She said something like “I push, I push hard. I knock down doors and be present in that space. But sometimes it’s hard and when it gets hard and overwhelming, I turn around and no one is there. No one is by my side. And that’s lonely” – we all know how this feels. It doesn’t matter who you are, how you identify or what you’re going through, we all know lonely and we all feel the gut wrenching void when support is absent. Be there! Fill the void. Just ask “How are you doing?”.
Create spaces. It doesn’t need to be physical space but an ethos at the very least. We (cis, white, gay men – myself included) are not always great at being mindful, of acknowledging our privilege as the dominant and majority presence of most mainstream and queer media representation, scenes and conversations. It’s folly to attempt to deny this fact and it’s selfish and unkind not to try to fix up.
At the same event, Asifa Lahore shared “I get so tired of all my hats, always swapping one for the other”
She explained further “I have my Muslim hat, I have my queer POC hat, I have my trans hat, I have my drag queen hat, I have my feminist hat, I have my British Muslim hat. But where is the acceptance of my intersectionality. And where can I just be?”
As queer people I think this is what binds us all together. This is one thing we all share in common and that we can all relate to. Where can we just be? I get tired sometimes too and I find that “place to be” in the company of people like me. My community. A community which caters for me. I want my community to be OUR community and a community that caters for and includes all of us. Not just people like me.
If any part of this article resonated with you or made you ask questions please go and find any of the people I’ve mentioned in this article (or any other visible people of colour) on social media and listen to them say this in their own words. Celebrate them – not me! Share their work. Support what they are doing. I wrote these words but this is not my narrative.
Finally, I didn’t write this piece to ignite arguments with other white people. I don’t need you (fellow white people) to agree with me, if you’re not there yet. What I do need you to do is to think about what I’ve highlighted. Think, investigate and educate.
Peace out and happy Pride season.