The more I’ve learned about becoming anti-racist, the more I’ve realised it really is a journey of education and awareness – particularly for those of us who believe we are “not racist” but are not aware of the part we play in maintaining the status quo, as demonstrated so clearly by the John T. Milliken Department of Medicine:
I’ve always been passionate about racial justice, but I’m ashamed to say it took the death of George Floyd, on top of the Christian Cooper incident, so soon after the death of Ahmaud Arbery for me to fully realise the extent of the issues still prevalent in today’s society and begin to educate myself on what I can do to contribute to changing the system.
Why has it taken us so long to realise the enormity of the situation?
Why are so many of us still so defensive and resistant to the need for change?
Why are more people not aware, educated, and taking action to redress the balance?
I believe there are many reasons for why we do what we do (briefly explored in a recent blog post Why am I doing what I am doing?), but essentially, we are all on a journey of education and awareness. Some us are far further along that journey – whether it’s because they are personally affected by the issues, or are passionate about justice, equality and fairness and have been educated or educated themselves on what needs to happen and what they can do to make that happen. Some of us are keen to get involved – impatient and eager to learn, struggling to fully understand but optimistic and hopeful for change. And some of us resist that change – either passively wishing it wasn’t happening, or didn’t need their involvement, or actively defensively attacking the movement in the hopes of maintaining the status quo to which they have become accustomed.
I recently tried to summarise the different stages of the journey, or the people in different places in their perspective on anti-racism, after reading Alishia McCullough‘s post on the 7 Circles of Racism and associated Medium article on the 7 Circles of Whiteness, using the model of a normal population distribution curve:
Essentially, as hopefully demonstrated in the models above and below, even if the minority of people are aggressively racist, if the majority of people are either actively defending or passively denying the problem, then the responsibility of actually solving the problem also sits with the small minority of people passionate enough to make change happen:
So how do we help more people to progress on their anti-racism journey? The good news is that from what I’ve learned so far (from How to Be an Anti-Racist) we don’t need to convince everyone – we just need the support of enough people to create new policies, laws and procedures that allow people to be treated equally, justly and fairly. Easier said than done, I know, but if we learned anything from Brexit (and I really hope we did!), it’s that even a small majority can decide something that will change everyone’s lives (hopefully this time for the better though!).
So, rather than wasting any (more) time arguing with the bottom half of the internet, I’ve created this model to help us to focus our time and effort and make the anti-racism journey more sustainable for us all:
This grid will hopefully give you a structure to identify if you need to engage with people, and how. It’s obviously not a “one size fits all” system, and plenty of people will fall between the boxes, but it helped me to see that I don’t have to reply to every negative, ignorant racist comment or post on the internet. It’s highly unlikely that people will change their minds because of something a stranger has said to them on social media, so while it does feel necessary to call people out on occasion, or to intervene if someone is received targeted abuse, it’s important to protect ourselves and our energy and not get drawn into other people’s negative spirals.
So for Box D, depending on whether you actually know someone and/or are going to be interacting with them again in either a personal or professional context, you can choose the volume or level of interaction you have with them, if at all. Don’t be afraid to delete if needs be, or mute and come back to them at another time, if/when you’re ready for it.
Box C is an important one – this is the area with the greatest capacity for change, potentially bringing people from either being reluctant or resistant to being aware and supportive of anti-racism, if even in a passive, non-obstructive way. These should ideally be conversations in person on a one to one basis, as people will feel defensive if challenged on their ignorance or lack of awareness in a public, group setting. (What’s that phrase – praise publicly, critique privately?). Be patient, be calm, and be open to hearing their views, so you can help them to understand the wider context of issues at stake.
Box B reassures us that there are likeminded individuals out there – that we are not the only ones who care about this issue, and that we can learn from and grow with each other. When my social media feed seemed to be quickly returning to “normal”, I realised I can’t expect everyone to be learning and sharing at the same rate as I am, so rather than changing the people on my feed, I changed the people on my feed… as in, I muted/unfollowed old accounts, and actively followed a lot of new ones. Now I have connected with lots of other passionate people out there, keen to do the work and to learn more, and we’re supporting and sharing with each other to keep going.
And Box A we hold dearest to our hearts – the ones we can fully open up to about our personal experiences and perspectives, share our challenges and our frustrations, and support each other to make this a sustainable, meaningful journey for change. I feel so grateful that my husband has been incredibly understanding, supportive, and active in his allyship, particularly as I am still learning how to have difficult conversations on these issues. But that is where the growth happens, so we start with educating ourselves (check out the anti-racism resources I’ve collated so far), and then we spread the word, to those who will listen, before we can change the world.