It’s not enough to be ‘not-racist’
George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police is the latest in a series of tragic deaths of black people. It is set against the backdrop of police brutality, and incident after incident of racism recorded on phones across the US.
Tens of thousands of people continue to take to the streets to voice their anger and frustration at the brutality of Floyd’s death – and rightly so.
The outpouring of international solidarity from Syria to Auckland have aimed to amplify the Black Lives Matter movement but has also painted a very clear picture of the entrenched social and economic inequalities experienced by Black, Indigenous and People of Colour both in America and around the world.
A global wave of public outcry is rising up against a legacy of oppressive systems and structures that have disadvantaged and marginalised minority groups for too long. It is a revolution against the foundation and frameworks of our societies that serve to benefit dominant culture, uphold harmful social, economic, cultural, and political disparities and perpetuate racist ideology.
But what the mass mobilisation of the Black Lives Matter movement and the global condemnation of police brutality has highlighted in Australia is the general public’s apathy and complacency to the continued marginalisation and egregious abuse committed against First Nations people throughout the history of this country. It is why now more than ever we need to acknowledge that our collective silence is a serious problem, and understand that it needs collective action.
We should start with a more nuanced conversation about race and racism within our own circles.
For me, a place to begin this conversation is acknowledgment.
I am a Samoan woman, sister and mother. Born in Aotearoa, raised in Samoa and now privileged to stand on Country and raise my family in a land that is home to one of the world’s oldest living cultures, a culture not dissimilar to my own Samoa heritage that is also intimately and spiritually connected to land, waters and people. I stand in solidarity with First Nations people and I acknowledge them as the true custodians of this land and support their call for justice. And so, on Saturday 6 June I stood alongside close to twenty thousand others at the Sydney: Black Lives Matters march, united against Australia’s shameful legacy of white supremacy and racist ideology and demanded an end to the systemic racism which has seen a disproportionate number of Indigenous Australian deaths in custody.
You might have noticed that over the last few days the internet has exploded with a plethora of articles and carefully curated resources from books to blogs to organisations you can donate to. These have been developed to help us to unlearn and learn, critically reflect and most importantly recognise and admit our own complicity in white supremacy and racism – all of which are essential in challenging systemic and structural racism in Australia and to becoming true allies to Indigenous, Black and People of Colour in this country and beyond.
Scholar and political activist Angela Davis stated that ‘in a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, you must be antiracist’.
Here are three things that you can do to begin your antiracist practise and contribute to a more just and equitable Australia.
- Educate yourself on how to be antiracist. Being ‘not racist’ is not enough!
(And do so, without relying on the emotional and intellectual labour of Indigenous, Black or People of colour)
Indigenous, Black and People of colour are already impacted by racial injustice on a daily basis across social, economic and political sectors of society. Having to explain what racism is, why it exists as well as be the all-encompassing reference database on racism is exhausting both mentally and emotionally. Please be mindful of this in your journey of self-education and unlearning.
Doing the work to educate yourself on Australia’s dark history, and being aware of the racial inequities and disparities that remain as a result of this history, while unpacking your own privilege and recognising how you have and continue to benefit from it, is also critical to understanding race and racism.
Peggy McIntosh in her essay ’White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’, wrote, ‘I realized that I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but also had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, White privilege, which puts me at an advantage.’
- Speak up! Hold yourself, your place of work, education and social connections to account.
Being antiracist is not just about ridding yourself of your own racist behaviour, attitudes and beliefs but also about calling out and actively fighting against all manifestations of racism in your life – including within your personal circle.
Challenge yourself to shift mindsets (and break the code of silence) by having intentional, informative and productive conversations about race and racism with your family, friends, colleagues and other social groups.
This might include calling out a colleague for using pervasive racial microaggressions or championing antiracist ideas and policies, including demanding racial representative voices in decision making processes or leadership teams. It will be difficult and uncomfortable but is critical to disrupting systemic racism which is so prevalent in Australia. Every individual action against racism creates collective impact and benefits everybody.
- Centre the voices of Indigenous, Black and People of colour.
True allyship is an active process of doing the work to dismantle oppressive systems and amplify and centre the voices and stories of Indigenous, Black and People of colour.
A couple of ways you can do this is: to ensure that you are listening to and reading about Indigenous, Black and People of colour; and then stepping back to truly center their voices and experiences.
Through the internet you can work to amplify the voices and stories of minority groups that resonate with you by sharing them on your social media platforms, which extends their experiences to other audiences. Additionally, providing tangible support to Black, People of colour or Indigenous owned business, community groups or organisations either through monetary support or by volunteering your time to community activism, professional expertise or mentorship.
As educators, we must take greater responsibility to dismantle racism and be actively antiracist. Ibram. X. Kendi author of How to be an Antiracist writes ‘one either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, one either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist.’
Universities in Australia play an important role in shaping the public discourse on race and racism. The promise of higher education as a transformative force in society has often been not met due to the history of these very institutions in perpetuating racial inequity. As higher education professionals it is incumbent upon us to take real and meaningful action to delegitimise racism and ensure our ideas, policies and practise are antiracist in order to achieve the ideals of equity, diversity and inclusion that our institutions espouse.