What's Going On?
Columbia University defines 'revolution' as "complete change in the fundamental institutions of society." What is taking place in towns and cities in all 50 states in America and numerous countries around the world is a demand for revolution. Let that sink in. The protests aren't only about police brutality against African Americans, but also about the every day systems and behaviours, the perceptions and perspectives, the seemingly innocent words or sentences, and the lack of basic awareness that there is even a problem to begin with. What the protesters and the rest of us who are home in support of their bravery are demanding, is a fundamental dismantling of mindsets, physical and mental structures, systems that are rigged to ignore people of colour. Systems that are rigged to ignore people who are Black. In the book STAMPED from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi writes about the history of racism in America, the roots of where it began. In it, he describes a speech that Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis gave to the US Senate in 1860 during a vote on a bill funding Black education in Washington D.C. that goes to the heart of those perceptions and treatment that Black people endure. Kendi quotes Senator Davis as saying, "This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes," but "by white men for white men." Davis would go on to add, the "inequality of the white and black races" was "stamped from the beginning." And we see that stamp, don't we? It's as BBC Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo in her rightfully emotional address the other day said, “...we – black people – get the feeling that people want our culture but do not want us. In other words, you want my talent but you don’t want me. There is a false idea that racism and, in this case, anti-Blackness is just name calling and physical violence when it is so much more insidious than that." Much more insidious--with the marginalisation, lack of representation, institutionalisation, and pre-determined education and success. It is that sense of knowing it exists in the big picture but in our every day we assume that because we believe that everyone is equal and that we don't treat anyone differently because of the colour of their skin, everything is ok in our individual worlds. I have been having some difficult conversations with my husband, a man who is kind, intelligent, loving, sensitive, and worldly. And it is those qualities though that also make it difficult for him to comprehend the systemic issues that surround us. He is right, this world isn't predominantly racist. But it's just not, as Kendi says, anti-racist. My husband would never hurt a fly, literally--he will try to save them from my swatter. But I can see how difficult these conversations are for him, as they would be for anyone who has never experienced racism first hand. It is overwhelming even for those who have. To some extent, it's understandable because life is challenging for most of us. The 99% of us. Our lives are consumed by our own problems. We worry about bills, mortgages, health, and the future for our kids. It's only when we realise that for the Black community and for many people of colour, those hardships are multiplied because the opportunity to find jobs, to not worry about the impact that the sound of our name, the colour of our skin may have on recruiters, to know that we have access to the same kind of healthcare and not be dismissed by doctors and nurses who don't have time for our worries and concerns even though science has proven that our genetics also pre-determines our susceptibility to some illnesses, to know our kids' school has the same resources as others, to know that our kids won't be judged by anything other than their efforts, to know we can come home in one piece because the police are there to protect us, well, those are luxuries the Black community and others don't have. So what do we do? The need for a revolution is great but how do we match the intensity of the protests with practical solutions? At the very basic level it is the recognition and acceptance that there is a problem. A widespread, systemic problem of conscious and unconscious exclusion in boardrooms, newsrooms, writer's rooms, call sheets, on our screens, in magazines, in campaigns, at schools and in government etc etc. And it's a problem that needs to be addressed. In order for this moment, these protests, these deaths to mean something, changes need to be made. It begins with deep and honest introspection. We look at our own unconscious biases, be it toward a person of colour, a person who wears a turban or a hijab, a person from a different socio-economic background, or even gender. We study our reactions, figure out where they come from, and then do the work of changing how we think. It's not about saying we don't see colour. It's about seeing colour and appreciating it because behind that colour is a history, a story, a person. If you're in a position of power, enlighten yourself by recognising that surrounding yourself with people from all backgrounds mean different perspectives and different perspectives mean knowledge advantage. If you're a news editor, don't put someone on the air with known racist and divisive views to satisfy your need for "balance." There is no other side in racism. And, if you see something that doesn't feel right or sit right with you, say something. (Read here about how David Bowie called out racism on MTV in 1983). It's a lot to take in. There's a lot to do. But it can begin with a conversation. Just remember to listen. Really listen. Ask questions. Don't get defensive or debate whether what someone feels is true or right. Listen and appreciate that while experiences may differ from our own, they still matter. Apathy is poison to progress. And a revolution, that "complete change" can only begin when we listen, understand, appreciate, and act.
The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Monita xo P.S. The Citrine Room's #Repost page is about listening to and sharing the stories of people from all backgrounds. I created The Citrine Room because I couldn't find people who I could relate to in the magazines I once loved. I couldn't find the different voices that make up our rich and colourful world. With The Citrine Room, I actively search for narratives, stories that are representative of our diverse human experience, written with intelligence and humanity. Those stories are out there but are often relegated to "special issues" in mainstream media. For me, that's not enough. It's not good enough. From race, ethnicity, gender, and age, we all have a voice that needs to be heard. As a journalist and now blogger, it is my job and my passion to find those voices and share them. After all, as I learned from day one as a journalist, everyone has a story. Everyone. That is why I created The Citrine Room. To seek out those stories, to share those narratives, and to celebrate our diversity. And I am committed to continuing to do so. There are more stories this week so please do check them out.