3 Issues I've Noticed About Reactions to Racial Justice
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
It’s been over a month since George Floyd’s death and, understandably, a lot of information and different perspectives are circulating on social media and the news about it and the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve noticed some problematic things that I would like to address here. I’ve broken it into three categories but there is definitely overlap: individual versus systemic change, real versus performative change, and silence. Individual versus systemic change There is a big difference between individual and systemic change. Individuals can change but it’s difficult if the system or society hasn’t changed. Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) have greater difficulty doing so, particularly getting ahead, because of the discrimination and disadvantages they face. Racism, and all the atrocities that come with it, is real and alive (yes, even in Canada), and people who are “colour blind” or dismiss it do so because of their privilege. Why do I say this? Because I’ve observed some people, particularly, ‘spiritual’ types, who post preachy messages on social media and positive affirmations quoting Law of Attraction leaders to address the situation. Messages like, “When peace becomes a priority, moving on becomes necessary” and “You can’t manifest a new reality with the same energy you created your current reality” inflict more pain than promise. They outright deny or minimize the intergenerational trauma and treatment of BIPOC. To those affected, it’s like getting continually punched in the face and being asked to reframe it and move on. Context is everything. Yes, having a vision for a better future or expecting more is helpful and necessary. The Civil Rights Movement and the right to vote wouldn’t have happened if not. With these rights in place, BIPOC could begin to move forward. Madam C.J. Walker and Oprah Winfrey are good examples. Despite the odds they faced as black women, they made big personal and professional strides because certain barriers were removed. Madam C.J. Walker was born two years after slavery was abolished in the United States and Oprah Winfrey was born the same year when racial segregation in U.S schools was overturned (Brown v. Board of Education 1954). Oprah imagines her life would be completely different if she studied in a segregated school. This said an individual can be a catalyst but they alone cannot change an entrenched societal structure. Real versus performative change Speaking of change, it’s great that there has been a lot more awareness of discrimination and racial injustices lately; however, it seems this new lens is coming from white people feeling ashamed of their power, privilege, and complicity after the recent videos of blatant injustices. Some are posting things on social media or reading about racism that helps alleviate their guilt and shame but they don't go far enough to dismantle these long-standing injustices. Freelance writer, Tre Johnson, in his Washington Post article, When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs, addresses this type of change: "The right acknowledgment of black justice, humanity, freedom and happiness won’t be found in your book clubs, protest signs, chalk talks or organizational statements. It will be found in your earnest willingness to dismantle systems that stand in our way — be they at your job, in your social network, your neighborhood associations, your family or your home. It’s not just about amplifying our voices, it’s about investing in them and in our businesses, education, political representation, power, housing and art." So, hopefully, the choice to have more BIPOC correspondents on news networks, leads on reality shows, and those supporting BIPOC businesses are genuine and not performative. Shame can fade, whereas, racial injustices are continually etched in BIPOC’s experiences. Silence Another thing I’ve noticed are those (in particular white people) who remain silent about racial injustice. Silence is a killer. Whether we like it or not, to be silent is to be complicit. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Remaining silent on things that are unjust perpetuates and normalizes the injustices. It’s understandable to feel uncomfortable or unsure of how to approach the topic or situation, however, I believe the need and urgency to address the systemic inequities and brutalities towards BIPOC supersedes any doubt or discomfort. Have I been guilty of any of these? I sure have, however, to quote Maya Angelou, “when you know better, do better.” I have been doing the work for a long time and it continues. There is a lot to disrupt and dismantle. Again, education is great if it is backed by action. It’s great to be positive too, however, I realized that my positivity is in a large part due to the privilege of being born with white skin. I don’t experience what my husband or other BIPOC encounter. As my husband said the other day, “it’s what you do when nobody is watching, when you are not called out, that matters.” Are you “guilty” of any of these? If so, I invite you to start the work, if you haven’t started already, and to help heal a broken system. Best,
Ps. I wrote more about this earlier so if you would like to read more or would like more resources please contact me here.