I’ve thought about whether to write this, since I watched in horror as George Floyd took his last breath. Initially, the reason why I didn’t write, was because I believed I shouldn’t have a voice here. I am white. I am privileged. It felt uncomfortable. ‘It’s not my place’, I told myself. I was also scared. Scared of saying anything. Though mostly, I was scared of saying the wrong thing. I sat for a few days, holding that position of saying nothing. My silence felt even more uncomfortable. So, I am writing this now because I am white. I am writing this now, because I am privileged. I am writing because silence benefits no-one. Though I feel scared to add my voice, my feelings of discomfort are nothing in comparison to what those who experience racism every day are going through. I feel we all have a responsibility in this.
My understanding of what the many black activists who have taken to social media are telling white people, is this. Own your whiteness. Own your privilege. Use it to advocate for and protect those who are subject to racism in all its forms, at any level. Examine your own unconscious bias towards the black, Asian, minority ethnic community. Unconscious bias are those learned stereotypes that we are unaware of, but that usually influence our behaviour. If you don’t believe you have any, I respectfully ask you to reconsider.
This week I listened to Dr Ibram X Kendi using an analogy of it raining down on our heads and us not realising that we are getting wet. Racism is so ingrained into the fabric of our society, that we don’t even see it anymore. A white writer, Glennon Doyle, talking about race in her most recent book, spoke of the notion of whatever is inside us spilling out. Now imagine, that unconscious racial bias has been pouring down on our heads for years and we haven’t even thought to pick up an umbrella. It is what is inside us. It has been placed there by society and the messages we have been taught for years. Then a situation comes along that activates that bias. Guess what spills out of us.
Some might be thinking we don’t have much of a race problem here in Scotland. This simply isn’t true. The statistics on hate crime say otherwise. A Chinese school friend of mine recently spoke of how people were behaving differently towards her at the onset of the Covid19 pandemic. In fact, she has spoken for years of the racism she has experienced. The coronavirus just magnified it. My own profession of Clinical Psychology is one in which diversity is problematic. It is disproportionately filled with white women. Usually, psychologists are compassionate and inclusive. We care about other people. However, we must get better at attracting the BAME community into this work and to encourage seeking psychological treatment when they require it.
Educating yourself, on what it truly means to be oppressed because of the colour of your skin, is crucial. Be prepared to speak up when you see people behave in ways that make you uncomfortable. Do this consistently over time. Talk to your children. Silence is not an option any longer. In staying silent when you witness racial bias in action, you make yourself complicit. Let’s not be complicit. Let’s end the silence and start to effect real change.