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Hello nice regular white person, I’m a white person, too. It’s good that we’re talking about this among ourselves. We’ve been inflicting the burden of education about racism on black people and people of colour for as long as we’ve been actually inflicting racism on them, and it’s past time to stop.
I’ll stop you there though. I’m actually not a racist.
Right. Except that it’s possible, no, I’m going to say probable, even definitive, that you’ve been brought up in a structurally racist country with racist media and racist policies and racist institutions. Also, maybe have a listen to Ibram X. Kendi, author and historian, who makes an important distinction between not racist (not even a thing) and antiracist (actively against racism). So again, I’m going to say it’s possible, even probable, even definitive, that you’ve done or said racist things.
Well, OK, but even saying you’re a regular person shows that you think there’s a subset of irregulars out there. Racism can be behavioural as well as structural and you have to watch out for that. And it’s important to acknowledge racist stuff you’ve done so you can learn from it. And it’s especially important not to go all white tears about it while you’re doing the acknowledging. It was you who did the bad. It was us.
OK, give me an example of something racist you’ve done then.
So, this is a story of race erasure. I was describing this new boyfriend to a friend: basically lush (because that’s how we talked in the early ’90s), likes The Cure, megacool Docs with mismatched neon socks. And then he showed up and we all went to the pub and afterwards my friend said ‘you didn’t tell me he was black’ and I said ‘colour’s not a thing for us’.
Oh, but it was the ’90s.
Don’t start that. It was never OK. I’ve been racist as well by being a bystander. I’ve chosen, at times, to ignore rather than engage with people making jokes or white noise. This one time, maybe five years ago, at a local show when a performer appeared in blackface, I didn’t get up and leave. I didn’t even write a letter afterwards, or an email. I didn’t challenge this racism, this dehumanisation, because I didn’t want to disrupt the room.
It was only a show.
Nothing is ever only any one thing. And anyway, there is a known continuum from maaaaaate [insert dumb racist joke here] to white supremacy and anyway, it’s past time to disrupt all the rooms.
So what should I do about the racists?
We are the racists, remember. Start with yourself. Teach yourself to be antiracist. Learn. If you’re on Instagram, follow people like Rachel Elizabeth Cargle, who generously dissects racist language and responses. But don’t just blindly repost stuff or add it to your story and then spend the rest of the day playing golf or whatever because that’s tokenism. Also, consume all the arts and all the stories by black people and people of colour that you can because it’s important to read further than the singular narrative of White Privilege and Black Tragedy. Next steps: taking every opportunity to change your own behaviours and using this education to converse with and/or challenge other white people.
A bit like we’re doing now.
A bit like we’re doing now. Also, letters and petitions and submissions against racist policies and structures. Conversations with family, with friends, with ‘‘friends’’, with employers and with people you don’t know, about racist behaviours and how to be antiracist.
That sounds like a lot of work.
Did you actually just say that out loud? Next you’ll be telling me you want to keep all the statues.
I mean, I kind of do. They’re history.
Yes, but they’re only one view of history, the one you think is regular, the one that is white and nice. When you read other versions of the same stories, our immortalised heroes don’t come off so statuesque. Nothing is ever only any one thing, remember.
Right. But we’re doing OK here in New Zealand, though, right? I mean, how we’ve always been a nation that stands against racism, discrimination and that kind of violence. Jacinda said that.
Yeah she did. And no we’re not. And anyway, it’s not like it’s a competition. We don’t get any medals for being slightly less racist than Australia. This is why we need New Zealand history in schools. And we really, really need to talk about Te Tiriti.
- If you want to carry on this conversation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.