But I’m Not Racist. Am I?

Author: Sophia Newton

You’ve never called anyone the n*word, you’ve even stopped saying ch***y when you’re ordering a Chinese take-away. You feel a bit ashamed about that fancy-dress outfit, but hey, you didn’t know any better and you wouldn’t do that now. You’ve never knowingly judged anyone based on the colour of their skin. You’ve even got family/friends/colleagues who aren’t white. You are proud not to be a racist. So why are people banging on about anti-racism and asking you for more? What exactly is the difference between ‘non-racist’ and ‘anti-racist’ and why does it matter? Can’t you just get on with your ‘non-racist’ life?

The truth is that there is no neutral ‘non-racist’ stance, by choosing inaction you are choosing to uphold the systems and ideals that are disproportionately affecting Black, Brown and Minoritised people. It means until you choose to be anti-racist that you are, however unwittingly, being racist.

Don’t you dare call me a racist

I know this feels uncomfortable, and that your immediate reaction may be one of outrage, or to begin to point out the many ways in which you aren’t racist, I get it, no one (at least most people) want to be called racist. Just to be clear, I’m not comparing you to the people with white-hoods and burning torches. They are an extreme section of society and as we all know, thankfully most of society isn’t that extreme. To be honest they aren’t really the racists Black and Brown people worry about that much, they’re pretty visible, they make their views abundantly clear and as such are pretty easy to avoid. There’s also not that many of them. What there are a lot of though, are people who are ‘non-racist’, I was one of them. However in order to affect change, we need a lot of people to be ‘anti-racist’.

Really? Why? Is Racism that bad here? Britain isn’t as bad as America.

Racism exists in different forms, and in ways that you might not immediately recognise as racism because guess what, it doesn’t use the n*word, it doesn’t wear a hood. It’s the racism that hides inside our systems, workplaces, education and curriculum, it hides in our policing methods, it even hides in well-meaning places like feminism and guess what, it even hides in you. This kind of racism is far harder to pin-down, it’s the racism that means

  • Just 6% of Black school leavers attended a Russell Group university. – source. Equality & Human Rights Commission report – Is Britain Fairer? 2016.
  • Permanent school exclusion for Black Caribbean and Mixed White/Black Caribbean children in England is around three times the exclusion rate for all pupils. – source. Equality & Human Rights Commission 2016
  • Black people are up to six-times more likely to be stopped by police than white people. – 2010 Report by Equality & Human Rights Commission
  • Since Covid there has been a 300 per cent increase in hate crimes towards people of East and Southeast Asian heritage since the start of the pandemic
  • Black women are 5 x more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than their White counterparts. – source 2020 Joint Committee on Human Report: Rights Black people, racism and human rights

Let’s be honest, a hardworking midwife isn’t watching a Black woman have a difficult labour and thinking, “I’ll let her die”. What is happening instead is that years of stereotypes have subtly ingrained a view that “Black women can handle more pain” which might have meant that her labour was allowed to carry on a little longer than it should. An employer probably isn’t thinking “I won’t give that man a promotion because he’s Black.” But he might have thought “I’m not sure that he’s the right ‘fit’.” You see the subtly? You see the difference? You see how the outcomes are the same, even though the thoughts leading to the outcomes aren’t ‘racist’. That’s why we need individuals to become anti-racist because the racism in Britain is the kind of racism that shortcuts your thinking, it makes you make assumptions about people based on the colour of their skin, it’s the kind of racism that collectively adds up to the shocking statistics, and the kind of racism, and this is important, that means you get more offended about being called racist than dealing with racism.

An interesting example of this is the frequent gaslighting Black and Brown people experience when they raise points that affect them in some way. Think about this…

How often have you ever actually been called racist?

How many times have you questioned a Black or Brown person’s experience?

I’m sure it wasn’t meant like that. They’re being oversensitive. They’ve got a chip on their shoulder. Other people might think that, but I don’t. I think they’re being a bit aggressive. It’s sad that’s happened, but not everyone’s like that. They’ve made it a bit awkward. It’d be better if they’d raised this privately. Why do they keep going on about it! I wish all this Black Lives Mater stuff would go away, it’s making things worse. I’m not racist. I’m not racist but…

Think about it seriously. Ask yourself.

Are you more scared of being called racist than supporting those who actually experience it?

I’m going to ask that question again. Are you more scared of being called racist than supporting those who actually experience it?

I reckon you know the answer, I reckon you probably feel a bit ‘hot’ and a bit ‘uncomfortable’. I know I did. I know I used to immediately defend myself or others if a Black person said that a comment upset them, I would immediately say things like ‘I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that.’  In the past I know that I’ve had a moment of nervousness if there has been a Muslim man in an airport queue. I’m ashamed of those thoughts and actions. However, if at that time someone had called me racist, I would have been affronted, offended and downright outraged. It’s not much fun realising that those thoughts are racist is it? It’s not much fun realising that despite the fact your cousin is Black, or your best mate is Indian, or even that your kids are dual heritage that you have been putting more energy into defending yourself or others than actually addressing the fact that you have been being, racist.

Thankfully there is an antidote, but there’s only one. It’s anti-racism. And it’s really freeing, yes it’s hard work, but you can start to kiss goodbye to a lot of those stereotypical thoughts or at least if they do sneak in you can understand why, unpick it repack it and deal with them through an anti-racist lens. I can’t tell you how much more interesting the world looks like when you become anti-racist, people actually start being exactly that, people.

The first steps of becoming anti-racist is to look really hard inside yourself, again. The truth is you might not like some of what you see, that’s ok, it’s normal.  You can keep the rest of the skeletons in your closet but the race skeletons, they’ve gotta come out. Once you’ve acknowledged you’ve had those kind of thoughts the point then isn’t to spend the rest of your life atoning for your past ‘sins’, but to make a concerted effort to do better in future. Anti-racism is about acknowledging that yes, there have been times when you may have unconsciously (or even consciously) thought things you now know are racist, it’s about accepting that you might well still do so going forward, it’s about acknowledging that it is a problem that you’re more offended when someone is called racist than listening to the person who has experienced racism. What becoming anti-racist forces you to do is to challenge and question your actions, anti-racism means you educate yourself, you listen more and you act and do things differently going forward.

Oh shut up you do-gooder.

I hear you, you’re likely rolling your eyes thinking I’m a well-meaning liberal/lefty/feminist/do-gooder feeling all high and mighty about what a good person I am. But actually I’m not a particularly ‘good’ person and I’m certainly no better than anyone else. I’m not here to judge and make you feel shitty about yourself, because actually, life is hard, and annoying and I know that you have your own stuff on your plate that no one else can understand. I know that you’re trying to balance lockdown, work, parenting, friendships, money worries, school, health and everything else and to be honest, you could really do without me telling you you’re racist. I know. I’m the same and believe me when I say that I am not looking down on you from a throne of perfection where I think and do no wrong, because I make mistakes all the time and by becoming anti-racist I have not suddenly become ‘good’ I am not a ‘better person’ because of it. But what I am saying is this, when I looked at the actual facts, when I spoke to my Black and Brown friends, when I stopped to listen rather than jump to defending my non-racist stance I began to see that racism does exist, that it does impact the everyday lives of people, and that, and this was hard to swallow, that by doing nothing… I was part of the problem.

But why should I bother? Racism doesn’t actually affect me.

If you’re White, you might think that racism doesn’t impact you, and that really you can afford to just carry on in your non-racist (even though you now know there’s no such thing) life. But I’m going to break it to you now, racism costs everyone, and yes it’s costing you. Let’s take out all the ‘it’s the right thing to do’ stuff and show you why racism is bad for you.

  • An independent government review by Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith found that the UK economy would be £24bn better off if BAME* employees were able to progress throughout their careers at the same pace as their white colleagues.
  • Whilst the following is from a US study, the logic can easily be applied here too. McKinsey and Company estimated in a recent report that by closing the racial wealth gap created by systemic racism, the U.S. GDP could be 4–6% higher by 2028.
  • Effectively, racism is costing white Americans $2,900–$4,300 for every man, woman and child. By missing out on 4–6% growth, white people are robbing themselves of a lot of money, job opportunities, promotions and an even higher standard of living than they have today.
  • Institutionalised racism “constrains this country’s economic potential”, said Raphael Bostic, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Neel Kashkari, a policymaker at the US Federal Reserve, warned racism “hurts our society and our economy”. There are big chunks of our population whose innate human capital is basically being squandered because they are not getting an education that enables them to take advantage of their natural talents and gifts.” Seriously think about it, the person who discovers the Cure For Cancer could be a young Black man and right now be in school. Currently our education system is proven not to support them as well and their outcomes aren’t as good, and without letting people reach their true potential it’s just a waste for everyone!
  • If we compare closing the racism gap to the rise of women in the workforce, there is already proof that it works as there is a strong correlation between gender equality and a country’s development, income and GDP growth.
  • In the 2019 McKinsey report Why Diverity Matters they found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. In other words, a more diverse workforce is proven to increase productivity and profitability.
  • Black and Brown people have contributed massively to our society already, if anti-racism was more prevalent how much more could they contribute.
  • I mean I don’t like to point out the obvious, but this also isn’t about you becoming a White Saviour to help all the ‘poor Black and Brown people’ because a) that’s not a helpful standpoint and not what anti-racism is about and b) it also ignores the fact that many are extremely successful despite the challenges of racism and guess what…they have money to spend. The ‘Black Pound’ is growing and surely you’d like some of those pounds to be spent with you!
  • The world is changing. I’m sure you’ve already noticed that the number of Black Brown people in the UK is growing. We live in an increasingly multicultural society so it makes sense to be better able to navigate it.
  • And finally, remember those secret horrible racist thoughts that you have sometimes (like the Muslim guy at the airport) well when you become anti-racist the horrible racist thoughts start to go away. Imagine that, I promise it’s lovely.

Ok Fine. Enough already. But what difference does it make if I become anti-racist?

Actually a lot. It might mean that you start questioning things you read in the papers, things you see, things you hear. You might actually start believing the experiences of Black and Brown people! It might mean you can better support your Black and Brown friends, family and colleagues. It might mean that you start to ask questions in meetings at work like ‘Have we thought how this might impact Black and Brown people?’ even if there are no Black or Brown people there. It might mean your children are introduced to more Black and Brown heroes. It might mean your bookshelves start to reflect more experiences. As you grow, it starts to look a bit like this…

If after reading this you’ve recognised yourself in it at all and want to find out a bit more about anti-racism you can start here.

Anti-Racism What Does it Mean and Where to Begin

8 Books to Start Your Anti-Racist Journey

My Anti-Racist Journey


*We don’t use the BAME acronym ‘in house’ at Anti Racist Cumbria as it hides the people behind it, however it has been used in this instance as that was the framing used for this particular study.