Author: Meghan Guy
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 I was shocked into action. I realised the realities of racism here in the UK and even in my home county of Cumbria – something I had been loosely aware of but never fully confronted with. On realising the sad and insidious truth that racism is a problem here, I made the conscious decision to become anti-racist. Nine months on from that decision I’m sharing my reflections on the learnings, challenges, successes and shortcomings of my own antiracism in the hope that this might help others reflect and work on their own antiracism.
First, I’ll start with a brief summary – what antiracism work have I actually done?
I worked to educate myself on racism, on Black history and listened to Black and Brown voices. This work led to me signing A LOT of petitions and ended up in several passionate arguments with family, friends and even strangers…
I petitioned my school to take steps to challenge racism and educate students about Black and Brown histories and experiences. This petition gained several hundred signatures, and the school went on to attend the Anti Racist Cumbria education event in September 2020.
I chose to become an active member of Anti Racist Cumbria. This is by far the best and most impactful action I have taken as it means that I can contribute my time and skills in writing and communication through blogs social media work. At the same time, I have learnt an incredible amount, and feel part of a committed and diverse community. Despite the fact we’ve never met in real life, I’ve made friends too!
This all sounds great on paper, and I’m definitely proud of some of the actions I have taken and proud to even be associated with the amazing work Anti Racist Cumbria is doing. But there is a long way to go – in terms of my own anti-racism and the ultimate aim of making Cumbria the first anti-racist county.
At a general meeting in January we collectively discussed our personal antiracism journeys as a group and created space to reflect on how we could do more and do better. During the discussion I realised that due to the unprecedented reality of the last nine months, with the pandemic and all the stresses of lockdown on top of everyday life, I hadn’t stopped to reflect and question my own antiracism. I’d come a long way, but still had a way to go. If I’m honest, my antiracism work had sometimes moved down my priority list. Yet as pointed out by our Black and Brown members in the discussion, racism is not something they can just ‘switch off’ from when there’s a pandemic and they’re tired, busy and stressed. This ability to let it fall off my radar or move down the list of priorities is actually the epitome of white privilege. For our Black and Brown members, racism is a reality, a constant – on top of the struggles of the pandemic.
This completely reframed my understanding of the current state of my own antiracism and what it really means to be anti-racist as a white ally. Antiracism is not a short-term thing and is not something that can just be achieved in a few months – just as racism cannot just be ‘fixed’ with a click of a finger. Being antiracist as a white ally is a choice and a constant learning. I don’t actively experience racism so it is inevitable that there will be times when racism is not at the forefront of my mind. However, truly being an anti-racist ally involves consciously and consistently bringing it to the forefront and making it a priority. It’s about choice. CHOOSING to prioritise it. CHOOSING to act on it. Anti-racism is very different to ‘not being racist’ and it’s for the long-term.
The discussion with Anti Racist Cumbria members about our individual journeys also prompted a group conversation about the practicality of this. How do we actually go about prioritising it, making our antiracism more effective and more impactful?
Antiracism is comprised of many things – it’s reading, educating, diversifying, listening, acting. But if you’re struggling to prioritise anti-racism work then its multi-faceted nature could be a blessing. Reading, and educating can often be incorporated into your normal life.
CHOOSE to watch films, programmes or documentaries which explore racism or involve Black and Brown artists. CHOOSE your next book to be one linked to your anti-racism education. Diversify your social media feed to expose yourself to more opportunities to learn and listen to Black and Brown experience. Admittedly, the action aspect of antiracism can sometimes seem like it requires more time but it can actually be also be broken down into smaller actions. Donate to a cause, sign a petition, write a quick email to an MP on an issue. Look back on your week, have you been able to do an action? Have you prioritised anti-racism?
Make your work more effective
This was the issue that repeatedly came up in our discussion and will undoubtedly be familiar to many of our followers. The frustration and exhaustion of arguments that go nowhere. Standing up for anti-racism and having it thrown in your face. Feeling deflated by a reminder that racism is going strong when you read comments on a newspaper article or come across a blatantly racist headline. But there are ways that this can be minimised by thinking about anti-racist action in a strategic way.
Family arguments about racism dominated our conversation and by the end of the night there was consensus that (patiently) listening and questioning rather than arguing was decided as the best tactic. Being informed and having facts to support or counter things also helps these conversations be more fruitful. As a group we also strongly agreed that battles should be picked carefully, especially on online platforms. We must stand up for anti-racism but is your time really best spent arguing with a random racist commentor on the Daily Mail comment section? Will it make any real difference or could that time be better spent on a more impactful anti-racist action?
Share the burden
It was clear during our discussion that there were emotions and frustrations that were needed to be offloaded and shared. It can feel like there is no one to share the burden with if you are constantly battling racism perhaps among people you know, or even your own family. But when you make space to discuss anti-racism this also makes space for much needed reflection, understanding and creates a new sense of common purpose which is undoubtedly needed as we continue to strive for an anti-racist Cumbria. It’s been a tough year (an understatement), we are all struggling with lockdown and the daily stresses of living through a pandemic but we must remember that our Black and Brown communities are dealing with racism on top of this. A problem which won’t be solved with a vaccine.
Being a consistent and long-term anti-racist isn’t the easy option, but it is the only option and one I hope you’ll choose too.