‘Well, not everything is about race you know.’
I said that once.
Me. A privileged white woman who has never known any real hardship in her life, actually muttered those words to whoever was in the room as I sipped on a cup of tea. It was in relation to zero black people being nominated at the Oscars, and I actually voiced my white-person opinion about it. Maybe I even rolled my eyes.
I’m sure that’s not the only thing I’ve done either.
I’ve made comments I’m not proud of. I’ve stayed silent or awkwardly laughed at racist jokes. I’ve shrugged things off and thought, ‘it’s one joke in the privacy of someone’s home, it’s not going to hurt anyone’. I’ve turned a blind eye to race-related topics in the news that made me a little bit uncomfortable, maybe even tried to rationalise why a white cop would pull his gun on a black man in the past.
But mostly, I’ve just steered clear of those topics and conversations. Not actively or even consciously I don’t think. I’ve just not allowed myself to become involved.
To be clear, I’m not fucking proud of any of this. I am ashamed and disgusted at my own ignorance.
My white privilege is something I started exploring in recent years. A lot later than I should’ve, but honestly, I never really sat down and properly thought about it until I volunteered in Cambodia. And even then, it wasn’t this instantaneous realisation about how privileged I was. It was more a, ‘wow, I’m so lucky’ vibe. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude, I wanted to be less materialistic and give more.
Since then, I’ve been listening to podcasts and being part of forums which allow for open and civil discussion about varying topics. I’ve listened to differing views without biting people’s heads off and I started to think about my own white privilege. I wrote about it, I thought about how my circumstances gave me a headstart in life. I worried about negatively impacting those we were trying to help in Cambodia and questioned my own choices: Did I have a ‘white saviour complex’? What were my real motives?
But to be honest, I didn’t really dig deep enough.
The current news cycle, and the conversations it has spurred on, has made the penny drop for me. Me being the ironic word in that sentence. Because it’s not about me.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is not about me. It’s not a time to get defensive or combative. It’s a time to wake up and speak up when it comes to how much black people in our society are suffering and have been suffering over and over and over. I have had it so fucking easy MY ENTIRE LIFE and it’s really only just dawned on me just how much I haven’t had to worry about.
I come from a white family. Who love me. Who gave me a private education, good memories and a safe place to grow up. I have never been judged or feared or questioned in relation to the colour of my skin. I’m represented in the media – brunette white women covered the pages of my teen magazines as a child. I had Barbie’s who looked like I did. I’ve never had someone ask me what my heritage is or question my citizenship. I’ve never worried about being discriminated against when being pulled over for an RBT or walking through a busy shopping centre.
And as an Australian white woman, I have been living under an additional rock of blissful ignorance.
I am guilty of not really knowing anything about the deaths of several Aboriginal people in police custody. That has happened in my own country and it’s taken yet another horrific act to be captured on film, in the States, for me to start researching. Why wasn’t there more outrage? Why is it that the media don’t fixate on those stories as well? Why didn’t I?
These sorts of questions have made me think I’m that typical obnoxious white person who complains about every first world problem, thinking she’s so hard done by. Who has been completely unaware of the world around her when really, she’s got no bloody idea. And while I know I’m not a shit person, my actions (or lack of) have not been good enough.
I am sorry for not doing enough. For taking the easier route, for washing my hands of uncomfortable topics. I’m sorry for not educating myself more. I’m sorry that black people have been living through so much pain and horror, while I did nothing. I am so sorry.
But being sorry isn’t enough.
We’ve got to do more. If you want to be a part of the solution, then you need to listen and educate yourself. I am the first to admit I have so much to learn, but reading articles from reputable sources is a good place to start. Don’t let this latest outrage become something you post about on social media for a day or two and then forget about. It’s not for black people to fix, it’s for EVERYBODY to fix. Start by looking at your own habits, behaviours and biases. Have the difficult conversations. Call people out on their racist bullshit. Donate if you can, where you can. Listen. Support. Take action.
Yes it’s upsetting, yes it’s overwhelming, yes it’s uncomfortable to unpack your own privilege and see how you benefit from a racist system. No, it’s not enough to be “not sure” about it all. We’ve had far too long to learn, unpack, understand and act, at the cost of generations of Black & Brown lives. Be sure of that and do something. – Em Rusciano
And if you find yourself in a conversation and are struggling to articulate how you feel, below are just some of the articles/sources you can refer to/share with others, to get the brain thinking.
- courtneyahndesign Instagram account – her posts about white privilege are displayed as easy-to-read infographics and are BRILLIANT (I shared one in this post).
- We must bear witness to black deaths in our own country – Amy McQuire (@zamacdonald recommendation)
- 400 deaths, zero convictions: Australia’s national shame – Mamamia
- In Defense of Looting – Vicky Osterweil (@zamacdonald recommendation)
- Minnesota Freedom Fund
- North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency
- Cover image was taken by: Leni Kei (@lenikeiphotography_)