Do not fear the opportunity to do better

I’ve found the past week really difficult. And I have absolutely no right to. And I’m certainly not looking for sympathy. It’s all on me.

There will people who roll their eyes at this post. There will be some that hate it. I’ve hovered over the publish button for a long time. That’s sort of the point.

I think guilt is what I’ve been feeling. Guilt that I haven’t ever done enough – nowhere near enough – to be actively anti-racist.

It’s probably even worse than that.

A particular passage in this article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson hit home: “if you’ve never had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.”

I flipped that around. Have I ever judged or changed my behaviour towards someone because of their skin colour?

Almost certainly. Fuck, not almost. Certainly. That’s racist. I’m a racist.

That was a tough moment.

This tweet from Ijeoma Oluo was useful: “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”

I really want to move forward, to learn, to teach my kids, to get better, at home, at work, in life.

I’m angry with myself that it’s taken so long.

I’ve largely sailed through life for a number of key reasons. I’m white, male, had a very comfortable, stable upbringing, I’m moderately intelligent and I’m told I’m a nice guy. These factors opened up opportunities for me, and it wasn’t difficult to take them. Being white and male have, without any doubt, played a disproportionate part.

I’ve benefitted from white privilege, and I’ve been happy to, or at least too lazy to realise or step aside and let – or help – someone less privileged through. Inequality through inaction.

Ijeoma Oluo again, this from her book, So You Want to Talk About Race:

“When somebody asks you to “check your privilege” they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing and may in fact be contributing to those struggles. It is a big ask, to check your privilege. It is hard and often painful, but it’s not nearly as painful as living with the pain caused by the unexamined privilege of others. You may right now be saying “but it’s not my privilege that is hurting someone, it’s their lack of privilege. Don’t blame me, blame the people telling them that what they have isn’t as good as what I have.” And in a way, that is true, but know this, a privilege has to come with somebody else’s disadvantage—otherwise, it’s not a privilege.”

It’s an individual responsibility. I see a lot of commentary that starts with the collective: “We need to do better!” “Our society, our industry, our company…need to do better”.

But the collective immediately absolves the individual. Fuck that. You need to get better. I need to get better.

But I’m also fearful of getting it wrong. Clumsily trying to show support; sharing content; talking to black colleagues and friends; trying to be an ally; trying to be proactively, openly anti-racist…and fucking it up. Fearful of offending; scared of opening myself up to criticism.

I need to get over that. I will get it wrong; I will fuck it up. But doing nothing is worse.

Ijeoma Oluo is helpful again: “You have to get over the fear of facing the worst in yourself. You should instead fear unexamined racism. Fear the thought that right now, you could be contributing to the oppression of others and you don’t know it. But do not fear those who bring that oppression to light. Do not fear the opportunity to do better.”

There it is. “Do not fear the opportunity to do better.”

And realise it’s a process, I don’t have answers today, but I’m reading, and listening, and thinking, and planning and, hopefully, changing.

Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to be an Antiracist: “Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”

For me, it starts here.

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