An Open Letter
We have core beliefs and morals that drive our thoughts, actions and general behaviour. As a Christian I am driven by a higher power that dwells within us all. One that calls me to love others, care for my neighbour and challenge any injustice I see. I would like to think that these are universal principles, whether you believe in God or not, to me it would make sense to treat the others around you with care and respect as the one human race and family that we are. However, I am not naive. I know that we all have differences – in thoughts, opinions and beliefs and they can be very divisive. One thing I am always keen to do is understand those differences, to empathise with other viewpoints and to open myself to being challenged. I am not all-knowing and perfect – none of us are. So to completely dismiss other viewpoints in favour of my own constantly would make no sense. This is why I have found the last two weeks in particular very difficult. It appears that there are certain people who either have core beliefs and morals that align with the oppression of particular groups of people, or are blindly ignorant to the issues that these oppressed groups face and have no desire to see any different.
If you fall into the former group then the very phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ is probably taken as a violent attack to your core being because by definition you believe that they don’t. If so, no campaign to humanise black people or to fight for equality of opportunity will ever make sense to you. I would implore you to think really deeply about why you have this view of certain groups and challenge yourself to really think about the ‘evidence’ you may have for these beliefs. If you have had a traumatic incident or exposure to a particular group then this can sometimes be the issue. Most of the time it boils down to a distinct irrational fear that we can sometimes have of anything that is ‘other’ and we feel does not represent us. Here I could talk about the dangers of implicit bias and all sorts of other things, but ultimately we all have biases. The important thing is to acknowledge these biases and work hard to ensure they do not negatively impact our actions.
The latter group is probably the group I have come across the most. They tend to be well intentioned, but they downplay the lived experiences of those around me. To give an example – women all around the world bleed for 3-5 days each month. We know about the importance of needing tampons, pads and whatever else to deal with this but sometimes your period can catch you by surprise leaving you to ask around or dash to the nearest shop. To expect a man to randomly have a tampon on him when he is not subject to that same cycle each month would not make sense. However, that does not mean that the pain of menstruation and the unsightly blood stains are not there. If a female friend/family member was to reach out in desperation and ask you to help her acquire sanitary materials, then you would do so (as uncomfortable as it may make you feel). I do not expect people who are not from ‘minority’ backgrounds to fully know and understand everything we (black people) feel when we talk about race relations. However, you can consciously make an effort to engage and accept our truth as what is is – the truth – and take steps to help. A lot of my white friends have said that they ‘did not know’ what I and other oppressed groups have experienced and I will list just a few examples of my own experience below:
- Having random people who I do not know call me a nigger when I am out minding my own business
- People at work assuming I am a receptionist or PA (there is nothing wrong with these roles, but I am not)
- Being told that I don’t sound like a black person because I am well articulated
Oppression and racism manifest in many forms. The brazen execution of people by law enforcement in broad daylight and outright refusal to allow women to vote is very straightforward and easy to spot. Then there is the more covert behaviour – the general assumption that blackness equates to ‘lesser than’ in performance at work and other areas which leads to opportunities being closed off in a systemic manner.
I can not claim to have the answers to all the issues we have seen over the course of history – from the subjugation of women, acts of genocide and systemic racial abuse and oppression. But one way that progress appears to have been made in these areas is to have people speak out actively against the injustice they see and raise the voices of the oppressed – who by definition will struggle to do this on their own. The suffragettes used millitant activity and protest to gain what is seen as a simple right today – to engage in democracy as a woman and be able to vote. When we see the oppressed rise up in justified anger, the reaction should not be ‘How dare they protest in such a manner?’ but instead to ask why and try to understand and assist.
You do not have to be a woman to speak up against rape.
You do not have to be a child to speak up against child abuse.
You do not have to be black to speak up against racism.
– T.D Jakes
Engage with the people around you, regardless of their background. Ask them questions about what has been happening. Have discussions and invoke change. The world is not perfect and if you think it is then you should be the first person to reach out and engage with those around you who do not have the privilege of thinking such. Joining this event may be an easy first step for you to take.
When the discussions happen then suggestions and ideas for what can be done will be brought to light and should be implemented by us all, particularly those of you who have power and seniority. You have a responsibility to use your influence to do good.
Stay safe and well,