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5 of the most useful things I've learned about race.

Updated: Jun 27, 2019

1. Blackness has a universal quality and is simultaneously massively personal; there's black people all around the world and each experience of existence is different. From listening to stories, having black colleagues, and having black friends, a lot can be learned from listening to people and also realising the mild corollary with sexism. Most of the time, people are racist when they think no-one is around to call them out on it - the personal stories of people experiencing racism are really important.


2. Prejudice goes all ways, racism doesn’t; there’s a great example in ‘Why I No Longer Talk to White People About Race’ where the author (a black woman) goes into a shop. The owner (also black) has saved her a really good cut of meat that is reserved for ‘us’. Is that racist or prejudice? For me, the answer comes down to offense vs. affect; if you are offended but not impacted – it’s probably prejudice. Racism, by definition, is tied to the world we live in - that's why there's no 'reverse racism' until you reverse history.


3. Educate yourself: Commit yourself to ignorance, and let me know how that works for you. Racism impacts all of us. In the UK, "the Abolition of Slavery Act was introduced in the British Empire in 1833, less than two hundred years ago. Given that the British began trading in African slaves in 1562, slavery as a British institution existed for much longer than it has currently been abolished – over 270 years" [source].

In the UK, there are actually loads of slave ports. Can you imagine, I was 28 years old when I learned this?

Below is an excerpt from 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race' by Renni-Eddo Lodge: "... Slavery wasn’t just happening in Liverpool. Bristol, too, had a slave port, as well as Lancaster, Exeter, Plymouth, Bridport, Chester, Lancashire’s Poulton-le-Fylde and, of course, London. Although enslaved African people moved through British shores regularly, the plantations they toiled on were not in Britain, but rather in Britain’s colonies... Many Scottish men went to work as slave drivers in Jamaica, and some brought their slaves with them when they moved back to Britain. Slaves, like any other personal property, could be inherited, and many Brits lived comfortably off the toil of enslaved black people without being directly involved in the transaction..."

That was shocking to me.

Stephen Lawrence - a young, black man killed in an unprovoked racist attack in East-London in the early nineties. He didn't know the killers and the killers didn't know him. How long was it until someone was held accountable for his murder? There's literally a decade long timeline online.

Some of the ways I learn is by including educational sources in my everyday habits like Instagram or YouTube. Need some sources? Don't use black friends as sounding boards or free educational tools - there are plenty of resources available.

  • Rachel Cargle - check Instagram

  • Jane Elliot - look up the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Experiment

  • No White Saviours - check Instagram

  • Red Table Talk ‘The Racial Divide: Women of Color & White Women’ - below.


4. Racism doesn’t need to be verified by people in power to be real; in the workplace, in politics, in pop culture – it’s not necessary for someone to recognise themselves as racist for them to be racist. Racist behaviour can come from 'nice' people, it can come from friends and family, and it can be miscommunicated between generations. Determining what is and isn’t racist can be both personal and political, historical and contemporary, as well as public and private. Two people can also do exactly the same thing, and it can only be racist coming from one person.


5. Race isn’t actually a real thing, but the implications are; way back when, this idea that "impure” blood could taint a person’s character was supported by the idea of general concern over "purity of blood"—limpieza de sangre in Spanish—and thus to this conception of biological race. Sound familiar? This was in 1449, where racial discrimination became legal.

The main target was *drum roll please* black blood. The conceptual purpose was to discriminate against Africans to justify slavery, based on race, and to enforce the distinctions that a slave system required [source]. That is, distinction on a difference in 'race' to support categorisation and [white] superiority.

Fast forward to today, these social perspectives are embedded in structures that reflect this idea in a very real way and it's rooted in who was included [and excluded] from systems of political, social, and financial power.

Look at who got votes in the UK and the sequence of who got them;

  • 1884: Representation of the People Act addresses imbalance between men's votes in boroughs and counties - presumably rich city men vs poorer country men.

  • The 1866 petition calling for women to be given the vote on the same terms of men: this was was signed by 1,499 women buuuuut few names belonged to black woman [source] so 'women' is representative only of white women of a certain class and wealth.

  • 1918: Representation of the People Act extends vote to all men over 21 and women over the age of 30 who occupied a house (or were married to someone who did) to vote [source]. Now - for women whose ancestors were slaves, which women do we think occupied houses or had husbands who had house? Remember, earlier in the article - the Abolition of Slavery Act was introduced in the British Empire in 1833.; 85 yeras before votes were 'extended'

  • 1928: Representation of the People Act extends vote to all women over 21

  • 1969: Representation of the People Act extends vote to men and women over 18

So, there's 85 years between 1969 and 1884. Plenty of time to entrench bias, power, racism, and economics in the way we live today.

Am I the only one who loves to think what me and my mates could do with 85 years of uninterrupted power?

Is it enough to not be a racist? Or do we need to be actively anti-racist? Neutral is racist; take a look at history.

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