Today I’m writing about a vitally important subject: racism in 2020, and how it’s still very much a problem. I’m delighted to be sharing a very candid interview, and I also include a link to a survey for you to check out how knowledgeable you are on the subject of unconscious bias in an Am I Racist quiz.
Racism in 2020
On May 25th 2020 George Floyd was killed during an arrest in the US. It led to widespread outcry and protests and, overnight, the Black Lives Matter campaign understandably became front page news. There were a lot of posts across social media, largely in support of the movement – with a few disappointing exceptions.
One post in particular that caught my eye on Facebook was a series of screenshots taken from a WhatsApp conversation between a Black man, and his white acquaintance. It centres around an unfortunate misunderstanding between the white man and their mutual friend, a mixed heritage girl.
The conversation struck me as fascinating because in it, these two people discuss racism, prejudice, nationalism, white privilege, discrimination – everything. And they come out of it in an extremely positive place, with the white man appearing to feel enlightened about the subject.
It’s an excellent example of how two good people can enter a highly charged debate, with what on the face of it appears to be opposing views – yet beneath a misunderstanding essentially hold the same values. And it’s an even better example of how tolerance, benefit of the doubt, and civil discussion can result in a positive outcome.
The Black man’s name is Malachi Gooding. He’s an actor and musician in band Kid Furnace. I’d never met or spoken to him, but I admired the way he engaged with the white man – and ultimately changed his mind through an open and articulate explanation.
Both men displayed magnanimity, and it was a pleasure to read the exchange. We could all learn a lot from the way that conversation went.
When I read the thread, I’d literally just finished writing a review of a kids book tackling racism. I was nervous about publishing it in case I’d inadvertently made any of the mistakes laid out in Malachi’s post.
The Problem With Being Colour Blind to Race
In fact, I think that is where many of today’s issues stem from: our generation have been brought up to be colour blind and, much like The Emperor’s New Clothes, we’re conditioned not to mention race or anything associated with it.
The intent driving this behaviour is good: if we do not draw attention, then it proves we do not have any negative feelings about the matter. But this logic is flawed and unhelpful. I’ve been educating myself and it has become apparent that in refusing to acknowledge colour, we’re effectively dismissing racism.
That’s genuinely not the intention for most of us; nonetheless it remains a very real problem we now have to deal with. But we’re not only conditioned specifically to be this way about race – we’re also British. We, as a rule, do not like to talk about anything uncomfortable, and we’re now left in a situation whereby we are so fearful of saying the wrong thing, using the wrong term, etc, that for the most part it’s easier to simply say nothing at all.
It doesn’t mean we don’t care, but we’re effectively immobilised by our horror of being labelled racist.
Racism vs Non-Racism vs Anti-Racism
This might not be so problematic if it didn’t equate to not being an ally – because the message I’ve heard and embraced loud and clear is that being non-racist is simply not good enough. If we mean it, we must be anti-racist.
Am I Racist Quiz
A great place to start if you want to be actively anti-racist is with education. Try this quiz to see how much you understand about racism.
As regular readers will know, I like to tackle controversial subjects. So I decided to reach out to Malachi.
I first asked if he would be good enough to read my book review and let me know if I’d made any errors so I could correct them. I was delighted that Malachi was prepared to help me – and relieved when he said the review was fine. The only feedback he gave in terms of improvement was to provide examples regarding the keywords I mention at the beginning.
This is in reference to terms people might be searching for to find my posts on Google. I told Malachi I would edit the post to add examples as he made a good point – and I’ve simply not got around to it. I’m doing keyword research again right now, so this is the perfect opportunity to fix that.
To give you an indication of what BAME people are up against: in relation to racism, the most searched for term according to the software I use is ‘best racist jokes’.
I’m sickened by this and wish I was joking. The worst of it is that this term outweighs the next most-searched for term (anti racist) by an enormous margin (a volume of 3600 per month, versus 880 per month).
I later went back to him with a further suggestion, and asked if he’d be willing to be interviewed about the subject of racism. Malachi agreed; so I swallowed my fear of directing audacious questions to a man I’ve never even met, and set about writing what felt like an appallingly impudent interview.
This post is the result, and it’s become one of the blogs I’m most proud of on this website.
And while the questions I put to Malachi felt very inappropriate, I’ve come to appreciate that it’s only by addressing these difficult and uncomfortable issues that we can begin to come together to challenge racism and prejudice effectively.
Not asking the questions doesn’t make them go away, it simply leaves them unanswered. And all that achieves is to facilitate and perpetuate an ‘us vs them’ environment, which is unhelpful at best, and dangerous at worst. This is true for our children too, and is why I advocate always responding to them with truth, in all matters. Being informed is empowering; it takes away fear of the unknown and paves the way for tolerance, compassion, and even celebration of different.
Below is the original Facebook post from Malachi, followed by our interview.
An Interview About Racism and Tribalism
1. I’m a white woman about to have a conversation with you about racism. How does that make you feel?
My feelings about your race in relation to this discussion only serve as an indicator about certain aspects of race and racism that may not be common knowledge to you. I think you being a white lady that is genuinely eager to learn about racism and better yourself and those around you, to me, in some way indicates that you’re going out of your way when you perhaps didn’t have to.
As a white person, you have the option to turn a blind eye to these kinds of issues and topics, and I think there’s a part of me that is always a tiny bit surprised when I see people going out of their way, for that reason…but I’m happy that these kinds of conversations are happening and I’m happy to be a part of them.
Differentiating Between Racism, Xenophobia, Nationalism, and Prejudice
2. I got in contact with you because of your excellent explanation about racism vs nationalism vs prejudice. Could you explain more about that here please?
Yes! Well I would first like to correct a mistake I made in that discussion. I completely blanked on the word xenophobia, and proceeded to describe it using things like nationalism as a reference, but xenophobia is a hatred or dislike of someone not from the same country as you, or in a broader sense not from the same place.
Racism is prejudice based solely on race, however there is a difference between racial bias and institutional racism which is racism embedded in power structures and systems of control or authority.
Prejudice, essentially a pre-judgement, can be based on literally anything.
The difficulty in explaining racism, is that the concept of what race is has changed substantially, while the concept of racism actually hasn’t. Today we understand that race isn’t necessarily based on the colour of your skin, however racism in large part does seem to be formed by prejudices of that nature.
3. Is there a specific institution /section of society/ organisation that feels especially racist to you, or is it fairly even across the board?
This is a hard one to answer. I believe that the justice system is inherently racist, and arguably has the most damaging impact on people of colour, but I would say that government policy allows for things to be that way. So whilst I believe that racism can be seen in all facets of western society, I would say those two institutions do the most harm.
Racism and Age
4. At what age do you think racism becomes a problem in this country?
For people of colour, essentially as soon as they start schooling. Once you leave the home and you’re in the care of other people, the potential to encounter racism skyrockets, whether that be from other children who’ve acquired it through learned behaviour, or caregivers and teachers who have that mindset.
For white people I would give two seperate answers. If you come from a racist household, or even to a lesser extent an ignorant household, I would say from birth. It is entirely likely that if you’re raised to believe negative stereotypes about people of colour, that you will have a much harder time shedding those belief systems when you eventually come into contact with people of colour.
For white people who are raised in progressive families, it’s a lot more complicated, because it’s easy to believe that, because nobody you know is racist or exhibits racist behaviours, that it’s not as prevalent an issue as it really is.
So to answer your question, I think that really depends on what age you are when you’re first exposed to racism in a significant way.
5. What systems /processes /customs, etc do you think lay the foundations for racism to be perpetuated?
Constant media depictions of stereotypes, Black History month (where the accomplishments of Black people are exclusively told through the lens of oppression and the history isn’t updated to include the successes of Black people in recent times), a lack of representation of people of colour in government and positions of power, a lack of education on the actual topic of racism and what perpetuates it within the school system.
How Racist is Great Britain?
6. The fact racism exists in our country is a given. Do you believe – as a rule – the people are actively racist, or do you believe for the most part that racism today stems from outdated systems which need to be dismantled and rebuilt?
I think that some people are actively racist, and some people are ignorant, and other people who feel that they have very little power just don’t want to be at the bottom of the pile, and so they use perceived racial superiority as an attempt to claw back some semblance of power.
I do feel that a lot of the systems that we have in place today are in dire need of restructuring, and not just for people of colour but society as a whole. When you look at policies that are formed, and then who makes those policies, and then further to that look at who stands to benefit most from those policies, it rarely tends to be people of colour. If you then think about how long the system has functioned this way, it’s a bit easier to see how the system ends up being weighted against those people.
I would say those systems need to be renovated rather than dismantled.
Institutional racism is so ingrained in our society that we actually don’t fully know what equality would look like, and I think it would be more beneficial and achievable to seek out specific aspects of this system that don’t work and change the system piece by piece rather than tearing the whole thing down…but that said, maybe tearing everything down would get faster results? It’s hard to say.
How Can Positive Change Be Implemented?
7. What specifically do you think needs to happen for there to be fundamental, sustainable change?
I think first and foremost education.
People need not to have ignorance as an excuse, people need to understand why things are the way that they are in order to change things. Secondly, I think more people of colour need to be in positions of power. I think that’s the best way to ensure that more policies will benefit the people that belong to those communities as well as everyone else.
Racism vs Cultural Diversity
8. Do you think cultural differences can be problematic/give rise to racism?
I would say it’s more the attitudes towards cultural difference than the cultural differences themselves. Homogenisation is problematic in itself because diversity is what makes communities rich.
I think people need to stop perceiving cultures outside of their own as threats to their own identity, personally.
As long as how other people choose to celebrate their own cultures isn’t hurting anybody, I don’t think that they can be deemed problematic. The racism comes more as a byproduct of the hatred of “the other”.
The Role Tribalism Plays in Racism
9. What are your thoughts about natural tendencies towards tribalism, and how do you believe that impacts racism?
I feel like tribalism is natural, and actually has positives when managed appropriately.
I do however believe that it is, in its essence, the root cause of racism.
Can Racism Ever Be Eradicated?
10. Racism is not your problem to solve. That said, do you have any suggestions of an approach that could effectively bring it to an end?
Following on from your last question, I don’t believe racism will ever come to a total end specifically because tribalism is a base element of human nature. There will always be an element of “us vs. them” that exists between social groups, and I believe the historic impact of racism will never fully go away.
I do however, believe that over time and through discussion and education we can do something to reduce the effects of racism and the impact that it can have on the lives of people of colour. I think we’re already moving towards that kind of society but it’s still going to be years before I think we get to a point where equality exists in the way the people of colour are striving towards.
11. Anything else you’d like to add?
Everyone should read Natives by Akala.
Channelling the heritage of Nirvana, Skunk Anansi and the rock band Living Colour, Kid Furnace return, picking up where they left off after creating a cult following in Manchester. Black Alternative Rock from the UK has never sounded so good.
Black Lives Matter is Not a Trend
The more cynical reader might suggest that I’m several weeks too late publishing this since it’s been such a hot topic, which is beginning to lose momentum. To those people, I counter that right now makes it the perfect time to attempt to bring the subject back into the public consciousness.
There should be no loss of momentum until Black people feel they’re winning the fight for recognition and equality. And as of today, we still have a bloody long way to go.