Some of George Floyd’s last words were ‘I can’t breathe’. When oxygen and the right to breathe become currency in the economy of race relations, you, breathing oxygen right now as you read this, can be assured you are involved in the Battle of Racism. Like it or not, you are in it as we all are; for or against racism. Passively, perhaps, but only until you know it exists. Afterwards, only actively. Your being involved is therefore not your choice. But your response is.— Imani Shola
This is probably the heaviest topic I’ve covered on this blog. I hope that alone speaks to how important the issue is to me.
Each of us is already in what I’ll call, for the sake of this post, the ‘Battle of Racism’ — knowingly or not— and our actions and non-actions reveal whether we’re fighting for or against racism. Because, yes: non-action speaks, too. And, to be clear, I see ‘action’ as anything from taking the time to learn about the issue (combatting ignorance), or educate our children on it (generational action), to holding those around us accountable for their problematic actions or their denial of the issue.
Earlier this week, I saw the harrowing video of the arrest of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, described by those who knew him as a gentle giant, an arrest which led directly to his death at the scene. In it, a police officer has Floyd pinned down, his knee lodged into Floyd’s neck for eight minutes.
I could only bring myself to watch the video in part, through tears, but what I did see and later read was enough. My heart aches for his loved ones.
May Mr Floyd rest in perfect peace.
You’re involved. We all are.
It is heart-wrenching footage. Every breath Floyd sacrifices to try to articulate that he cannot breathe is an exhale wasted with no follow-up inhale guaranteed — not just because he was physically suffocating, so oxygen was precious, but also because the officer was actively ignoring his every plea.
We are all involved in this Battle. Some people are for racism, some of us fight against it. Indifference sits on the side of the former and dangles its legs. Active denial of the issue doesn’t fight either, but feeds pro-discrimination soldiers from its fast-food truck on the battlefield’s sidelines.
This post is for those, like me, and I’d hope the majority of us, who stand against racism. It’s particularly for those who may be seeing the injustices and longing to help, but who genuinely feel helpless, unsure where to start. This is for you.
How can you Help in the Fight Against Racism?
I’m dedicating this post to ways I personally think (and this is my personal view) all of us, and especially those who may not be facing the struggle directly but who are angered at the injustice and don’t know how to help, can help win the battle against racism.
To make it easier to remember, I’ve made it into an acronym: APATHY. I’ve chosen this precisely because it’s memorable in this context, and because we need to remember that apathy towards racial injustice is an enemy here, just as much as racial hatred is.
I’d suggest following the steps in the order I’ve presented them. For instance, while you may want to tweet about a racist issue without learning the historical context first, I personally question whether it’s wise to. Also, it’s often better to ask and listen (step 3) before talking (steps 4 and 5).
APATHY stands for:
A – acquire contextual knowledge.
P – privilege – acknowledge and understand privilege.
A – ask – your black friends, especially if you don’t know where to start.
T – talk – and tell others about the issues at hand (fight ignorance).
H – help – help speak out against injustice.
Y – you – your time, treasure and talents. How can you use them to help?
1. ACQUIRE CONTEXTUAL KNOWLEDGE. (Get Educated)
Racism has been happening for so long that there is now no excuse to be ignorant about it. Beyond the articles and academic and historical literature you could certainly consult if you prefer, here’s where you can start if you’d like to start learning more through Art and Culture first.
Step 1: Understand the Historical Context:
1) Suggested films:
- On Slavery:
- 12 Years a Slave (2013)
- Harriet (2019)
- On the Aftermath of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement:
- The Help (2011) (original book by Kathryn Stockett)
- The Colour Purple (1985) (original book by Alice Walker)
- Loving (2016) (available on Netflix)
- Selma (2014)
- The Butler (2013)
- Hairspray (2007). It is fictional, but like The Help can be a useful introduction to the context, especially for a younger audience, and a good place to start the discussion if you’re a parent with younger children. Why not ask your children what they think is behind [the best song in the movie,] Run and Tell That?
- Just Mercy (2019)
- Hidden Figures (2016)
Step 2: Understand the Recent Context:
1) Info on recent Police Brutality Against African-Americans:
Sadly, there are many more, many listed on this twitter thread, but these are a place to start.
And, importantly, police brutality against black people happens often in the UK, too, as this insta post explains. You’re also far more likely to be stopped and searched by police if you’re black, here in the UK, according to the government.
2) Suggested films:
- Queen and Slim (2019). Available on Amazon Prime.
- When They See Us (2019). Available on Netflix.
I have to say, the similarities between scenes from Queen and Slim and reality this morning are shocking.
A still from Queen and Slim:
Photo from the news this morning:
From the film:
From this week:
Honestly, I strongly urge you to watch the film if you haven’t already.
3) Through Books:
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge. (I’ve not read this, but am told it’s an excellent start).
- Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston (portrays historical context).
- Natives – Akala. (I’ve not read this, but am told it’s an excellent start).
- Brit(ish) – Afua Hirsch, for a British side of the story. (I’ve not read this, but am told it’s an excellent start).
4) Check out Jane Elliot. An excellent example of how to do this battle against racism well:
- Check out her famous project, How Racist Are You.
- More on Jane here.
- She also did a Red Table Talk session with Jada Pinkett Smith.
2. PRIVILEGE. Call a Spade a Spade: Acknowledge Privilege
Not having to think about race on a daily basis is truly a privilege. Because of what’s been happening, African-American men in the US especially currently do not have that privilege. Wider than that, deep-rooted and institutionalised racism against black people means we often do not have that privilege in general. Or, if we taste it for a while, it’s usually short-lived.
Anti-racism is knowing that all lives can’t matter if the black ones don’t. Even grammatically, the pronoun/determiner ‘all’ literally becomes defunct if some parts of that ‘all’ don’t adhere to it, or, in this case, aren’t treated as though they do. Anti-racism is also acknowledging that discrimination, with its inherent power dynamic, usually always involves privilege lurking somewhere and that that is the case here.
This insta post explains privilege really well. Take a look.
Meanwhile, this one explains brilliantly how systemic racism works (systemic racism is the reason why it’s not enough for us just be ‘not racist‘, but why we need to be actively anti-racist).
Black or not, we should all be having these discussions. If you’re not black, and genuinely want to learn about your black friends’ experiences, don’t be afraid to bring the topic up and ask if they’d like to speak about it (they might not). If you’re asking genuinely to listen, to hear and to learn, they will sense it. Again, they might not want to talk about it, in which case it’s of course best to leave it alone. If they do, though, you can ask how they feel about it, maybe about their experiences. Importantly, ask them how you can help. Each time you ask, listen. Let them know you see what they are facing.
You don’t have to over-identify with what they share to show solidarity; in fact that can have the opposite result. But you can always show solidarity by listening and hearing and learning; and then, even better, applying that knowledge and taking on accountability by tailoring how you respond in the battle you both are in (albeit with different experiences). Ask them for guidance. If you want to help but don’t know how, you don’t have to figure it out on your own.
4. TALK. Raise Awareness
Self-explanatory. Links to ‘H’ (step number 5), but here I more mean don’t let race be a taboo; it’s important we have the hard conversations and hold those around us accountable when they refuse to, or when they are complicit or in denial about it all.
5. HELP. Speak Out Against Injustice
Staying silent when events like the one with Mr Floyd happen is a form of complicity. Once you’ve been made aware you’re in this battle and the battle is costing lives, silence becomes an active, not passive, response in the battle.
It becomes your actively-chosen response. I would encourage you to, if you feel comfortable, feel free to use your platforms – social media or otherwise – and your voice to raise awareness and speak out against injustice when you see it happening.
6. YOU. Use Your Resources
I truly believe steps 1-5 are a brilliant start. But remember you can always use your time, talents, treasure, too. Leverage them for the cause.
Actions truly speak louder than words.
There are a plethora of ways you can give of your time, talents and treasure (money) to help fight racism. For instance, you could use your treasure and give to a fund for justice, like one of those below:
- Official George Floyd Memorial Fund
- Change.org petition for Justice for George Floyd
- Justice for Ahmaud Arbery, killed while out jogging.
- Justice for Breonna Taylor, killed in an unlawful raid on her home.
- More ways to help from the UK.
- You may be interested in these two insta infographics on further practical ways we can help fight racism: 10 Steps to Non-Optical Allyship and How to be Actively Antiracist. Both are excellent, and the latter lists further reading.
Actions speak louder than words.
I’m not saying everyone needs to become a radical, or a demonstrator. I’m just asking you to do whatever you can, based on where you’re at. I’m saying that when complicity and not doing anything become an active choice, which they do once we’ve been made aware we’re in the battle, it’s up to us to decide what we will do instead of complying, or staying silent, and how.
Thank you for reading this, and for every effort I hope you will make in the fight against racism.
See you in June,
Main photo: Nicole Baster
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