Sorry, I keep wanting to write a post on a fascinating idea about longevity that I’ve even gone and interviewed people about, but it isn’t quite ready in my head yet. Instead I wanted to talk a little about two ways racism (and other kinds of prejudice) can manifest themselves.
Racism can hit us two ways but those two ways can combine in some unexpected ways to provide odd outcomes. Those outcomes are always negative for people like me on the receiving end.
The first of these is where people are simply individually racist. This is your home grown racist (and probably fascist) bully boy who wants us all to go ‘home’ and to stop polluting his high street or parks with people who aren’t like him (aka brown). Although on the rise after years of being the kind of person who would get shouted down and be rightly afraid of being called out for what they are, they’re still relatively rare.
The second of these is systemic racism. Think the police, or publishing or the health system in the UK (or the US). Think education, access to benefits and social mobility. Systemic racism comes in two varieties.
The first of these is where the system is explicitly designed to hinder minorities from accessing common goods – such as segregation, Jim Crow or banning the Burka.
The second of these is where the system is designed FOR the majority on the assumption everyone thinks like them. Think facial recognition which doesn’t recognise BIPOC because it was never tested on them because all the coders were white. Think mobile phones which were designed by men and hence are designed to fit into the average man’s hand and not the average woman’s hand.
The first of these is always designed by racists for racists to protect their power and to oppress. Not a lot to say there except burn it and them to the ground.
The second of these is more insidious and much harder to tackle. It also gives cover to proper racists as they can hide behind the law – which explicitly, if inadvertently, favours them. It also gives cover to people who are prejudiced and don’t know how to think about people different to them. Systemic injustice and inequality allows the comfortable and powerful to legally punish those less fortunate or weaker than themselves and to feel morally justified for doing so. The mother who’d feel justified in using the legal system to get her kids into the school of her choice and deliberately exclude others but complains bitterly about asylum seekers trying to legally seek a better life is one stereotype I’ve met too many times for me not to feel sick just remembering those conversations.
It’s the intersection of people who aren’t particularly prejudiced with the second kind of systemic racism where we get negative outcomes that most involved struggle to justify.
Racist systems make those within them choose racist options even if they’re not explicitly racist themselves. Thhey provide incentives for police to stop and search young black men (or rich black people) disproportionately more than rich whites or young white men (can you imagine a rich white person being subjected to stop and search?). It’s why there’s so few books by PBIPOC getting published (and even then they tend to be about the ‘issues’).
It’s why BIPOC die younger, get poorer access to services and education. It’s why BIPOC have died in larger numbers of COVID while the government has tried to hide that fact.
It’s also why the majority line up to say ‘but it’s not me!’ because they can legitimately feel it’s not them. The problem is they operate in a system which creates a language and frames their decisions in ways which can only be seen as racist. It’s how good people make prejudiced decisions – like crossing the road when they see a BIPOC or telling an assertive powerful woman she’s talking too much or being domineering.
If you’re in the majority and you recognise you’re in this kind of system (and this means everyone because we’re all in them unfortunately) how can you be an ally?
- you can speak up and not let me do all the work of protesting
- you can protect me from punishment when I speak up (trust me, you might get a strange look or disgruntled humphs from arseholes but I’m going to be actively punished)
- You can assume that when someone like me talks about this we don’t need you to say ‘I’ve never experienced this/I only buy books by authors I like regardless of colour and sex/If they didn’t do anything wrong they’d be fine/if the police stopped them there was probably a problem.’ etc. etc. etc. Basically anything which casts doubt on their experience or puts your experience of the world ahead of theirs in judging what’s going on
- Do NOT play devil’s advocate. There’s a reason the devil is the devil in Christianity and it’s because he’s a massive tool. Don’t be that tool.
- You can find ways to change the system
- You can accept without comment that I don’t have to be perfect and nor does anyone else who’s protesting their situation. Literally no one is holding you to that standard
- Finally, but far from exhaustively, accept that you are going to be presented with decisions which are framed in a way which makes them racist and you don’t have to go along with it.
Oh, and as a throw away. I might not want to be like you. Ever. And that’s ok. However, I still, probably, want to be your friend, to get along and eat dinner together and laugh with you.
We have to stop seeing the fact that people want to lead different lives as an attack on our way of seeing the world. We have to stop seeing it as a threat and treat it for what it is – glorious.