In the UK, we often avoid having conversations on issues surrounding race, ethnicity and identity.
Whether it is due to a lack of knowledge, feelings of discomfort discussing racial issues, a conscious fear of saying something wrong, plain ignorance of racial discrimination or all of the above - getting the chance or having the bravery to discuss these matters openly can be rare, despite their grave importance.
This inherent fear of open dialogue and discussion on racial and social issues is exactly what holds us back from creating real change in the UK.
Engaging and sharing with people who are different to you is essential to understanding and empathising with the undeniable experiences and struggles of millions of people in this country, who have been and are being wrongly discriminated against based on the colour of their skin.
The public reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement, the recent Sainsbury’s Christmas advert and Diversity’s Britain’s Got Talent performance (which was the most complained about TV moment of the decade, with over 20,000 complaints) – only reinforces the challenges that we face in Britain today and demonstrates just how much we need to change.
To simply ignore reality in the hope that it will eventually just go away is both naive and harmful.
We must be willing to engage in difficult conversations, we must be willing to potentially feel uncomfortable and awkward, we must be willing to look at the world through a different lens and we must be willing to embody the change that we want to see in Britain, in order to eradicate racial discrimination at every level of British society once and for all.
With that in mind, here are 4 tips from me (a white person) on how to be an ally to the black community in the UK…
Listen & learn
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” - The Dalai Lama
This quote is the key to this point. Listen to black people, listen to what they have to say and make sure to really listen when they are willing to open up and share their experiences with you.
It is a privilege to not have your education, job or social status strongly impacted based on the colour of your skin and it is a privilege to not have to endure racism – in all of its forms - on a daily basis, the least we can all do is to listen to and learn from those who live this reality every day.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela
It is not solely the responsibility of your black friends to educate and teach you, you must make the effort to do so yourself. Black history has largely been ignored in the national curriculum, so be sure to use the resources directly available to you to confront your own biases, widen your perspectives and deepen your knowledge.
Follow organisations like The Black Curriculum and Black Minds Matter (or Next Gen Movement!) on social media. Consume the work of black activists, journalists and authors, like Akala, Afua Hirsch and Reni-Eddo Lodge, who provide eye opening analysis and commentary on racial issues and systemic injustice in the UK.
Engage in conversations that may be difficult or uncomfortable
In order to learn and change, it will sometimes mean that people have to get offended.
I know, it is much easier to just ignore your distant family member who occasionally expresses distasteful and unnerving views at the table after a few drinks, but this is exactly where you must not hide. We have to be willing to challenge each other and we cannot be scared of confrontation, we cannot simply wish these problems away.
Take an active role in educating your family and friends, don’t be scared to engage in difficult discussions and don’t shy away from sharing your knowledge with those around you.
Understand that we will never truly understand
Showing solidarity and standing with the black community means that you are using your voice for good, which is fantastic. But we will never understand what it feels like to be racially abused, systematically discriminated against and oppressed based on the colour of our skin.
It is vital to acknowledge that we will never truly understand what it feels like to carry those experiences with us and all that we can do is listen, learn, empathise and mobilise, to create the change that we want to see.
Significant policy changes are needed to address discrimination in our criminal justice system, education system, jobs market and so many other areas, but in order to truly eradicate racism in our country, we must start with our discourse.
Remember, it isn’t about blame, it isn’t about guilt and it isn’t about finger pointing.
It’s about being a part of the solution. It’s about unequivocally condemning racism and discrimination in all of its forms. It’s about eradicating injustice once and for all and it’s about playing an active role in creating the genuinely fair and equal society that we want and need in this country.
To listen and to learn is a choice that we make. When we reduce ourselves to shouting at each other, we don’t listen. We become divided, rather than united. We make enemies, instead of friends.
So, choose to be part of the solution, not the problem.