Over many years I have struggled with how to deal with racism when it rears its ugly head in conversations with friends, family or colleagues. This struggle has become ever deeper as I have worked on owning my “recovering racist” status and as I have made great Black and Indian friends. In the past 8 years it has become pressing as I raise a black daughter and as I experience the joy of my Dad being happily engaged to a black woman.
When I am in social or business situations and someone uses a racist word or weaves a racist attitude or sentiment into the conversation, I find it very difficult to take a stand in the moment. I find myself seething but saying nothing whilst trying to change the conversation. This is cowardly and self-serving. If I am going to take a stand against racism and discrimination from behind my keyboard or from a podium, I must be brave enough to do it in the real world where my work and social relationships may suffer as a result. Because values that aren’t worth suffering for have little value at all. They are just words.
After a recent racist incident (our Lolly was fortunately not in earshot), Cathy and I decided that as a family, we will protest against racism and discrimination by speaking out against it in the moment. This however will only be done in situations that are conducive to dialogue. In situations that aren’t, we will simply remove ourselves. This will be done politely but firmly and immediately.
This is not simply about overt racist words like the k-word and others. It’s about expressions like darkies, monkeys, cockroaches, coolies, non-swimmers etc. It’s about references to “they and them” and the veiled or overt questioning of black people’s abilities. It’s about references or words that dehumanise or strip others of dignity, enforce one groups superiority over another or labels other’s differences in a way that is not loving and celebratory.
And it extends beyond racism to all discrimination; derogatory names/references for women, LGBTQIA people, people with disabilities, people of other nationalities and religions and – from any person of any colour – any defence of apartheid or colonialism.
I understand we will be criticised for this stance in all kinds of hateful ways. But we really don’t care.
We just felt it was right to put it out there.