This is a very personal piece for me to write, as a White privileged person, who has sought over a large part of my professional life to mitigate some of the most egregious manifestations of racism and prejudice directed towards persons of colour.
I come from South Africa (am now an Australian citizen) where race divisions were institutionalised and opportunities distributed on a racial basis to a degree exceeding anywhere else in the world. Through the last decade of the 20th century and into the first few years of the 21st century I worked with government organisations and large corporations in South Africa to endeavour to dismantle apartheid and reach a fundamental change in mindset: from the one where Black people were assumed to be inferior, to one where the intrinsic equality and worth of all humans is acknowledged.
There were certainly positive signs to be seen. The sustained adulation by millions across the world of Nelson Mandela for his inspiring leadership taking South Africa to democracy, followed by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the USA, seemed to indicate that gross and universalised race discrimination was at last on the wane. This, as we all know most unfortunately was just an illusion.
The current upheaval in America, precipitated by killings of unarmed Black civilians followed by sympathetic protests across the globe, is a pointed reminder of how far we are from the reality of embedding racial equity and justice. Societies almost everywhere, physically removed from the locus of the incidents, have been taking stock and facing the reality of their own histories of ongoing racial oppression and discrimination.
These protests hopefully reflect that societies have reached an inflexion point in their willingness to blind themselves to or tolerate unrestrained racial humiliation, exclusion and repeated acts of race-based violence. However, it will take a huge and sustained effort by individuals, the media, governments and private businesses and organisations to bring about real change.
And such transformation has to start with me, with you, with us. A constant refrain from BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Colour) is that White people “just don’t get it”. White people do not comprehend or even acknowledge the repeated fears, hurt, humiliations, exclusions and apprehensions experienced daily by people of colour. This is a reality which all of us as Whites must accept. Saying we are colour blind is simply denying the reality of very real racial dynamics which filter through every conversation and every situation that a person of colour encounters daily. We need to take off our blinkers, to make the gigantic emotional leap into the shoes of the person of colour, and do the hard work of really getting to grips with the immense toll that racism plays on our social structures and on people of colour the world over.
And we need to take stock, pause and consider what deliberate action we can take, individually and collectively, to halt the perverse cycle of racism and ameliorate the harsh impact of inequity and oppression in the long journey to building a fair, just and inclusive culture for people of all races across the globe. Will you join me?