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Uprooting Racism: A Place to Start

Jun 12 2020

With the ongoing unrest and the recent horrific events in the United States – the brutal killings of George Floyd, Breona Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and the long line of those that have gone before them – it seems like the whole world is waking up and making an assessment of racism and discrimination in their nation.

Systemic and structural racism must be dismantled at the governmental level with changes in policies and legislation, but it must also be addressed at an individual and personal level if this is to be truly transformative.

Each one of us have biases and prejudices – unconscious and conscious. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t a good, law-abiding person who is hardworking and kind. You may even be surprised at what constitutes being racially prejudiced or the small things that prop up systemic racism where you live.

If you are keen to learn how you can personally and practically take action in your own life today, one of the first things you can do is look at the questions and statements below and make an honest, inward inventory and see where you can make some changes.

It has been said, that once you are made aware, you cannot say you didn’t know.

The questions listed below are the results of the experiences of BIPOC (Black. Indigenous. People Of Colour). You may not recognise these questions as racist, but they uphold the systems of privilege.

Ask yourself these questions before you ask them of others:

  1. Do I tell racist jokes or jokes with racial connotations that elevates one race over another?
  2. Am I someone who would be found laughing at those jokes?
  3. Do I listen to those jokes and say nothing even though I know it’s not right?
  4. Have I ever belittled someone from another racial background? Patted their head, touched their hair without permission, joked about their height or build, or joked about their ‘all-year-round tan’?
  5. Have I ever made fun of someone’s accent?
  6. When speaking to someone with darker skin tone, do I say that they look exotic?
  7. Have I ever remarked that a certain people group all look the same?
  8. Have I ever said to someone with a fairer complexion ‘But you’re so fair! You don’t look like you’re from … Are you mixed race’?
  9. Have I ever said, “You don’t need sunscreen, you’re brown/black.”
  10. When speaking of another race or person of another cultural background, do I lower my voice or whisper when I say their skin tone or race i.e. ‘He was Black/Asian/Indian/Hispanic’ etc?
  11. In a social gathering, do I tend to ask people of colour where they are really from or what their background is? How often do I ask a white person that?
  12. Have I made sweeping or generalised statements that stereotypes another race or religion? “Muslims are all extremists”, “Asians are terrible drivers”.
  13. Have I judged the parenting or made assumptions about children of other cultures in my child’s class and voiced them in front of my own children or other parents, perpetuating a negative perception of that culture?
  14. Do I sometimes use derogatory terms for people of other cultural backgrounds in humour or offhandedness?
  15. Have I laughed off or dismissed their discomfort if they speak up about something that makes them uncomfortable or they’ve repeatedly asked me not to say or do?
  16. Have I ever told them they are overreacting or being overly sensitive?
  17. If someone points out that something I’ve said is derogatory or racist, do I immediately get defensive?
  18. Have I ever said, “I’m not racist, I have black friends”?
  19. Who do I socialise with regularly? Do they all look like me? Do they have the same cultural background as me?
  20. As a team leader or manager in an organisation, community sport group or church, do I allow BIPOC to not only have a seat at the table, but do I regularly hand over the microphone or ask them to contribute with their own voice at that table?
  21. Do I actively seek to have a diversity of cultures in the leadership team around me?
  22. Do I talk over the top of or interrupt BIPOC in meetings?
  23. Do I dismiss or discredit their input because it’s not what I want to hear?
  24. Do I water down or not engage in racial discussion because I’m afraid I will lose supporters/followers/business?
  25. As a writer/blogger/photographer/film maker/social media influencer, do I centre myself as the hero in the stories of BIPOC or do I let them tell their story without interference?
  26. In producing documentaries or sound grabs do I only caption the BIPOC who are speaking?
  27. As a photographer how do I capture photos of people in other cultures? What is the purpose for me doing this? Do I always ask for permission and tell them where their photos will be used and give them the opportunity to view them or say no to having their photo taken in the first place? Am I placing dignity on them in the photos I take?
  28. Am I always or frequently in the frame of the photo?

These are some of the everyday hallmarks of individual, systemic racism and white privilege. They are questions we can ask ourselves, seriously wrestle with and work at uprooting in our own behaviour and thinking.

It’s time to start calling it out in ourselves and be courageous enough to call it out in our friends and family, and petition our local and federal governments for change, with love and grace but also always with truth.

If enough of us do this, we can begin to dismantle the structures that perpetuates the systemic nature of racism in our society. If not, we render ourselves complicit in upholding this system – a system we cannot change if we are not first willing to change ourselves.

Look after your mental health in the process. This is not an easy work and you will need time to process it all if this is new to you. Seek wise counsel, pray, but don’t shy away because it is hard. You are lucky that you are in a position of privilege that enables you to learn and educate yourself rather than having it be your lived experience.

So show up. Do the work. Be accountable. Take personal responsibility. Go about it quietly. Don’t take to social media and express how difficult it is or centre yourself. In time, the fruit of your hard work will be evident in your life. Remember the reason we are doing this. This is for a world where every person is able to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other with the rights and freedoms afforded equally to all of humanity regardless of colour or creed.

Nikki Sealey
Hillsong Social Justice


Further resources:

The Colour Sisterhood Catalogue a list of documentaries, books, films, TV series and podcasts to help you to learn about issues facing people in our world that may not be part of your own lived experience.