Let's cut to the chase: I'm a white heterosexual male, and for that reason I have privilege. In other words, there are so many obstacles that I didn't have to overcome to get to where I am today, and so many issues I don't even have to consider which others wrestle with on a daily basis. It's not right that we live in a world where there is so much injustice: this isn't how it was meant to be.
As someone of white skin colour, I don't have to cling onto my receipt in case I'm targeted and accused of shoplifting due to unconscious bias. I don't have to witness others crossing the road when they see me because they expect me to be dangerous. I can easily identify people who look like me in so many different careers and walks of life, meaning it's more likely I'll go into those careers and giving me a greater chance of social mobility. I'm more likely to be accepted in a group rather than feeling like an outsider. I don't need to rein myself in instead of speaking out, in case I get labelled an "angry black man/woman".
As a male, I'm more likely to progress through an organisation to leadership roles. I don't have to even consider the impact that having children would have on my career progression and salary, and in fact, I'm more likely to be paid more to start with. I don't have to think so much about what I'm wearing, I'm more likely to be judged for my intellect and abilities rather than my physical appearance, and I don't have to be hyper-vigilant walking on my own when it's dark.
And as a heterosexual, it's so much easier for me to have the life I aspired to: married, with children, belonging to a wonderful church community, accepted by my family and friends. I don't have to wrestle with whether my whole life would be uprooted if I came out. I don't have to live a double life, anxious about disclosing who I really am in case society judges me.
Since the tragic death of George Floyd, more people are waking up to the fact that saying "I'm not racist" is not enough: we need to be anti-racist, actively working against racism within ourselves and with those we encounter. Each of us has a responsibility to look deep within ourselves and identify - and address - deep-rooted discriminatory attitudes. We should call others out when we hear things said that aren't ok, and do so in love rather than judgement. We should acknowledge the part we are unconsciously playing in reinforcing the structures that are oppressing others, and seek to change them for the better. And, crucially, this can't be something which is only reactionary and doesn't last; it has to be something that continues over time.
It's tough to be confronted with your own privilege, and be told that you're complicit in oppression. This is a real thing, and is legitimate: it's called "white fragility". Please don't let that stop you from making the journey to the other side. And please remember that it's a privilege to be learning about the discrimination in society, rather than being the ones who have experienced it.
It's also tough to speak out, knowing that you'll probably get it wrong. The most important thing is that you do speak out anyway, and enter into that uncomfortable space. In many ways, silence makes you complicit, whereas speaking out shows your acknowledgement of what's actually happening, and solidarity with those who don't have your privilege.
On that note, let me just pause and I'm sorry for when I've got it wrong: when I've assumed something about you that isn't true, or made a comment that's ignorant or unhelpful. I'm sorry that the words I'm using in this blog post aren't enough, and that I don't understand fully the realities you face. I'll keep trying to do better.
What will I practically do, then, so that this isn't just empty words? So far, these are the steps I have taken:
I've changed the images on my website, so more people belonging to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities are represented.
I've invited some people who are different to me to contribute to this blog (look out for a series entitled "Perspectives" coming later this year). I want to make sure people of different skin colours, genders, sexualities and faiths are able to have their voices heard; for lots of reasons, but crucially so this can be a place where leaders learn how to enable teachers from diverse groups to have good wellbeing. It's important that this is "wellbeing for educators", not "wellbeing for white male educators".
I'm reading and learning. So far, this has been mostly on Twitter, and some people who I'd recommend following are: @MrPranPatel, @MannyAwo, @wanderingbritt_, @Ethical_Leader, and @AlisonKriel. I've also started reading "We Need To Talk About Race" by Ben Lindsay (in fact, the organisation I work for has bought a copy for each staff member, which is amazing). And today we listened to some wonderful people from our church community courageously sharing their real stories of the racism they've experienced in day-to-day life: it was so eye-opening and so challenging.
I will try to make our curriculum at school more anti-racist, finding ways to better challenge the stereotypes our students may have, especially about race but also other areas.
I think each of us must do something, and what that looks like will look different for each of us, depending on how much time, money, and other commitments we have. For some, it will be simply becoming more aware of their own thoughts and assumptions. Some will donate to good causes. Some will do a little reading, some will do a lot of reading and other research too. Some will listen, some will talk, some will do both. Just please do something, and please don't deny that there's an issue here or convince yourself that everything's fine. There's a lot of work to do over the next few weeks, months, and years if we are to make the world a more just and fair place to live in.
Looking after ourselves
Finally, there's an important question I've been pondering: how do we look out for our wellbeing in all this? After some conversations with friends, I've thought of 3 important considerations if you're white:
White fragility, which I mentioned above, is a real thing. We should 100% be seeking to uncover our unconscious bias and the racism inherent in the structures of society, and we should be seeking to understand the experiences of those who are different to us, but we have to remember to pace ourselves to avoid burnout. This is a marathon not a sprint, and to enact real change over time we have to be able to sustain change over months and years, not just days. I'd recommend setting a limit and sticking to it: for instance, limiting yourself to 30-60 minutes of research per day, and 15 minutes of reflection and processing time afterwards.
It's easy to be overwhelmed by the feelings of shame which result from realising that we are complicit in racist societal structures, and by the atrocities committed by our ancestors. However, shame is not a helpful place to stay. Whatever emotions we feel, whether anger, shame, confusion, helplessness, or something else, the best thing we can do is channel these emotions into change. Remember, we can't change what's gone before, but we can change what happens next.
Talk to others! This includes talking to other white people, to discuss our new learning and share thoughts, and talking to those of different ethnicities, mainly to learn from their experiences if they're happy to share.
And after my initial research, here are three recommendations if you are part of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities for how you can look after your wellbeing:
Recognise that you could be going through secondary trauma. There's more about this in chapter 1 of "We Need To Talk About Race": it's "the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the first-hand trauma of another" and "its symptoms mimic those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)". So, if you're experiencing an extreme emotional response, that's valid, and there's a reason for it.
While it's true that people who don't understand need to be educated, it's not all on you. Your perspective is so valid and helpful, but you need to protect your own mental health too: it's ok to walk away from a conversation, leave a Whatsapp group, unfollow someone, or not reply to messages to protect yourself from hurtful comments or to just take a break from the dialogue.
Talk to others! It's important that you aren't going through this alone, especially if you are angry or hurt. Find someone who understands who you can talk honestly with; this is too heavy a burden to carry by yourself.
I completely recognise I don't understand it all and that I have a limited perspective from my privileged position; I would so appreciate it if you could help me where I've got it wrong and let me know your thoughts. And please keep the conversation open, even where it's uncomfortable, but also please remember to look after yourself and protect your own wellbeing as we journey forward together.