As a 19-year-old, white, middle class student, you wouldn't think that racism would really top my personal list of issues I have within the student politics movement. But that couldn't be further from the truth.
I had a conversation with a good friend of mine last week that solidified how I feel about Racism. And what it really means to be an ally. We came to the conclusion that many think the world today isn't really racist. We disagreed with this idea. I feel that we are really no less racist than when the empire was storming through 3/4 of the world and taking anyone who wasn't white for everything they had, and that we are no less racist than when we allowed the BNP to rise so terrifyingly during the last decade of British politics. I don't see that there has been any change in attitude or belief. I don't believe we, as a society, have changed.
Now that is one hell of a controversial statement. But hear me out.
Firstly, people will take issue with my use of 'we' throughout this article. Many white people, who are descendants of those who kept slaves and lived in a culturally normal racist society, would argue that there is no collective responsibility for racism and slavery and all of the terrible things our heritage and home country was built on. Now I do see their point, they themselves have not taken part in these atrocities, and they weren't there at the time to be able to stop it, so why, they ask, is it anything to do with them? The answer is simple, in my view. We owe it to the victims of racism, in all it's forms, to provide a world, and a society, which tries to help and promote the people suffering from racism in any way it possibly can. In order to apologize, and try to repair the terrible things that have happened in our history. We have a duty and a responsibility now, to create a world in which there is no opportunity for Racism to occur. And we are failing. As a society we are failing to safeguard the people we owe so much to. Which is why, even though racism has never affected me in my life, I will do my damned best to make sure it never affects anyone else. It is one of my top priorities. That should be the thought process of all those who say they are not racist. And this is where we come to the issue that plays so heavily on my mind when I think of our struggle.
I believe there is a fundamental difference between those who will say they are not racist, and those who actively fight racism. This is where the problem truly lies. Some people in the world will think they are not racist, because they do not say racist things and do not support racist behaviour. But if they perhaps were a witness in a racially motivated attack, on someone on public transport for example, would they stand up and defend them? Would they report it to the police? Would they tell their friends and family, disgusted at what had occurred? Or would they sit, quietly observing, not agreeing with what was said, but not making any conscious effort to defend and challenge.
I'm not sure. This is the problem we face. It is unacceptable to be publically racist, we live in a society that usually, actively condemns racism. Which means that it is no longer the cultural norm as a white person to be an outspoken racist and who benefits from segregation and the racial hierarchy. Racism is now a taboo, and those who are racist, unless they choose to be outspoken and active, remain silent and undetected. In a 2012 BSA poll in Britain, 75% of British citizens identified as not being racist, which on paper looks fantastic! A success for liberation!... Or so it would seem. Because the key issue here is that most racists do not identify as racists. They do not think that their beliefs or feelings are racist. So many people I speak to, that say racist things, when challenged, are shocked and offended that they are being labelled as a racist. It's a dirty word, and people don't want the badge, even if they won it by default... and this is the problem. Look at the rise of Donald Trump in America for example, anyone with a fully functioning brain and eyes will see that Donald Trump has some pretty 'out there' views on Muslims and Mexicans. But his supporters, genuinely do argue the case that Donald Trump is not a racist. They deny it vehemently. I have spoken with Trump supporters who even when presented with quotes by Trump that to me, could only be racist, found some way of justifying it and therefore making it acceptable. And it's this same type of behaviour I see day to day, it's all the same thought process. It's the idea of once you make it sit right in your head, it's therefore not a problem. Because once you're okay with it, and it doesn't set your alarm bells off, you can sit comfortably with the rest of us 'non racist' folk. So when we see Trump saying that he wants to build a wall between America and Mexico to keep the 'illegals' out, my alarm bell basically exits my brain and makes a one way trip to Mars. But for his supporters, it's okay, it's more than okay in fact, it's great. Because they've normalized it, so when they defend themselves, they genuinely do believe they're not racist, so at that point, how can you educate someone, when there is genuinely no room to change their mind. This is what concerns me.
In my opinion, to actively fight racism means to challenge it on a daily basis. If you hear someone using a racial slur, call them out on it. Make sure they know that it is racist, and that there are consequences. It is our job to educate and to organise. It is the most powerful tool we have in combating ideology and actions, whilst attempting to show people that your version of racism in your head, might not be what Racism really is. They might think because they don't use the n*****r word and they're mates with Raj who owns the corner shop, that they're not racist. But it's when you don't take issue with your university when it tries to report your black classmate for reading Malcolm X that sets the 'we're not racist' and the 'we actively fight racism' attitudes apart.
So this is why I stand up and say, I am an ALLY. I am not only anti-racist, but I actively fight racism at every opportunity. Somebody genuinely once said to me "why do you only ever defend black people, i don't see you standing up for us!" it was a turning point in me, that was the day I knew I had become an ally. Because whatever you might persuade yourself with to say that Racism isn't a problem, and that you aren't a racist, until you stand up and join the fight, you don't get that badge. You should strive to be an ally, because the world is crying out for allies, in every corner of every part of it. It's all well and good having all these 'non racists' sat in the room, but if not one of them stands up and votes for say, an anti-racist policy, like 'preventing prevent' then in my book, you're still a racist, because for whatever reasons you're not prioritizing the fight against racism (was that a cheeky reference to student politics? you'll never know...).
I beg you to become an ally. Not for me. Not even for my black friends who have faced some of the most disgusting attitudes I have ever had the displeasure of seeing. But for yourself. Make the change from being 'not racist' to a fighter of Racism. I promise you, you'll feel better for it.
And so will the world.
I would like to dedicate this article to Deej Johnson, the man who this week opened my eyes to what I now realise I was born to do and who I know will be there as he said, watching me along every step of the way...