On Blackout Tuesday, I used the day to journal and reflect on what I had spent absorbing from the news and social media in the past week, and few months really. I felt overwhelmed by sadness and grief for the Black community and having that space out allowed me to read, process, digest and gain confidence to initiate conversations about inequalities related to race that usually give me heart palpitations.
Working in the NHS I hear that BAME communities are disproportionately affected by negative health outcomes in every way, whether its COVID- 19, childbirth, or long term health conditions. Public Health England published that BAME populations are more likely to die from COVID 19 yesterday, but offer little to no understanding of why and how they plan to support BAME communities be less susceptible to the illness. Black women are 5 times more likely to die during the perinatal period, and a significant proportion of the pregnant women who have died from COVID-19 have been BAME. Yet there is no clear plan to find out why BAME populations are becoming gravely ill. I can’t help but think if there were more people of Black and minority ethnic groups in positions of power to guide these reports or if White British people were dying disproportionately, maybe there would be more relevant research projects being initiated. @Pregnantthenscrewed posted today that 1000 responses that indicated that BAME people were dying due to systemic racism and lack of access to resources were completely ignored and not included in a PUBLIC HEALTH REPORT. Are BAME people not the public?
“History is written by the victors,” says Winston Churchill. (Ironic that he says this, considering he has been written into history as a great leader when in reality he was the reason 6-7 million Indians in Bengal died due to famine, when the food they grew was rerouted to feed British troops.) It is clear that history has been written by White hands, of how they conquered the world. They write the winning story, not reporting the other side and the atrocities, the looting of lands and bodies, the genocides that occurred for the land to be conquered. This is fed into school curriculums, brainwashing children with half a story from a young age, impliciting feeding the idea of white superiority and coloured inferiority.
It is time that we now listen to the other side of history. The side that has never been taught to us at school, at least not in a meaningful way outside of Black History Month. We need to learn about colonialism, we need to learn about slavery, we need to learn about segregation and how parts of this still exist to allow continued prejudice towards Black people in the form of systemic racism. It is not enough that we as a collective “accept” parts of Black culture that “look” and “sound cool”, that we know rap lyrics by heart, use slang and learn how to twerk, or aspire to have big bums and get lip fillers but reject Black skin, Black identity and Black pain and outrage when Black people are killed by people in positions of power.
We must do better, as a society. We must be better. This calls for some uncomfortable conversations. I am uncomfortable writing this now. I wrote Black and wondered whether I was being politically correct and whether I would “cancelled” for being racist. This is me trying to be anti-racist and I welcome constructive criticism. No one learns from being told they are wrong, they learn from guidance on how to do things in a helpful way.
On Tuesday, I sat down and wrote the word UNLEARN. What do we need to do as a society to unlearn what we know of White history, to ensure that Black people get the basic human rights they deserve, and unfortunately do not currently have access to? I watched a great video by @thedailyshow where @TrevorNoah brilliantly describes how there is an unspoken contract that society adhere to, the one that says All Lives Matter. We plod along trying to act in line with society’s rules. However what becomes clear is that pockets of society are not treated like their lives matter. This part of society is treated daily like their lives don’t matter at all, and they live in fear of people who we as a society appoint us as our caretakers. This contract only suits people who benefit from it, and actually stifles the rest of society, hence the contract is invalid and needs to be rewritten. The rule of All Lives Matter has clearly never been adhered to. We need to build a new valid contract by allowing Black people to live in peace and safety and stand with them in solidarity until this happens.
So what do I need to do as a South Asian woman who has privilege:
- RECOGNISE MY PRIVILEGE. Recognise that I benefit from being a “model minority” in society as an Asian-British Sikh Punjabi woman with a higher level education. This does not mean I don’t face hardship, but I can recognise that I have opportunities in the world that others do not.
- REFLECT ON MY BIASES. Reflect on what messages and prejudices I have internalized over time. What have I said or not said when I was younger- why?, what have I said about neighbourhoods- why?, who do I choose to date- why?, what comments do I hear and let pass- why? I reflect on my need to say “us too”. Now is not the time. Now is the time to support our Black brothers and sisters gain their human rights. When they get them, society as a whole will be fairer, including to “us”.
- LISTEN. Listen to Anti-Racist voices. Follow pages of activists and those that share first account stories of racism. It is not my right to ask Black people to teach me what racism means to them. I can sit and listen and absorb it. Listen without prejudice and stay engaged. The media may move on in a few weeks, but we need to keep listening and supporting.
- CHALLENGE. When you hear a racist undertone, question it. Encourage and initiate conversations about race. It is deeply uncomfortable at first but most conversations that are considered taboo are. Remember when no one spoke about mental health and now everyone’s talking about it? We can do this with racism too. We can be actively anti-racist everyday. Educate people on what is not appropriate when you hear that comment whilst keeping at the core of your message that Black Lives Matter.
I am not sure who I wrote this for. I think this is me trying to process my sadness, my anger and my grief for Black people. This is me trying to hold myself accountable in this time to unlearn and learn a new language where I can be actively anti-racist.
There is a lot of content in the media which is harrowing and heartbreaking. Please do what you can to look after yourselves as self care is more important than ever. Soothe. Breathe. Rest. Repeat.
Lots of love to you all