We have all been deeply affected by the violence witnessed recently in the news, when George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. This latest incident is sadly not isolated and comes during countless other reports that are being shared across social media and a long history of injustice. The problem of discrimination doesn’t just happen overseas, it is found right on our doorstep. The traumatic consequences of racism are being felt across so many of our communities right now.
Racism is the belief that one race is superior or inferior to another. It is rooted in the idea that your physical and biological characteristics determine what kind of person you are – for better or worse. Racism is about what happens to individuals, but also about the systems that are built unfairly on discrimination.
It almost seems unreal that another person would be considered less than human because of their skin colour, language, customs or place of birth in our modern society. But this is something that is all too real in our world today!
There are no quick fixes to deep rooted problems but hope for change comes when we start by listening, learning and leading whoever we are.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.’ Nelson Mandela
Often when we see video clips, posts, images or hear stories that make us feel uncomfortable it can be easier to try to ignore or distract ourselves from them. We turn a blind eye rather than let our eyes be opened. For those who haven’t really had any personal experience of racism they can easily believe it is not that much of an issue for everyone else. Their personal perspective clouds reality.
Yet many people of different races don’t have the luxury of scrolling past injustice on their social media feed as they face real challenges every single day. That’s why we need to pause and listen to each other to help build bridges and start conversations that matters.
“We can no longer look away.’ Beyoncé
A good starting point for learning is to take time to listen to someone else’s story who is different than you. Only when we seek to put ourselves in other people’s shoes can we really start to understand what real change can look like.
We have to learn from our history if we want to change our future. Take time to educate yourself about what is happening in the world. Don’t just look at the latest social media post from today but look into the past too. We can learn from those have been on the front lines fighting for rights, respect and systematic change for centuries.
Whether it is reading about William Wilberforce who fought to abolish slavery or researching the life of Martin Luther King who sacrificed his life for a future where his children would be judged by the content of their character and not by the colour of their skin. History has a lesson for us all.
Films can be a great way to engage with inspirational modern heroes like Bryan Stevenson, who after graduating from Harvard university, spent his career defending those wrongly condemned to the death penalty often due to inequality. The powerful film about his life Just Mercy is available to rent right now on all online platforms.
Many adults, let alone young people, find it hard to express themselves, when it comes to starting a conversation about racism. This could be due to the pain of personal experience or simply fear of saying the wrong thing. Yet despite the challenges it brings we must learn to speak out with honesty and courage.
It is not just about what we have to say, but the example we set with the way we live our life too. Our actions speak louder than words. We can be a role model for the next generation whatever our age.
We need to find a way to use our voice. For example, there are millions of people right now using the power of hashtags, storytelling, film, art, writing, poetry, song and fashion to share the truth that ‘Black Lives Matter’. How might we use our talents for the benefit of others? What if we could find creative ways to use our voice to share a positive message of hope?
Michelle Obama sums up how we can make a difference like this:
“It’s up to all of us – Black, white, everyone – no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it (racism) out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets.”
Let’s take that stand together!