One thing I’ve been really conscious of doing this week is listening. Sitting in discomfort hearing things that are challenging, upsetting and confronting with no reply. Just open ears.
One of the most powerful forums I’ve attended is Tara Furiani’s Whites at the Roundtable. You’ve probably seen me post about it this week.
Tara invites 4-6 people from a range of backgrounds, with various perspectives to just openly converse about a topic. Tuesday was ‘DEI not PR’ and today was ‘People or Politics’ and both were amazing high-value sessions. Panelists spoke passionately, honestly and impactfully. Their ability to be so articulate about the horrendous treatment they’ve personally experienced or witnessed was incredible, but I guess that’s sadly what happens when this shit is your day-to-day life…
Tara asked me today for feedback on the sessions which really caused me stop and reflect about what I valued about them.
I told her that they are a great forum for people to just strap and listen; not to lectures, but to real lived experiences. I don’t think enough of that is happening. They offer an opportunity to be a fly-on-the-wall in a truly real conversation. Not a PC, overly sanitised D&I training session. Just real people sharing real perspectives and addressing challenges in a real way. Peppered with dark humour, f-bombs and mic drops, the conversation was intense but insightful.
So here are a few of my takeaways as a White at the Roundtable:
1) As someone living in Australia, my exposure to Black Americans has primarily been through movies and TV programs. Hearing Black folk talk about their lived experience; their hurt and anger and confusion about current and past events was powerful. But it caused me to recognise my exposure to First Nation people is also primarily through movies and tv programs and that’s not good enough. I want to do better.
2) There was a great discussion about how Black history is taught in the school system. A few panellists mentioned there seems to be a reticence to be embarrassed or acknowledge the wrongs that were done (and continue to be done). Again, I reflect that certainly my education around the settlement of Australia and treatment of First Nation people was very whitewashed. I hope that’s changed significantly over the past 30 years, but it’s something I’ll be investigating thoroughly and supplementing where required when Elliott starts school.
3) One of the panellists, Kamal, spoke incredibly articulately about the cycle of brokenness that impacts Black Americans. He spoke about how Black people, particularly men, come out of the womb ‘Hurting, Heartbroken and Hunted’. Those three Hs are burned into my mind. His statement was so powerful. He talked about how broken parents raise broken children and how the cycle continues. How often do you hear ignorant people saying all the bad stuff happened in the past and Black Americans or First Nation Australians should ‘move on’ or ‘get over it’? Too often. What I took from Kamal’s story was that the impact of racism and hate seeps into people’s DNA and it becomes genetic in some way. The hurt, the pain and the fear is passed along through generations. How do you ‘move on’ from that?
4) A couple of panellists discussed the ‘adultisation’ of Black children. That when they reach 12-13 years old, the world just starts treating them like adults. They shared stories of blatantly racist behaviour they’d experienced as children from white adults. How some police treat Black kids with the same disregard they have for Black adults. I recently watched the first episode of ‘When They See Us’ on Netflix and I was horrified to the point that I had to press pause and take a break. Watching fully grown white adults coerce and manipulate Black children in way you know they absolutely wouldn’t for white kids was nauseating. The incidents of children being held in the Brisbane Watchhouse, the findings from the Don Dale Royal Commission and the footage of the Indigenous teenager been aggressively ‘subdued’ by police this week indicate that this perception appears to be pretty prevalent in Australia too.
5) Panellists in both sessions touched on needing to be the ‘right’ kind of Black. Needing to have more qualifications and work harder just to be perceived as equal at work. This is even harder when intersectionality with gender, LGBTIQ or medical conditions or disability gets thrown into the mix. And another panellist pointed out that even being ‘the right kind of Black’ still doesn’t stop you getting hurt or killed.
6) A few panellists and attendees shared experiences where they’d been trussed up and rolled out as the ‘token Black or POC’ in their organisation. Like if another Black person starts in a completely separate department, they always end up getting introduced as if to say ‘hey look, we have another Black person on board!’. One attendee said she got hauled into the Boardroom one day to pose for pictures for the cover of the organisations D&I report with the CEO (who they’d never met before) and told to look like ‘they were in a real meeting’.
A lot of white people are asking what they can do right now to be better. To move from being not-racist to being anti-racist (there is a BIG difference). To become a real ally. My answer is get uncomfortable, educate yourself and take action.
No you don’t have to protest march to take action. Take a look at this:
The pyramid above was shared on a LinkedIn post I saw a few weeks back and I saved it because I found it so powerful. The premise is that if we erode all the shitty micro-aggressions at the base of the pyramid, the whole thing will crumble.
So if you want to start making change, start with the small insidious stuff that permits the really big ugly stuff to exist. Call out racist jokes, challenge friends and family who express racist views, understand why ‘all lives matter’ is an offensive statement, research and understand your privilege.
And it’s ok not to get it right. I know I don’t, I get told I don’t. But I keep showing up, I keep listening and I keep learning.
And if you need support, reach out. I won’t have all the answers but we can go searching together.
Note: I had to google whether or not to capitialise the 'B' when referring to Black Americans in this post. It's ok not to know everything! Being mindful enough to stop, consider and question is the key. I did find an excellent resource that explained why capitalisation is important which you can access here.