As I am watching the events in the US unfold, I feel uneasy. I am white. I am privileged. I come from a racist culture. And so I am in pain. I feel ashamed. I feel angry.
I also feel well equipped and safe to speak up for those who tremble in fear today. I feel it is essential for me to be vocal on their behalf.
Let me make this clear: mental health is political. As Voxel Hub, I am very clear on the core ethical principles of equality, diversity and openness towards differences. I do wholeheartedly condemn any form of inequality, ignorance of diversity and misuse of any sort of privilege and power – no matter how small. I condemn silencing of truth in the interest of the wealthy and influential. I condemn the complacent, ignorant and blind following of those unkind leaders. I have made my values very clear early on this blog, and I am committed to doing my best to live them. I am paying my Advisory Board members to call out my own biases and to do better.
This week many leading voices and brands are waking up to make statements about #BlackLivesMatter movement. It is wonderful. I fully support the movement. I find it sad that we still have to fight for our sisters and brothers in blood. It is 2020.
What we see today is hateful racism. Racism targeted at Black People. That’s unacceptable.
However, what we also see today is even more complex, nuanced and dangerous. There are few deep, core issues that I struggle with watching the events in the US (and in the UK to large extend too) at the moment:
- The use of power to dehumanise and violate fundamental human rights of predominantly Black People – we see this on social media daily these days: leaders do not follow the laws they put in place risking lives of citizens; police shoot and arrest the protests, journalists, children; country leaders incentivise, promote and reward hate crime.
- The use of power to neglect people – in a society, group of people or a company leadership is an appointed position of privilege trusted to a few in exchange for care and safety, while that’s not how our leaders act at the moment – why? Let me be blunt: people are dying, and those in power (on many levels) do not care – I am not talking about today, I am talking about centuries and decades of the growing divide between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless. The recent rise in racism fueled by poverty and inequality is highlighting this neglectful form of leadership.
- The use of power to divide people in blame against each other – increasingly blunt and open, spoken with a smile, arrogant and technically amplified hate speech aiming to divide us and turn against each other – a distraction from those who are and are supposed to be responsible not just for our safety and health but for our growth and thriving too.
- The use of power to continue misleading, numbing people and discouraging action – smart, intelligent, well-financed strategy to groom citizens into passive consumption to ensure that not many care, even fewer of us act for change.
All of the above trends happen for individual, economic gain of the very few people in the position of privilege.
All of the above nurture racism and divide for the gain of a few white males in power.
All of the above aim to slow down the process of increasingly more diverse, vibrant, equal and empowered societal shifts.
That’s not right. And even though we might feel grief and helplessness today, there is a lot we can do individually to start changing.
To fear the other is human. Our ego is designed to protect us, care for our needs and nurture our sense of belonging to a group. Our sense of belonging to a group is deeply rooted in our fear of mortality. So if you read this book, you will find out more about simple studies showing that people who read articles about car accidents make more racist assumptions afterwards. Choosing a tribe is in our nature. However, it can also become a bias which can be very quickly used to harm our fellow humans and us. So, just like with bullies at school, we need to resist it. How? If you feel you hate another for the colour of their skin, their nationality or gender – ask yourself why? It’s not about them – it’s about your ego. So why do you feel this way? I personally sometimes practice considering the opposite to what I feel, think, read or plan to do – just to test my own reflexes and expand all my options. If I fear or don’t understand someone, I move closer and engage in a dialogue. I ask a lot of questions. When I am upset or disagree with someone, I stop and stay calm and silent for a while to see if the feeling still lingers. I only act if I know it is in people’s best possible interest. I resist repeating gossip and re-sharing hate speech. In the world of algorithms, you might think you are promoting your own tolerance re-tweeting a racist. Actually, you are allowing them to reach those less tolerant audiences of yours. You are actually amplifying and feeding the monster. Just imagine how powerless racists would be if not a single person reacted to their tweets. I do not read trash news outlets, and I choose my sources as carefully as I can. I also resist repeating memes – I pay more and more attention to the language I use. And finally, I resist anger. We live a reality in which triggering people’s anger is done on purpose – to provoke a reaction. We are spoon-fed anger to amplify our fear of the other and to divide us, so I do not let that get in the way. I imagine meeting everyone somewhere half-way on the bridge and listen to what they have to say instead.
To err is human. Neil Gaiman wrote once: “If you’re making mistakes it means you’re out there doing something”. We all grow up in a particular cultural, social, economic paradigm. It can be hard to shed all our biases, but it is possible to explore them. So what I do is writing. I wrote about my racist childhood struggle. I wrote openly about my adult struggle with my own racist biases. I wrote about my hope for a better future. I look at myself hard in the mirror asking many questions, but mostly: why? Why do we hate others? Why do I dislike the difference? How would I feel in their position? Where are my boundaries, and how can I shift them? Why are our systems so broken and why do we disengage instead of actively changing them? Reflection can be enlightening. It opens up new perspectives and highlights new possible solutions. Reflection can have different forms, but it always leads to the unexpected. Yes, change is supposed to feel scary, but it is also exciting. It leads to growth. Building up our resilience through reflection makes us steadier and wiser.
Something we are currently learning as a planet, I believe, is that to resist and reflect is not enough. We need to respond to racism, abuse and misuse of power actively. We need to educate ourselves on how to be an ally. We need to speak up when many are complacent. We need to act. We need to stand up for abused people in public – every single time it happens. We need to demonstrate – the right to demonstrate is a crucial part of the democratic process, so we need to use it. We need to support those who protest on our behalf – donate to support their future legal fees (I believe in the power of citizen journalism, but please remember what we have learned from Iran – the protesters found on public videos were later arrested). We need to engage in political, economic, social structures instead of waiting for others to shift the balance. We need to vote tactically. We need to educate ourselves and others. We need to pay attention to the trusted news, not switch off, even when the images hurt (stay safe, but I beg you do not switch off). We need to protect ourselves, others, and collectively work on building up networks. We need to stand up for the disempowered and speak on their behalf. We also need to understand that some of those people are so unsafe that we might need to create safer spaces for them to grow stronger. Empowerment works both ways – by rising, and by lifting people up. And finally, we need to invest – set up safer and more inclusive spaces, build better companies, give up or make the most of our own privileges to help those in need.
Watching a man’s cold-blooded execution on my mobile screen, I feel angry. Initially, I feel shocked and numb. I take a few days to digest it all and prepare myself. I steady myself. I resist, reflect and respond.
Today this is my response. I encourage you to join in and find your way to get involved in this examination, reflection and dialogue. We have to stop losing human lives.
As a white, privileged, educated woman, I do feel uneasy in this discourse, but I am willing to risk my vulnerability and venture into the unknown. I know it’s our individual and collective responsibility. We need to do better. Now.
R.I.P. George Floyd.