‘I’m not racist, I don’t even see colour, I just love people for who they are.’
That was what I told myself when I thought about racism. Truth was, I actually didn’t see colour. I did and do love people for who they are. I was proud of this aspect of myself. I was a spiritual, liberal, greenie who was sprinkling my love and light over everyone — at least in my mind anyway.
‘We are one.’
‘We all bleed red.’
‘They are us.’
I’ve said those too. I believed it. I assumed being racist meant an individual act of intentional meanness towards another race — something I would never do. So, what’s the problem?
The problem is — I actually do have racial biases. And if you have white skin, then you do too.
Bear with me.
Let’s go back to where it all began.
Think about when the colonisers settled in Australia and New Zealand and the USA (and everywhere else). ‘Settlers and explorers were united in their assumption of superiority and entitlement,’ said Bruce Pascoe in Dark Emu. With this superiority mindset, Governments were formed. Institutions were formed. Culture was formed. Those same Government ideologies still exist. Those same institutions still exist. The same culture still exists. Whether you see it or not, whether you like it or not, the white superiority mindset is still here. It’s embedded and it is woven into the tapestry of our existence.
Fast-track a few hundred years and the superiority mindset is a legacy of the colonisers that has enabled me to move through life without being stereotyped or judged.
Now, let’s go back to the headline. Why is this belief dangerous? The reason I didn’t see colour was because I didn’t have to. It was because of this mindset. That’s white privilege.
By saying I don’t see colour or we are one without actually looking inside at my own racial biases, I avoided the real, human reality: we are not treated as one. I deflected the problem. I hung on tightly to aspirations of what the world should and could be — but I didn’t do any work to address the actual reality.
Now, let’s talk about ‘the work’.
Anti-racism activists are making an urgent plea to white people to ‘do their work’. The work is a deep examination of your own personal prejudices or racial biases. All humans have prejudices. Take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test to find out for yourself.
Racism exists when our racial biases or prejudices guide our decision making and our actions. Racism is overt (like the murder of George Floyd, or the Christchurch massacre) but equally, it is subtle and insidious. I’m talking about subtle racism here. The indistinct racists acts we unconsciously participate in — myself included.
When I looked inwards, I saw that I too held racial prejudices in favour of white people. For example, white people are smarter was a belief hidden in the depths of my mind. My identity as a good person was rocked. It was really hard to see this aspect of myself. Excruciating, in fact. It was a belief that had crept into my everyday life without me even being aware of it.
For me, listening to and learning from black, indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) was the next step. I made a commitment to read, listen, donate to or watch something created by BIPOC each month. With each interaction, I could feel a stripping back of the layers of internalized prejudice. By reading, listening and watching the creations of BIPOC, I finally saw the insanity of my prejudice. I began to dismantle the racism I had once truly believed wasn’t there. By actually looking at the superiority beliefs hidden in the corners of my mind, I was able to call them out and begin to free them.
I had to see it, in order to start to free it.
The good news was that, like other limiting beliefs I’ve worked through, I saw within myself that this too could be transformed.
1. Acknowledge the belief exists
2. Question the belief (Is this really true?)
3. Do the work (Read and listen to BIPOC)
4. Choose a new belief (Mine is: We are all different but equal)
5. Identify actions that affirm this new belief
Number 5 is where the rubber meets the road.
This was the place where I was no longer unconsciously influenced by my limiting beliefs. At this point, I had choice — choice to see an old belief rear its head but choose not to act from it. At this point, there was a natural drive to help transform the superiority mindset that no longer aligned with my new belief of we are all different but equal.
Here are the actions I now feel called to do.
- I actively seek out non-white authors and read/buy their books (Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi are my two favourites so far).
- I actively seek out films or documentaries made or written by BIPOC to watch and learn (Another Country and Just Mercy were very powerful).
- I listen to and pay black women for their anti-racism work (i’ve bought Layla F. Saad’s book and Rachel Ricketts’s webinar).
- I sign petitions I would have never signed before (for example, as I live in NZ, this was a no-brainer).
- I’ve talked to toy store managers about stocking brown and black skin dolls.
- I have taken and will keep taking my family on Aboriginal tours of the Australian bush.
- I’ve said sorry to Australian Aboriginals (and will keep saying sorry).
- I talk to people in my life about white privilege.
- I call out racism when I see it.
- I tell my children humanity is different but equal.
- I keep reading and learning and unlearning. I have got it wrong at times and will make more mistakes but I want to keep learning, especially from indigenous people, and I want to do more.
I’m not writing this list to high-five myself. I’m not writing this list to shame or judge anyone — most people I know really care. I’m writing it to make a point. I didn’t do ANY of this before ‘the work’ (despite the fact that I believed we are all one). I shared equality quotes by famous activists on social media. I donated to charities supporting BIPOC. And I cared too. I really cared. I was saddened and outraged by overt racist acts because I did and do really care for my fellow humans. But I didn’t align my caring with tangible action. I cared from a safe distance. I knew at our deepest level that we were all one, but didn’t help create a world where we are all treated as one. By transforming an old belief, I transformed my caring and spiritual knowing into action.
This was spiritual work. It required me to look at these dark aspects of myself without fragility. It required internal resilience.
Where to from here? Let my son answer that.
Recently, my 7-year-old boy said, ‘Mama, I know how we can get peace for everyone on the earth.’
‘How?’ I asked
‘We create the biggest army in the world but instead of weapons we use our hearts,’ he said.
That was a pretty proud mama moment! I realised that by doing ‘my work’, I had begun to create my own little heart-driven army. We change racism in our hearts, then we change it in our homes, only then will we see a change in the world. Only then. Heart > home > world.
The changing of my heart started with one question: What are my true, honest, unfiltered beliefs about black, indigenous and people of colour?
Once that was answered, I was ready to (and wanted to) get to work.
~ © 2020 Lara Charles
Lara Charles is an Australian writer and mama living in Aotearoa, New Zealand, with her husband and four children. She is a storyteller, here to give rise to the everyday person searching for meaning and completeness.
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