There are many, many people who can speak much more eloquently about racial injustice than I ever could.
I write this reflection from the perspective of an Irish person who cannot claim to understand every nuance of the U.S. situation, though I know well that recent events there have sparked a worldwide conversation about racial inequity. Every country has its own horrors to address (direct provision is one Irish example that immediately comes to mind).
I write from the perspective of someone who is so white, I’ve had people complain that it hurts their eyes to look at me without sunglasses when I sit outside in direct sunlight. I write from the perspective of someone who has had to step outside of a comfortable bubble and challenge their naivety and oblivion around racial issues. This post is aimed at people of a similar background.
As a 90s child, I was brought up in a racially homogeneous environment, surrounded almost entirely by people who looked exactly the same as I did. I never began to grasp structural racism until I moved into my teens, and my friendship circle came to include people of more diverse backgrounds: members of the Travelling community, immigrants, people who had come to Ireland as asylum seekers.
When they spoke to me about their experiences, that was when I truly learned how to listen without interrupting. To honour what they said without asking a million questions. To witness their sorrow without doing anything as ridiculous as claiming to understand what they were going through … because I knew I never could. It was an honour, always, to simply be there for them.
Lately, I’ve seen some commentary from fellow white people who are upset about being told that white supremacy is still a problem. ‘We are all one humanity,’ they say. ‘We shouldn’t let race divide us.’ Yes, we are all one humanity, who should indeed avoid letting race divide us … but the way people are treated in human society does not reflect this deeper truth. If we truly want to honour our fellow humans, then we, as white people, have to face up to that, rather than glossing over it because it makes us uncomfortable.
White supremacy has deeply embedded itself into human societies around the world, over many painful centuries. It’s a pattern of systemic injustice and discrimination that goes far beyond what any one white person thinks or believes in the year 2020. It is far deeper than whether we personally think ourselves to be racist. Yet as individual white people, we have a choice to make. Will we allow this system to continue perpetuating itself, ad infinitum? Or will we do whatever we can, wherever we can, to dismantle it?
If we know ourselves as people who believe in equality, now is the time to demonstrate it. If we really and truly do not want to be the beneficiaries of a deeply unjust system, but would much rather live in a world where everyone is treated with love, now is the time to let that be known.