Anti-racist work is about embracing, not ignoring or avoiding racial difference. When people say, “I don’t see colour”, this is not helpful. It is also teaching our children not to speak about race when we tell them that it’s rude to ask why someone has darker coloured skin. Starting the work to be anti-racist is about acknowledging that we are a diverse species, and valuing the different experiences and wisdom that different races bring to the table.
This blog is not about excusing racism, but understanding its biologically driven factors, that continue to be perpetuated by ignorance and indoctrination.
We are neurobiologically wired to see people who look or sound different to us, as a threat. From an evolutionary perspective, the more different someone looked from us, the more likely they were to have belonged to a competing tribe or people who we fought against for territory or resources.
From 3 months of age, we learn to scan faces and have an innate preference for our own parents’ faces and people of our own race. Our fear of people who are different to us can be ‘soothed’ when our social environment and rearing demonstrates that we are safe. On the other hand, our fear of differences can be further perpetuated by our parents’ or “in groups’” views, conditioning us to only feel safe and have a sense of belonging and validation with people who are more “like us.”
With biological factors in mind, it can take a lifetime of repeated, conscious intention to get to know our neighbours of different colour and race, by also immersing ourselves in their culture and experiences, and celebrating the differences, rather than choosing not to talk to and about them.
People who identify as a particular race and do not appear to possess the external characteristics of this race in their skin colour, appearance, accent or livelihood, experience different levels of racism as they find themselves either accepted or disconnected from external groups, or their own group of ‘origin.’ It is unhelpful and racist to hear comments such as “You’re too light skinned to be Aboriginal,” or, “You speak really good English for an Asian person.”
Getting to know our neighbours requires us to look deeply into systemic racism, learn the true history of the land in which we live in, acknowledge the changes in how race and culture ‘appears’ in society today, challenging our own notion of race, challenging our own notion of who ‘does and does not belong’ in this country and our sense of entitlement around ‘ownership’, and continuing to do our own learning.
Approach-based learning vs fear-based learning:
While anti-racism is trending now, check in with yourself internally, ask if you are willing to be in it for the long haul, and face the work to be anti-racist long after people stop posting about it on social media.
Approach-based learning is more sustainable, considered, and long term, whereas fear-based learning is led by anxiety and shame. Fear-based learning is quicker so it appears more effective, however it is short term, and causes further anxiety, avoidance, and defensiveness. We can take this into consideration when we face doing the work of anti-racism.
Exploring topics surrounding race may bring about feelings of shame, defensiveness, and avoidance. While these feelings can be normal when we feel challenged, anxious or when the social climate intensifies with events such as police brutality in the media. The debilitating nature of shame keeps us away from making internal shifts, taking action, and exploring deeply into the subject matter.
It is our responsibility to speak internally or externally about our shame, to name it and acknowledge it in order to move forward and do this important work.
As you move in and out of discomfort, be kind and gentle on yourself as you open up to learning. We all have unique ways of expressing our solidarity. Some people are donating, some are learning and researching, some are marching the streets, some are loud on socials, some are engaging in hard conversations at the dinner table or in the office.
Oppression of marginalised groups speaks of generations of misunderstanding and complacency, which causes harm and brings out the worst of our humanity.
We must all work together to fight it.
Authors: Christina Leggett & Thania Siauw.