Shut Up and Get Educated — a starting point for understanding anti-racism, unpacking white privilege, how you can help right now and do better
5 June 2020 | BY ANDJELKA JANKOVIC | Life
I wish you could know what it means to be me then you'd see and agree that every man should be free
It is impossible to be alive right now and not address the Black Lives Matter movement, the violence and violation of human rights against marginalised communities and First Nation’s people, police brutality and misconduct, and the systemic undermining of Black, Indigenous and people of colour worldwide.
Last week George Floyd walked out of a grocery store and was arrested while uncharged and killed in an undignified, unjust and horrific way, as were countless others before him while innocent and sleeping like Breonna Taylor two months before that, a child playing in a park like Tamir Rice five years ago, and David Dungay Jr, an Indigenous Australian man who died in police custody in 2015. His last words were also “I can’t breathe”.
This current uprising traces back to very deep roots of racial inequality and deprivation of basic humanity, this is a huge problem and we all need to do more.
I will, of course, never truly understand what it’s like to not have white privilege and how it feels to live in daily fear of my safety and very beingness. But I can acknowledge it, educate myself, and actively be an ally for anti-racism. As anti-apartheid and human rights activist Desmond Tutu said:
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
Read that again. This hit my heart like a dart. I realised my silence, although well-meaning, was a convenient cloak for inaction. The fact I can choose to opt-out, stay in, or not speak up is a freedom other people don’t have. Not knowing what to say or if you will get it right stops so many of us from doing anything at all. I get it, but action is more helpful than perfection. The best thing we can do is:
Shut up and get educated
Develop racial literacy. Listen, really listen. Understand white privilege. Do the work.
Privilege isn’t about what you’ve gone through – it’s about what you haven’t gone through. ― Janaya Future Khan
There is A LOT going on and an avalanche of information out there. The collective grief and anger is devastating, soul-crushing, and paralysing. Now imagine how it feels for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) who have to live this existence every single day and for whom it has been that way for generations upon generations of trauma and injustice.
The anti-slavery, civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements in America and the Indigenous civil rights and land rights movements in Australia are extremely nuanced, layered, complicated and in some ways, forgotten and buried histories.
No one can be authentically human while he prevents others from being so. ― Paulo Freire
In an effort to begin understanding anti-racism and unpacking white privilege, I’ve collated a starting point as a living list of things I’ve found helpful for educating yourself and taking thoughtful action.
The invitation is to get your head around the issues, learn from the lived experiences of BIPOC voices, and mobilise ourselves in service and solidarity as an ally for anti-racism (now, not later).
Only you can educate yourself, don’t expect others to do it for you. Of course, there are two sides to every story, do your own research.
I’m learning too and I have a lot of catching up to do.
Note: I am writing this as quickly and thoughtfully as possible and checking all sources for credibility — I am one set of eyes, please let me know any valuable resources I can add, something I have missed or misunderstood, or anything that needs further context.
You are in the highest position of privilege to speak up without ramifications, particularly as far as the police state is concerned. Never allow yourself to stay comfortable. Comfort is complicity. Discomfort means change. Sit with it. — Tatiana Mac
Spend 4 minutes watching Systemic Racism Explained and examine the iceberg of white supremacy for at least 1 minute to understand how oppression works both overtly and covertly. That’s five minutes, a good start.
I cannot stop thinking about Dear White Friend: You Need to Take a Side.
Human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson on We need to talk about an injustice is essential viewing for understanding the racial injustice in America’s justice system (and is said to hold the record for the longest standing ovation given to any TED speaker). His book was recently made into the film Just Mercy, and I was fortunate to meet him when I worked at Perth Writers Festival and I will never forget the beautiful humanity, humility and integrity of this man.
Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie on The danger of a single story.
Cultural theorist Brittney Cooper on The racial politics of time is fascinating and anecdotally funny.
Author and social justice scholar Monique W. Morris on Why Black girls are targeted for punishment at school – and how to change that is sobering and the catchcry ‘education as freedom work’ is inspiring.
Films & Documentaries
Just Mercy — Michael B. Jordan as civil rights defence attorney Bryan Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as a wrongly condemned death row prisoner in Alabama. Watch to understand systemic racism (free on all digital platforms in the US during June)
13th — a documentary about the 13th Amendment to the Constitution regarding abolishing of slavery except for criminals and the profitisation of mass incarceration in America
I Am Not Your Negro — #2 of 100 Top Documentaries on Rotten Tomatoes
If Beale Street Could Talk — a love story set in 1970s Harlem about a young African American couple and an arrest for a crime he did not commit
12 Years A Slave — tell me you are not completely enraged and grief-stricken at the injustice of African American history after watching this film
Moonlight — winner of the 2017 Oscar for Best Picture and the first film with an all-Black cast and the first LGBT-themed film to win the highest honour (despite the awkward blunder with La La Land that stole its spotlight at the awards ceremony)
The Central Park Five — the true story of five Black and Latino teenagers were wrongly arrested and charged for brutally attacking and raping a white female jogger in Central Park in 1989
Precious — the intense struggles of an illiterate teenage mom and the vulnerability of Black girls that suffer childhood abuse
The Colour Purple — a story that spans 40 years of the life of a Southern Black woman based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker
Do The Right Thing — a Spike Lee cult classic set in Brooklyn over 24 hours urging us to step up and do what’s right
Hidden Figures — the story of the three Black mathematicians/engineers who helped NASA successfully launch their first trip into space in the ’60s
Black Panther — Marvel’s first superhero film with an almost exclusively black cast and women as the backbone of the story
Rabbit-Proof Fence — a harrowing true tale for understanding Australia’s history of the Stolen Generation as a part of official ‘White Australia’ Government policy
In My Blood It Runs — a documentary following a 10-year old boy fighting for a right to equality and education shot in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) and the Northern Territory in Australia
Dear White People — Netflix drama/comedy show that follows a group of Black college students at an Ivy League institution
Insecure — HBO comedy show set in LA with an entirely Black cast and crew (My friend Kylie loves it and said it really shook her how much this show made her realise how White media is)
Chef’s Table — Mashama Bailey episode that looks at her restaurant the Grey in Savannah, Georgia and racial segregation in the South (her space used to be a segregated Greyhound bus station)
Ugly Delicious — David Chang’s episode on fried chicken, the complicated history of an American staple with slavery and a focus on Nashville hot chicken
I am halfway through the above list and then onto 10 essential Indigenous Australian films. You can find more recommendations here, here, here and 10 Documentaries To Watch About Race Instead Of Asking A Person Of Colour To Explain Things For You.
If you are tired of hearing about racism, imagine how tired some must be experiencing it. — Lucia Zamolo
Seek out Black, Indigenous and people of colour on social media to follow and listen to — activists, protestors on the ground, artists, writers, musicians, and so on. It will make an enormous difference to how you can understand the issues within the lived experience of others.
As a courtesy, don’t DM or ask them to explain, clarify or help you get educated. A lot of them are inundated, tired, and frustrated and it takes a lot of emotional labour to educate others — you can support them by buying their books, courses, and donating to the creator’s Patreons and PayPals if their work resonates with you.
Tatiana Mac‘s advice is to try to follow people who DON’T look like you: “Follow a spread of race, gender (expression, identity), orientation, physical ability, neurodiversity, nationality, socioeconomic status. Use Tokimeki Unfollow to mindfully assess who you follow.”
I’m not active on Twitter, but my friend Kylie is and these are some people she learns a lot from:
This Twitter thread by Joe Truss is hugely helpful for getting a snapshot of actions you can take now.
In Australia, check out:
@meyneg – actor Meyne Wyatt, watch his powerful monologue here
@_sarahwilson_ is an advocate of sharing non-traditional media information, and larger lists here and here
If you want to play piano, but you’re bad at playing piano, you practice and get better. Don’t be the kind of white person who doesn’t post out of fear of fucking up. If you want to support Black people, but you’re bad at supporting Black people, practice and get better. — Akilah Hughes
It’s like all podcasts switched from talking about the pandemic to racism overnight, I’ve found these five episodes to be the most helpful in terms of brevity and BIPOC-led conversations:
A Decade of Watching Black People Die — NPR Codeswitch (22 min)
Confronting Racism — NPR TED Radio Hour (55 min)
The urgency of intersectionality | Kimberlé Crenshaw — TED Talks Daily (18 min)
Are We Addicted to Privilege? with Layla F Saad — Sober Curious (1hr 17 min)
What Is Antiracism and Can It Save Society? — Aspen Ideas To Go (56 min)
I noticed Spotify is highlighting Black Music Matters with curated playlists from Black, Queer and Proud to Black History Salute, although they are being heavily criticised by musicians and industry for their efforts.
Being antiracist is not convenient. If it feels convenient for you, you are not doing enough and you are not an antiracist. — Rachel Rodgers
Again, A LOT out there to start to digest, absorb and act on. I’ve tried to link the most useful articles, resource lists and personal essays that I’ve found so far (there are a lot of references to ‘white’ people in titles and this is a good starting point for unpacking white privilege through the experiences of BIPOC voices and also your own self-reflection on what triggers you):
Tasha K’s Anti-racism Resource Guide (a huge and thoughtful body of work, her payment details on page 2)
I am the first to admit I have a long way to go in understanding the present-day Indigenous Australian experience of Aboriginal people, this article turns the mirror to see our own deaths in custody and this article on the need to address our own racism.
It’s a privilege to learn about racism instead of experiencing it your whole life. — Ahmed Ali
These are the most recommended non-fiction books on almost every list on the internet (or thereabouts), I’ve kept it short so you don’t get overwhelmed but of course, do you own research:
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Joey DeGruy
For fiction books, I can only speak to the books I’ve loved who happen to be written by Black, Indigenous and people of colour (which at the time wasn’t my motivation for reading them but now I see how much more I need to diversify and challenge myself with the narratives I read):
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones — I COULD NOT PUT THIS DOWN. One of the best reads of 2019, it sent electric shocks to my soul and reminds us that we are all human at the core.
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot — an outstanding memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest, some of the most memorable language I have ever read.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby — a sassy, hilarious, and self-deprecating collection of essays that are at times super vulgar and also super sensitive on issues of Black women and mental health, poverty and body image.
Heart Talk by Cleo Wade — a book of poetry on heartbreak and heart-opening in the form of spiritual wisdom from a well-meaning friend.
Every Black person I know right now is exhausted. They are exhausted by the two pandemics disproportionately hurting and killing Black people: Covid-19 and white supremacy. Covid-19 is a new sickness that hopefully we’ll soon find a cure for, or at least learn to live with. But white supremacy is a disease as old as time, for which we’ve been waiting generations to see a cure. — Layla F Saad
Protest. Peaceful protesting is a way to show togetherness and give attention to the cause. It’s your decision and don’t berate yourself if you are unable to. If you decide to attend a protest read this guide beforehand for what to bring, and do’s and don’ts to stay safe. Here are 5 ways to support protestors if you can’t go to a protest.
Platform power. Embrace brilliant people who are doing the work. Instead of being silent on social media, it would be infinitely more powerful to find BIPOC voices and give them your space and audience. How can you double down on your support? Also you could drop into the DMs of your favourite brands, influencers and companies that haven’t spoken up yet.
Check on your friends (of all colour). Who are the Black, Indigenous and people of colour in your life? The queer, trans, and disabled friends? Do you talk to them about the oppression they face? Reach out to your friends and show up for the ones that need support, encouragement and your love right now. Send a message, send a meal, send your solidarity.
Hold your workplace accountable. Ask them what they are doing.
Read books by people that don’t reflect your reality. Decolonize your bookshelf – see my book recommendations above. Introduce new narratives to children.
Unpack your white privilege. Do the ‘Me and White Supremacy’ 28-day challenge by Lalya F. Saad to understand your racial privilege and how you can be an ally as an anti-racist. Take Rachel Cargle’s free 30-day course on White Privilege called #DotheWork. Invite your friends to join you (I’m doing this). Be self-reflective about what raises your emotional antennas around racism and why. You can’t change something you’re not aware of — have the willingness to look at yourself and the truths of how you see the world and how you can be actively anti-racist.
Host a ‘Difficult Dinner Party’. I made this name up as I want to get my friends together to talk openly about race and have difficult and uncomfortable conversations on how to combat racism and implicit bias as it shows up in our lives.
Be aware of your words. Check out Self-Defined, a modern crowd-sourced dictionary to provide more inclusive, holistic, and fluid definitions of vocabulary. “Redirect” problematic language every day (i.e correcting someone if they use a term like “oriental” in a space that isn’t appropriate).
Take the Harvard implicit bias test. It’s free. What are your blindspots? Be willing to engage with your mistakes and to take specific actions to make this a more just world.
Make your own agreements. For how you are going to continue to show up, support, and speak up when the news and media attention dies down. Ask questions, admit you don’t know, seek answers from reputable sources. Have difficult conversations with friends/family.
Have regard for what you can energetically handle. Consuming traumatic media is traumatic. Please remember to consider what you can handle. Share proactively not performatively.
Be kind and empathetic always. Don’t shame others for not getting involved. They could be suffering from anxiety, depression, health issues, and overwhelm in other areas of their life. Focus on your own education and action.
The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward. — Ljeoma Oluo
It’s a confusing and overwhelming time compounded by a global pandemic so above all friend, nourish yourself.
I know that is a privilege in itself, but if you are not strong for yourself, you cannot be there for others. Make a big pot of something healthy and delicious. Get some deep rest. Ask for a hug or an ear.
Stop for a minute. Put your phone down. Take the deepest breath you have today. Take another.
This is a process of learning and unlearning and relearning.
Anti-racism is life-long work for all of us, there is no finish line. May we continue to move forward, instead of backwards. Start somewhere, start anywhere. — Tasha K
Anti-racist actions are not a one-time thing, they are continued and repeated over a lifetime.
Be useful. Show heart. Be willing to confront what’s not right.
It’s up to people that are least affected by this to do something. Do something.
We won’t get it right, let go of saying the perfect thing and instead do the sincerest one possible.
Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better. — Maya Angelou
Image: “Please I Can’t Breathe” (2020). Courtesy of Detroit-based artist Jammie Holmes and Library Street Collective who executed a rapid-response public art project hiring airplanes to fly banners featuring George Floyd’s last words over Detroit, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York.