My background is one of privilege although I grew up in working class poverty. I grew up in a single parent family, with low aspirations and limiting beliefs. I was the first graduate of the entire extended family on both sides. There was a joke around the estate that went something like this; “if you get to 16 and weren’t pregnant or in jail you were winning!” Although I felt a sense of shame for being poor/badly dressed, growing up in the West Midlands with black friends I was blind I was to their reality of being judged and oppressed by many contributing factors that they had to deal with from an early age on top of being poor. I later learnt that this was called intersectionality: the overlapping systems of discrimination and disadvantage. Here is a crude example:
Imagine that judgement magnified and multiplied…for your class, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation and so on. Imagine feeling that your race was subjugated to be that of the “other”, an opposite of what everyone else was or was approved to be. Imagine your racial identity being the first and only deciding factor that determined how people reacted to, treated you and possibly dismissed your potential because of it.
It was when I got to university when I began to understand oppression on a deeper level when studying women’s’ rights activism and its progress through direct action. Although first and second wave feminism achieved a great deal (from right to vote to equal pay acts) many white middle class women thought they knew best and could speak for all women globally, failing to hear their voices of other women , unable to see their experiences, unwilling to include them. Racism from an ideology that should have known better! Thus black women’s experiences, e.g. of being in “double jeopardy” for their race and gender were largely ignored. Black and other women of colour fought and ensured through positive and forthright action on their own that their voices were heard to shape future methodology and campaigning for equality. This fight is far from over and I’m sure black women are sick of having to explain it.
In my role at the council I undertake research on extremist organisations for the PREVENT strategy for community learning. It depresses me greatly to continue to see the continued rise of the far right in the South West. I Imagine (and shudder) how that would feel to our BAME learners and how unsafe they might feel in the community knowing and hearing of this rise, seeing disturbing graffiti, hearing of attacks. Some learners have said, “…we just have to put up with it…” and our tutors quickly tell them, “no, that’s not ok, we can support you to report it and get help.” But this is just the tip of the iceberg when we think about structural inequality and race.
I feel shame and know I haven’t done enough…my shame of when I did nothing…or of when I went OTT in trying to help a friend of colour…I need to turn this feeling into positive action, to learn, to listen, to support and to channel my energy to try and get it right this time in being a white ally.
Someone once said…we have a duty to be optimistic… in being optimistic we can encourage, challenge and bring about change. Action can achieve the impossible; we see this over and over. So let’s galvanise our shame into something that can help to be transformative for the people of Bristol.