How helpful is more white opinion in discussions about race?

Recent events have illustrated that despite any improvements that may have occurred, there is a huge amount of tension regarding how people of colour are treated in our society, how we educate young people, and how appropriate it is to celebrate individuals that in some ways contributed positively to our society, but also engaged in behaviours that at this time in history we can no longer condone. Whilst it is evident that racial tensions exist across the board, given the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement once again creating headlines around the world, there are people of all races and backgrounds who want to show their commitment and support to eroding the systemic persecution of people from black communities.

Black Lives Matter Protest – South Park, Oxford03/06/2020Picture by Ed Nix

For those people (obviously myself included) there is a real question here on how to clearly illustrate this support without distracting the attention from the real lived experiences of black people, and how racism has impacted their lives. My response to this recently has been to try and educate myself, and use my channels (such as they are) to share and amplify the voices of people who know a lot more about this than I do, but I am also genuinely interested to hear the opinions of people from across the board, on how and why some of the things I’ve mentioned have caused such an emotional reaction. Like almost everyone, I’ve seen a lot of ‘but all lives matter’, agreement about statues needing to be moved but rioting not being the right way to achieve it, and accusations of ‘erasing history’ and ideally I’d like to understand more about these feelings, and what is behind them. Pretty much anyone that knows me will know already that my beliefs are almost always from a left wing perspective, but at the same time I’m genuinely interested to hear from people that don’t necessarily share my political views about why they believe what they do.

London monuments boarded up ahead of protests: bbc.co.uk 12/06/2020

Finally getting to the point of the title of this post, there are a few experiences (none terribly dramatic) that lead me to ask ‘how helpful is more white opinion to discussions around race? The first is nothing more than a gut reaction to the reasonably frequent appearance of a room full of men being asked their opinion on whether or not sexism is still a problem in our society, and my gut reaction being ‘honestly, who cares what they think?’ Again a challenging path to navigate as I do believe that social progress requires and should encourage allies from different social groups to form a part of the effort, but again in the context of race, can the opinion of someone like me who has never experienced racism be a useful contribution to the dialogue? On a perhaps less politically loaded note, I’m extremely unlikely to offer my opinion on (for example) DIY, accounting, law or brain surgery, because I have close to zero knowledge or experience in any of these things, and I suppose my question is, are social issues like gender and race exempt from this rule? Should we all be encouraged to discuss these things because they are a part of the society we all live in, or not?

One thing I do know, is that we need to create equity in how and the circumstances under which these discussions occur, and this belief is derived from the other example I wanted to share that leads me to ask this question again now. Several months ago when the Great British Public’s favourite hobby was gossiping about Harry and Meghan, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu (@SholaMos1) was invited to appear on Good Morning Britain to talk to three white people about whether or not the negative treatment of Meghan Markle in the press was in any way rooted in racism. Unsurprisingly, none of the three present thought that racism had anything to do with that antagonism. Equally unsurprisingly, Dr. Mos-Shogbamimu spoke incredibly eloquently on the subject, including the insight below:

‘Let me explain what racism looks like from the lens of white privilege. ‘White privilege whitewashes racist and inflammatory language as unconscious bias. It perpetuates the bigotry of intolerant white people as ignorant, it defends and protects their private views once spoken as misspeak, and then it camoflages racist behaviour as error of judgement.’

In relation to my initial question though, what really struck me was the total unfairness of that ‘debate’. How can it be a debate when it’s one black woman trying to tell three white people that racism is still a problem, when all things considered, it’s much easier for us to comfort ourselves with the idea that racism is a thing of the past?

If there are readers still with me here, I’d genuinely like to know your views on these subjects whether you agree with me or not, as I’d like to educate myself more, and hopefully contribute to an increase in open dialogue.

Thank you for reading! X

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