Content warning: Mental Health and Racism
The last few articles I have written have been focused on how I have been overcoming issues inside my home. In this one I want to focus on issues outside it. The black lives matter movement has taken the world by storm in the last few weeks, not just in America, London, Southampton and other protest sites, but online.
Lots of people have been posting about the issue online. As always, there is nuance to this, and there are shades of grey between the out and out racists and those who are trying to educate and raise awareness. There are the virtue signallers, the “all lives matter” idiots (one of whom posted a black square with a caption about how the BLM movement was “taking away from” the plight of other minorities worldwide, minorities who he had never once mentioned or attempted to help before) and there are those, like me, who are not only angry, but trying our best to get things right but inevitably not doing it 100% of the time.
Before I start properly, I want to highlight the fact that I’m white and that the specifics of this article do not necessarily apply to BAME individuals. Obviously the crux of this article can be generalised to lots of situations, but I don’t want to lecture anyone who has been lectured enough by people like me. (I don’t want to lecture anyone at all, but god does “black square/ what about Saudi Arabia” boy need it)
In therapy, we talk a lot about justified and unjustified guilt. They often feel the same but require different actions. With unjustified guilt, it is important we don’t apologise unnecessarily as we put pressure on others to be saying “oh no, it’s OK!” the whole time. This is applicable to the here and now as well in that it’s important we don’t go around “apologising” to black people “on behalf of our race”. This may seem well intentioned (I did it to a black friend last week and it took me a good two days to work out I was being an arse) but, just as you don’t speak for your race, black people are not representatives of theirs. Some people do this just to be told “it’s OK”, in a bid to clear their unjustified guilt, unaware of the onus that puts on the black person to clear it. You are not responsible for the actions of your entire race (just as the black person is not responsible for making you feel better), or for the entirety of structural racism, so don’t apologise for them. Instead, try to apologise for the things you are responsible for.
With unjustified guilt, it’s important we then practice self care. Often, unjustified guilt comes from having a low self esteem (note the massive arrogance of most racists) and in practicing self love and self care we can start to heal that relationship with ourselves, without needing others to validate us.
Some things we are right to be guilty for. Not donating when we are able to (I don’t want to pressure anyone to donate, you know your own financial situation best), passing up on opportunities to study black history, staying quiet after posting the black square, the list goes on. These are all mistakes I’ve made in the last few days, I’ve rectified them now and I now feel so much better about myself. I was carrying a lot of guilt around, some justified, some otherwise and I wasn’t able to be an effective ally in the mental state I was in.
My point is, we all make mistakes. That’s a phrase you hear a lot, but how often is it accepted? It’s very easy to say and not so easy to ingrain into our culture. We are brought up under pressure to be and do better, to be perfect, but if we are constantly under pressure how are we going to be effective allies?? We’re not.
Some of that pressure sadly comes from our own ranks. The prevalence of “cancel culture” amongst intersectional feminists and anti-racists is concerning. We have to allow each other to breathe before dog piling people whose wording could have been thought through better. They may have been in the wrong, but for in order for a movement like this to flourish we have to remember that we are only as strong as our weakest link. And if they’re being sat on by the rest of us we’re not very strong at all. As I said, I appreciate it must be so frustrating seeing a white person get things wrong about your movement when you’re black. But white people don’t really need to jump on the bandwagon and send hate when a short reminder to educate themselves and possibly sending through some resources (if you want to) would suffice.
However, a lot of that pressure comes from inside. We want to be right 24/7. It’s embarrassing when we’re not. But sadly, that’s not the reality. However, admitting your wrong can be great fun. Take a recent argument I had with an idiot (he truly believed that the protests were organised by democrats to bring down Trump’s popularity before the election), in admitting he was right and that I was wrong about a certain statistic I completely caught him off guard. He didn’t know what to do, what to say, anything (he eventually went off to recharge his bigotry batteries and started another argument the day after about something else, equally stupid). So admitting we’re wrong doesn’t just strengthen us by getting rid of unjustified guilt and hastening our education, it also weakens those we stand against.
It’s not nice to admit our imperfections, but I’d say it’s more “not nice” to be systemically discriminated against because of the colour of your skin.