An important thing to remember about Black History Month is that the work we do to support students of colour does not end on November 1st. This is one of the many reasons BathTime were excited to join Osaro Otobo in her SU training workshop, ‘The Active Anti-Racist Ally’ this week.
The workshop began by explaining what exactly being anti-racist means. Being actively anti-racist is more than simply not adhering to racist beliefs. To be truly anti-racist, a person must actively try to end policies, beliefs and practices that continue a system in which unfair advantages are awarded to white people, while people of colour face harmful treatment.
The first step to being an anti-racist ally is closely linked with the term ‘unfair advantages’. As Otobo reminds us during the session, many people, when learning to be anti-racist, get defensive when told they have unfair advantages awarded to them because of their race. Often, their class, gender, sexuality etcetera, are pointed to as proof that they are not at an advantage. BathTime, by no means, wishes to diminish the harm faced by people in oppressed groups. However, it is important to remember that while a woman or working-class person does face disadvantages because of the system that favours men or the upper classes, if they are white, they are benefitting from a system that is designed for white people to succeed. A key step in dismantling this system is recognising that it exists and is deeply harmful to those who are not white.
With that in mind, here are some top tips for becoming an anti-racist ally, gained from Otobo’s workshop and individual research:
The path to being anti-racist allies starts with us. Expecting people of colour to hold our hands through the process and spoon feed us information is not going to do anything. We need to put the work in ourselves. This means educating ourselves on the lived experiences of people of colour, learning about how the system continues colonising practices, challenging our own beliefs and actions to dismantle any unconscious racism we possess.
As a starting point, try reading Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race or Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist. Or, if you don’t fancy reading, the 1978 documentary Blacks Britannica (found on YouTube) or the BBC mini-series Small Axe can highlight a lot about Black British history that our curriculum leaves out.
Decolonise Your Education
In the same vein, most people reading this will be students. You will all have to read articles and books for your course, learn from experts and so on. A simple way to decolonise your thought processes and education is to choose to diversify your reading lists. Alongside American/European, old, white men that make up many required reading lists, there are plenty of non-white scholars from a range of countries and backgrounds that can be read. Even adding a couple of these authors to your reading lists can expand your education to include ideas that are outside of the white-centric status quo.
Disengaging Auto Pilot
Often, when something is not at the forefront of our minds, we move with the flow of the system on that subject. By this I don’t mean people who don’t actively think about being anti-racist find themselves suddenly becoming overtly racist. Instead, I mean if we remind ourselves everyday to be anti-racist, we start to notice policies and behaviours that we otherwise wouldn’t and can go about challenging them. Setting the intention to be anti-racist everyday takes our brains out of autopilot and stops the covert subtle things from slipping by and continuing to do harm.
This tip relates to challenging our own unconscious biases. Often, when encountering people we don’t know, we make assumptions about what they like, what they don’t like, how they’ll behave etc. This can lead to unconscious choices on our behalf to act a certain way. This is wrong.
A key thing to remember is that if you don’t know someone at all and a friend were to ask you if that person likes Die Hard, your answer would be “I don’t know because I don’t know them”. If this is not your answer for every question about someone you don’t know then you have to ask yourself why you think you know what this person likes/does/thinks. More often than not, it is because you’ve made an assumption about them based on their appearance and your biases about that. Simply challenging yourself on these assumptions is an important step to dismantling the unconsciously racist ways we think.
Hold People Accountable
Whether it is someone being abhorrently racist, a policy that has racist consequences, or even an small assumption you hear someone making, we all have a duty to hold each other accountable for racism. It’s not enough to recognise that racist policies or assumptions are bad and then move on, we have to actively challenge racism wherever we see it. That means telling your friends to stop making racist jokes, calling an organisation out if their policies harm people of colour and so on. If you say nothing, you let it continue. Only by speaking up can we truly say we are anti-racist.
BathTime would like to thank Osaro Otobo for her insightful workshop and would love feedback from students of colour on how we can better support you.
https://halpinpartnership.com/team-member/osaro-otobo/ – Information on Osaro Otobo and her work on anti-racism.
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/ten_keys_to_everyday_anti_racism – 10 Key Ways to be Anti-Racist Everyday by the AntiRacsit Table.
https://time.com/5846732/books-to-read-about-anti-racism/ – Top Books about Anti-Racism
https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/uk-black-history-month-films-tv-to-watch/ – Top Films about the UK Black Experience.
https://www.mmu.ac.uk/about-us/professional-services/uta/reducing-awarding-gaps/decolonising-the-curriculum-toolkit#:~:text=Decolonising%20the%20Curriculum%20(DtC)%20is,upon%20perceived%20knowledge%20and%20learning. – Decolonising the Curriculum.