It’s not your mixed race friends’ responsibility to educate you on racism
These past few weeks have been hard for everyone linked to the black community.
On top of the collective trauma that comes from the murder of yet another black man, it’s as if the whole world has suddenly woken up to the realities of racism.
This white awakening has had a real emotional impact on many ethnic minorities. After all, imagine having to deal with racism on a near-daily basis for generations only for you to be believed now. But the unexpected result of all this – for me at least – has been the almighty load put on me by my white friends.
Those of us who are black and white (and no doubt, other mixes too) seem to have become tools to enlighten, comfort and placate white angst.
As a light-skinned mixed race woman with a dad the colour of George Floyd, these deaths and violations have hit hard. I, like many others I’ve spoken to, see my dad when I see images of black men slowly having the life force sucked out of him. It physically hurts.
In the days and weeks following Floyd’s killing, I felt myself spiralling into a pretty dark mental health fug. The only way I could move forward was to share resources on social media, challenge people I knew in conversations and turn up to protests. I could call out white silence and question the way certain friends carried on.
What I didn’t realise, however, was that as a mixed race woman I’d become a free-for-all resource. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been asked how friends and colleagues can better educate themselves, what books they should read, which videos they should watch. I’ve had people work out their racial theories to me as a kind of testing ground before they posit those ideas to a wider public.
People think that it’s OK to ask me about race because I’m partly Black – I have leather in the game without being too different to them. I’m non-threatening.
An influencer ‘friend’ of mine said they’d only share something on their Instagram stories (not even the grid!) if I provided the link. So in order to even take part in performative allyship, I was expected to provide the goods. And I’m ashamed to say that I did send the link, in the hope that they might read it and learn something. Spoiler alert: they went back to posting exclusively about good vibes and trainers immediately after that #BLM blip. Ahh, order restored!
I live with huge amounts of privilege. Yes, I’ve experienced racism but it’s mainly been online. Microaggressions in the workplace and education have been few and far between (like the time I was being offered coloured hair shampoo by a beauty PR who said it was for people like me… with coloured hair. Reader, my hair hadn’t been dyed). I know I’m super lucky that such incidents are so rare that I can name them. For others, things happen on such a regular basis that it’d be hard to pick any one incident.
I’ve had people work out their racial theories to me as a kind of testing ground before they posit those ideas to a wider public.
It hurts slightly more when friends have made off-the-cuff remarks (does my dad understand English? Am I wearing a tribal dress… that’s from Topshop?) without any consideration as to how they might seem, and I’ve been complicit in letting them go unchallenged. I’ve become – or maybe always was – a comfortable space for people to say what they really think and feel without running the risk of being lambasted a racist.
I know for a fact that people wouldn’t say these seemingly innocent remarks to a black person. They’re far more acceptable and funny say to someone who looks more like you.
My own fatigue isn’t just down to being leaned on by other people, or the collective despair that bubbles up with each new atrocity. I carry the burden of having both the victim and the perpetrator of racism inside of me. I look in the mirror and see the white fragility that has been behind centuries of cruelty and malice… and I also see bits of me that are apparently so disgusting to many that they want to exterminate them.
It’s also really difficult to know how much pain it’s reasonable to feel when you are not in imminent danger yourself. How much right do I have to pontificate on matters of black lives when the mixed race experience is so different?
If you want to really learn what it’s like to navigate a systemically racist society, you’ve got to talk to black people. Your mixed race friends can’t shield you from the realities that black people live with, even if they’ve experienced racism themselves.
In my experience, many white people don’t have black friends but if they have a mixed race one, it’s enough. They’re close enough to blackness to be cosmopolitan and diverse without having to examine why they don’t know any black people.
Perhaps you’ve only got white friends because you grew up in an English countryside village – totally not your fault. Maybe you then went to a ‘good’ uni where the vast majority of students were like you. Again, it is what it is.
But have you ever stopped to consider the fact that the UK is a rare example of rural communities also being the wealthiest, while poorer areas of the country tend to be in cities? Even once people ‘make it’, the idea of being isolated in the countryside with no access to healthcare professionals who look like them, for example, can be a threatening one.
How about the fact only 10 per cent of university lecturers are from BAME backgrounds and that the three universities with the biggest black populations are all in London? It’s not just an odd coincidence that you don’t know many black people, it’s a symptom of living in a structurally racist country.
While it’s not your fault that you’ve not grown up with any diversity, the fact that parts of the UK are regarded as unattainable to people of colour is a problem for us all and one that many of us are complicit in. Now is your chance to actively work at undoing that damage.
It shouldn’t be the job of people like me to spoon-feed white friends and family very basic anti-racist material. It’s lazy. If you’re not even willing to put energy into education, what hope is there for you to make an active change in the way you go about your life?