It’s beyond time for white people to acknowledge their privilege, the white supremacist society we live, and to start doing the work to dismantle it. In every measurable outcome that involves Māori, Pasifika, Black, BIPOC, and Asian people – we have been perpetuating a culture that actively harms these groups.
They are paid less, over policed, get less access to medical care, are trapped in poverty, and are criminalised by our justice system at far higher rates than the white population just to name a few areas that we are failing. However, if we look it’s easy to see systemic deficits in all facets of our society.
To be unaware of race issues and actively not campaigning against them makes you complicit in a system of racism, it’s not enough to know of race issues – you cannot claim not to see race – this in itself is an act of racism.
As world renowned scholar, activist, and organizer Angela Y. Davis wrote:
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”Angela Y. Davis
None of this is new information. Moana Jackson published the He Whaipaanga Hou (Māori and the Criminal Justice System – A New Perspective) report in 1987. In this report which is extremely detailed, he shows how our justice system is broken, racist and provided a comprehensive look at how we could potentially reform it to undo colonial structures of imprisonment.
Despite repeated claims and initiatives – our prison system is nearly exactly the same with the same issues and the recent riot at Waikeria prison was a direct result of not doing the work to actually fix the problems that were identified in 1987.
For an indepth look at the issues of the prison riot and the conditions and circumstances that lead to the uprising – I recommend this excellent article by Emilie Rākete – We warned Kelvin Davis about the Waikeria uprising.
I am a prison abolitionist, I have come to this view after spending time researching Criminology at University and I would recommend this book ‘Human Rights and Incarceration – Critical Perspectives’ if you would like to understand more of the issues around incarceration with a specific focus on the New Zealand prison system.
What I am trying to say with this example – is that nothing has substantively changed for a lot of outcomes since 1987 – and we still keep making excuses as to why rather than doing the work.
The BLM movement was at it’s peak last year – why are you discussing it now?
There are far better people than I (a white privileged male with no lived experience of racism) whom discussed these topics at the time – I will provide resources at the end for Aotearoa and non-Aotearoa specific texts on this movement.
The reason I am talking about this is because the start of this year (less than 3 weeks into 2021) I have seen some acts of racism in Aotearoa that I would like to discuss – and I have seen some responses that highlight how much work we as white people need to do in order to actually make progress. I am going to highlight some pretty egregious stuff that has happened – and I will avoid naming specific individuals where possible.
Twitter Interactions – Racism Online
If you are on NZ political left Twitter you may know of this recent display of outright racism. A well known immigrant activist was holding an ex-PM to account for their racism and then when asked consistently to do the work for the ex-PM, made a comment that if they were really interested they should be paid for their time.
What happened next was atrocious. Two white young left wing Twitter users launched an attack on the immigrant activist – using pejorative terms to describe their activism as “performative” and saying that they “hate that guy” (which also was an act of gender discrimination as the person has they/them pronouns) – with no obvious reason to do so. The activist in question is anything other than performative, having made significant movement on extremely important legislation within the LGBTQIA+ community.
The response was quick from the person targeted, other BIPOC, Māori, and Pasifika people as well as White allies. They spoke out against these people – and many of their responses were deemed as “piling on”.
Firstly, this is wrong, unfortunately if you put something out into the world that is bigoted, racist, transphobic, misogynistic or otherwise – the backlash you receive for doing this is you being held accountable – how vengeful or upset you deem these people to be is not something you get to decide – the marginalised group who has been harmed is allowed to react however they want (excluding threats of violence).
Secondly, there were two different responses. One of which was nearly correct but still relied on excusing the person from the resulting backlash – unfortunately there’s no defense for retribution here. You have to accept the consequences of your actions – if you have fucked up, in the age of Twitter, you are going to be criticised heavily due to the nature of social media.
The other response, was to take no responsibility for their personal failings, go private on Twitter indefinitely and to have their family member restart with racist attacks days later because their family member perceived unfair harm on their part for their actions. This is absolutely the worst way to respond to accusations of racism.
“I didn’t know I was dressing as a white supremacist insurrectionist”
At the America’s Cup boat race – a real estate agent (shocking…) named Ollie Wall decided that it would be a good idea for him to support the American Magic boat race team by dressing up as a white nationalist insurrectionist. Here’s a now hidden Instagram photo:
Again – the backlash for doing this was swift. He’s been criticised, his family have been called and he claims that people have threatened him with molotov cocktails (this last part isn’t ok). Ollie got right of reply to discuss these issues with the NZ Herald the article is here. I want to highlight his “apology” and his reasoning and to show that these are unacceptable given the age we live in and the work that White people have to do to dismantle racism.
First here’s his “apology”
I am truly sorry for any offence caused by my silly outfit choice. A friend had the good idea of supporting the teams who have made a huge effort to be here and unfortunately had very little support on the water for obvious reasons. We were asked to dress up ‘USA’ for Saturday’s races to show American Magic support. My intention was to poke fun at the QAnon character and have a laugh at his utter ridiculousness. However, I ignorantly had no idea at the time the significance and depths of that person’s ideology and evilness.Ollie Wall
This isn’t an apology. It’s a list of excuses. The first line says he’s sorry for “offence caused”. He’s sorry for the results of his action, but excuses himself from being accountable for the action. An apology without personal accountability, reflection, and reasonable action taken to undo the harm isn’t an apology. He’s learned absolutely nothing from this experience – and believes he was just wearing “a silly costume”.
The person whom he is portraying participated in a violent insurrection on the US Capitol that has left six people dead (including two Capitol police – one through suicide days later, the other from brutal beating with a fire extinguisher). He claims not to have known anything about the ideology of the person involved – and yet at the top of the IG post he used the words “Storm the Capitol”.
There’s no way you could duplicate the level of accuracy without sourcing multiple photos, and all of the sources of these photos would have discussed his violent ideology as well as just being in the fucking Capitol in an insurrection. Trump’s movement has always stood for one thing – WHITE SUPREMACY.
The casual groping of the breast in the above photo screams misogynistic asshole to me also. He’s not sorry and he’s yet to be held accountable for his actions. Ignorance for racism is unacceptable – people who are victims of racism do not get a choice about racial discourse – and White people should not be given a free pass.
I’ve been accused of racism – how should I react then?
I think the best advice I’ve seen is from Brené Brown. When you are faced with criticism – your instant response will be shame – how you respond to that shame will dictate whether you have learned from this interaction.
Firstly when you feel shame – “don’t text, talk, or type”. In these moments of shame when you’ve been held accountable for something wrong you have done – you will not be thinking clearly – your body will be undergoing a stress response, and you will act defensively. Your first instinct will be to excuse your actions by explaining them, and to start going through a process of “armoring up” to protect yourself.
The correct response to someone who has accused you of racism is to say – “I am sorry I was racist, I will research in my own time and reflect on my actions, thank you for educating me”. It’s very important for White people not to ask why something is racist of those who accuse you, unless you have a personal relationship where this has been agreed on. No victim of racism should have to explain your racism to you.
What you need to do here is to turn your actions from a shame response into a guilt one – the difference between shame and guilt is described by Brown like this – Shame is the belief that you are a bad person. It’s an unhelpful emotion that causes us to armor up, and it isolates us from others. Guilt is the act of believing that we have done a bad action, but that we mean to be good – guilt allows growth – shame does not. (I recommend all people listen to Brown’s podcast series ‘Unlocking Us‘ – she’s a social researcher with over 20 years experience dealing with emotions such as embarrassment, shame and guilt – who has done some incredible work on mechanisms and actions involved with these emotions).
Redemption for your actions
The only way to truly redeem yourself for committing a horrible act is to make sure you take responsibility, are accountable, and educated enough not to make mistakes in the future.
Similarly – people who make genuine efforts to apologise and do better must be allowed the chance to prove themselves. That doesn’t mean forgiving their actions, but understanding that people make mistakes – even good people (in fact the best people I know constantly make mistakes) – but their response to making mistakes is what separates them from other people.
As a white person who grew up in a racist environment – you are going to constantly fail even with the best of intentions – Brown has been doing anti-racist work for 15 years and still needs to be corrected.
What we must do learn to do as White people is to lean into the discomfort. You will experience cognitive dissonance when your actions do not align with your beliefs – but listening, educating and correcting based on the feedback from others has never been something I regret – even if I felt awful.
Anti-racist reading list compiled by Ibram X. Kendi – https://chipublib.bibliocommons.com/list/share/204842963/1357692923
Aotearoa specific anti-racist reading list compiled by Jacinta Ruru, Angela Wanhalla & Jeanette Wikaira – https://thespinoff.co.nz/atea/15-06-2020/read-our-words-an-anti-racist-reading-list-for-new-zealanders/
Brené Brown’s podcast series Unlocking Us – https://brenebrown.com/podcast/introducing-unlocking-us/
A specific episode of Brené Brown’s podcast relevant to this post – https://brenebrown.com/transcript/brene-on-shame-and-accountability/