Using Spheres of Influence to Tackle Racism

I recognise that people define themselves in many ways but for this article the term “People of Colour” includes Black, Coloured, Indian as all these people experience racial oppression by the systems in our country. However I affirm the individual, uniqueness of each human being and recognize we are not defined by our skin colour.

Let’s get vocal…

If you are like me, then your heart has been crushed by all the racist attitudes, thoughts and opinions that have been expressed in our country recently. I’m grateful for voices of those who have boldly declared their commitment to changing the atmosphere and social vibe in our country by speaking out whenever any act of racism is witnessed. Calling out racist speech and actions is so vital, but we don’t have to wait for someone to show us their racism before we start taking action. This post is to share some ideas of how we can proactively use our voice to question the outcomes of racist thinking. We can challenge things that seem so normal to us in our South African context, but are actually racist in nature and are often also maintaining the inequalities in our land. How we use our wealth and resources is a crucial question, and being proactive in the land discussion is also important, but I will not be focusing on these in this post. Not all of these are my original thoughts, but I’ve gathered ideas from various conversations online and off. I’m not proposing that everyone should be doing all of these things. But I hope that as you read through these ideas and questions, something will strike a chord with you. One last note, this post is aimed at white people who understand and embrace the notion of “white privilege” and are thinking through how to be an ally to people of colour in the fight against racism, and are looking for ways to participate in the dismantling of white power and privilege.

Let’s Influence our Workplaces

What is the culture of my workplace? Is “whiteness” the standard and are “white ways” of doing things the norm? Have we embraced different cultural practices to ensure that our workplace is inclusive and all people of colour feel as comfortable, and as “at home” as I do as a white person? If I don’t know, maybe I can have a chat with a colleague of colour and ask about his or her experience. Am I actively being vocal about the need for transformation in my work place or is it left up to the staff of colour to voice this? Am I silent on this issue, thus unintentionally reinforcing the message that all white people are against transformation? Am I speaking out about potential exploitation that might be happening in my workplace? Do I know if all staff are paid a living wage and are their working conditions good? Will I raise my voice to shine a light on these issues, rather than wait until the low-paid staff strike?

Let’s Influence our Children’s Schools

Am I asking questions about educators and how we can have more educators of colour on staff body? Are there any admission criteria that end up excluding or, at least, making access more difficult for children of colour? Am I speaking out about these practices and policies that result in artificially reducing the number of children of colour who have access to the school? How is the school providing support to children from disadvantaged backgrounds to mitigate the many challenges of poverty that they may face so that they can participate as equals within the school? Am I encouraging the school to explore fun ways to celebrate the diversity of our country through art, music and language? What is the language policy in the school and are African languages offered and encouraged? Am I challenging the school to best prepare the learners to engage with a diverse nation, rather than a small minority of the same language and culture? What kind of books are the children required to read or are read to them? What kind of books are in the library? Do these books have main characters that reflect the diverse people and cultures of our country? Am I aware of what is and is not included in the history syllabus and does it accurately portray the struggle against slavery, colonisation and apartheid so our children will grow up not making the mistakes of the past?

Let’s Influence our Alma Mater

How am I supporting the students from my alma mater? Can I be vocal about transformation in the institution and support call for more professors of colour, and curriculums that honour the diversity of our nation and continent? Can I be contributing financially to support students who are restricted by financial difficulties?

Let’s Influence our Local Communities

Do I know the local councillor’s name and contact details?  Am I challenging the municipality for any bylaws or procedures that further divide our city according to race and that end up discriminating against people of colour? Am I petitioning the municipal government regarding unequal access to services in my city, rather than just letting those who receive poor/no service delivery do the protesting on their own? Am I speaking out at Community Policing Forums and Neighbourhood Watch meetings/facebook page/whatsapp groups when racist comments are made and when racial profiling is used to spread fear and distrust of people of colour?

Let’s Influence our Churches

Is our church mainly filled with people who have the same skin colour as us, and is this starting to make us feel uncomfortable? Are we seeing people of colour represented in the leadership in our churches? Does the vibe and church culture reflect the wonderful diversity of our country? Are the teachings of the church addressing the crisis of racism? In particular, are the white people of the congregation encouraged to engage in discussions about race and listen to experiences of people of colour; and then strengthened and supported to work through their residual racist thinking and actions?

Let’s Influence our Family and Friends

Can I start sharing with my friends and family about my struggles with racist attitudes, my hopes for equality, and my thoughts about the dismantling of white privilege? Can I start these conversations, and not just wait for someone to say something racist first before I engage? Perhaps I can write a letter or email to share with my friends what my thinking is. Or invite them around to a meal or out for a cup of coffee in order to intentional talk about this. We need to take our facebook activism off the screen and do some face-to-face connection around this topic. This list is hardly exhaustive; it’s just a start.  I would love to hear from you what your ideas are regarding using our voice to proactively challenge racism.

Some last thoughts…

I end by reminding myself that as we determine to raise our voices, let’s do so from a place of first having listened well to the people of colour in the situation where we choose to engage. Let’s be vocal in partnership with people of colour, and if possible be led by people of colour. Let us not, in our enthusiasm to make things right, rush in as saviours, using our loud voices, and in so doing further silence the very people we wish to help. Let us be willing to work out solutions together, not impose what we think needs to be done. And let us not give up as soon as the going gets tough.

These calls to be vocal and to question the way we do life are actions we can all do. It does not require wealth or resources. However it will require choosing to engage rather than waiting for someone else to do so first. It will require courage and sacrifice. It’s easier to keep quiet and just go with the flow. I know, my heart pounds at the thought of speaking out. But what is the cost if we don’t? What will history say of us, what will our children say of us one day, if we choose the easy road of silence today?

By Jacqui Tooke


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