A reflective article about race and why 'we need to talk about race'
Written March 2020
Growing up and being in spaces with people from a variety of backgrounds, I thought I saw people as just people, and their skin colour didn’t make any difference to me. But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore race and not talk about the discrimination and adversity that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicity (BAME) people experience. It’s important to acknowledge race, and know that people’s experiences are different with that. There’s actually a significant problem with ‘ignoring’ race or ‘not seeing’ race, as by doing that, you ignore racism rather than helping to solve it.
At University, I was elected into a part-time officer role within Keele University Students’ Union. This was a volunteer role and my priorities were around representing students and maintaining gender equality in all aspects of the University. It was in this role that I met the BAME or ‘BME’ officer, and she taught me so much about race that I am still so grateful for. She told me about various books to read and discussed with me some of the most prominent issues with not talking about race.
She taught me about the importance of decolonising our curriculum, and about how my learned version of history erased prominent figures and events that happened because of people from different races and ethnic backgrounds. What I learned was that there was so much more to learn outside of the one-sided version of history I had learned at school. I realised I knew nothing about the wider world and had a lot of reading to do.
I was afraid to talk about race. I didn’t feel like it was something that involved me, especially once I was actively aware of my position of privilege as a white person. I felt as though I was going to say something wrong and felt as though I was walking on eggshells if I brought up the R word. Where do I stand in a conversation about racist microaggressions and being a victim of racist hate crimes? What was my place as a white person to talk about race?
Yes, white people can talk about race. In fact, it’s important that white people engage in conversations about race. I learned that what white people shouldn’t do is try and tell BAME people what their experiences are when in these conversations. When BAME people are sharing their experiences, you need to actively listen and really hear what they are saying so that you can learn more. It isn’t about ‘taking a seat’ but about learning from others who have first-hand experiences of racism.
By doing so, you are actively learning how to be an ally. Being an ally isn’t about being awarded a gold star when you call out racism, you don’t get a certificate and you don’t log every time you do something that makes you feel good inside. It’s something to adopt in everyday life. It’s simple respect, it’s knowing your place in a room full of people, it’s accepting that you don’t know everything and that we are all constantly learning and will have something new to learn every day.
The more you talk about something with different people, the more you listen about people’s experiences and the more you learn. By not talking about race, and not listening to people talk about their experiences, both positive and negative, you are effectively complicit in the erasure of BAME people’s experiences. We need to normalise discussions around race, rather than keeping it as the elephant in the room. It is not the place of BAME people to ‘teach’ you about racism, you need to read up and learn. Immerse yourself in literature about race, search around for sources that aren’t one-sided, be conscious about what you’re reading and learning, ask more questions about what you’re learning and keep engaging in conversations and listen to learn. You’ll never have enough knowledge about race, there’s never an end point, so keep going and don’t be afraid to talk about race.
- Ele Fisher
(Staffordshire University Students' Union Staff Member)
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