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Home » "Black is beautiful" » A month of Black history through the eyes of a white, privileged man… an open letter

A month of Black history through the eyes of a white, privileged man… an open letter

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Dear friends,

Over the years, in my line of work, there was a conviction, that logic as the prevailing force allows us to see social situations around (im)passionately, impartially and fairly.  Principles most important especially for anyone who dwells in social sciences.  We were “raised” on the ideologies that promote inclusivity, justice and solidarity.  As a kid, I remember when we marched as a family against nuclear proliferation, and later as an adult I marched and protested for civil rights on the basis of sexuality, nationality and class.  I took part in anti-war marches and protested and took part in strikes when fees were introduced in higher education.    

All of these were based on one very strongly, deeply ingrained, view that whilst the world may be unfair, we can change it, rebel against injustices and make it better.  A romantic view/vision of the world that rests on a very basic principle “we are all human” and our humanity is the home of our unity and strength.  Take the environment for example, it is becoming obvious to most of us that this is a global issue that requires all of us to get involved.  The opt-out option may not be feasible if the environment becomes too hostile and decreases the habitable parts of the planet to an ever-growing population. 

As constant learners, according to Solon (Γηράσκω αεί διδασκόμενος)[1] it is important to introspect views such as those presented earlier and consider how successfully they are represented.  Recently I was fortunate to meet one of my former students (@wadzanain7) who came to visit and talk about their current job.  It is always welcome to see former students coming back, even more so when they come in a reflective mood at the same time as Black history month.  Every year, this is becoming a staple in my professional diary, as it is an opportunity to be educated in the history that was not spoken or taught at school. 

This year’s discussions and the former student’s reflections made it very clear to me that my idealism, however well intended, is part of an experience that is deeply steeped in white men’s privilege.  It made me question what an appropriate response to a continuous injustice is.  I was aware of the quote “all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” growing up, part of my family’s narrative of getting involved in the resistance, but am I true to its spirit?  To understand there is a problem but do nothing about it, means that ultimately you become part of the same problem you identify.  Perhaps in some regards a considered person is even worse because they see the problem, read the situation and can offer words of solace, but not discernible actions.  A light touch liberalism, that is nice and inclusive, but sits quietly observing history written in the way as before, follow the same social discourses, but does nothing to change the problems.  Suddenly it became clear how wrong I am.  A great need to offer a profound apology for my inaction and implicit collaboration to the harm caused. 

I was recently challenged in a discussion about whether people who do not have direct experience are entitled to a view.  Do those who experience racism voice it?  Of course, the answer is no; we can read it, stand against it, but if we have not experienced it, maybe, just maybe, we need to shut up and let other voices be heard and tell their stories.  Black history month is the time to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

Sincerely yours

M



[1] A very rough translation: I learn, whilst I grow, life-long learning.


2 Comments

  1. I would like to address your closing remarks: “Do those who experience racism voice it? Of course, the answer is no; we can read it, stand against it, but if we have not experienced it, maybe, just maybe, we need to shut up and let other voices be heard and tell their stories. Black history month is the time to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.”

    The terminology we use to discuss race is steeped in our current understanding of ‘race’ that it’s difficult to run faster…our language demands that we walk slowly, tread carefully. Our language is stifling. While Black History Month offers us the chance to highlight aspects of our collective history that had been whitewashed, we MUST continue to explore the topic more fully. What’s the experience of learning about all this history as an educated adult? I am somewhat aware of ‘white guilt’ but I suspect that this is only one aspect of gaining such exposure. Is it anything like the opening of the eyes I -as a man- sometimes feel when JUST NOW learning aspects of the lives of women and girls, though I have known them my entire life?

    Equally, in walking in another’s shoes, we often speak of ‘white privilege’ or male privilege, or heteronormative privilege, etc. I believe that these experiences are as authentic and real as are those who are victimized by the very privilege under investigation. If anything, Black History Month is a chance to uncover the full spectrum of our collective humanity…for each of us to walk in each other’s shoes. So please, ‘shut up’ when needed…but speak up, too. Remember All hands on deck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • manosdaskalou says:

      You are quite right, language can be stifling and we have to go under the hood in order to find meanings and interpretations of the words and their vernacular. Black history is history and although commemorated in one month it is part of the collective experience. It was always interesting to observe conversations on feminism that raise the question what about men…or on black lives matter the counter-question on white lives matter, both questions missing the point completely. Understanding social injustice is not about neglecting the people you do not refer about but giving some space to those who do not traditionally have it. You are so right, “we are all in this together…all hands on deck”. To that I say, Aye, Aye Captain.

      Like

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