Racism is the word on everyone's lips right now, but we all know this hasn't always been the case - it's never been the case.
And I know that I need to write this post to try and put into practice all the things that I'm currently 'preaching.'
Earlier today I had a pretty shit conversation with someone I used to be friends with and she told me that sharing posts about black lives matter, anti-racism and being so active on my socials meant nothing if I didn't accept, acknowledge and apologise for the ways in which I have been ignorant and prejudiced in the past. It's not something that had crossed my mind as necessary to do before that conversation - a simple reflection of the fact that I do still have a long way to go in my journey towards supporting this movement as honestly and authentically as I can. So I'm grateful that my eyes were opened to the importance of doing that, and I hope that I'm continually made aware of my short-fallings in this space so that I can make changes and keep on trying to do better.
An Apology for Who I Used to Be - i'm glad she doesn't exist anymore
So I guess we'll start with me..
I'm a white girl. I grew up pretty well-off. And there's probably no doubt in anyone's mind that i'm exactly the type of person who has benefitted from and in moments has perpetuated systemic racism and the exact issues the world is trying to burn down now.
I used to be very ignorant and closed minded to the truth that I have lived a life rooted in white privilege - or even that it was a prominent thing. I would have been one of those people saying 'i'm not racist, I have black friends and I would never discriminate against someone because of the colour of their skin;' completely failing to grasp what the argument is or appreciate the depth of pain I caused in having that toxic mindset. I didn't understand and I didn't work to, either. For that, I can't do anything except say I'm sorry. I'm sorry for being someone who was so fucking idiotic they believed a statement such as that was doing anything except exacerbating a problem and undermining the experience of so many people, simply because they weren't my own.
I would never dream of saying that now, and yeah, I am embarrassed and ashamed that a past version of me would have. That's for me to live with. There is no turning back. I can't change the past. But I can take ownership of it, and apologise for it. So I am - I am sorry.
I started from a place that i'm not exactly proud of (in lots of areas, not just this), and that pushed me to want to analyse myself and transform myself into someone who lived in a way that I respected and that I felt aligned with.
I think embarking on a journey of self-awareness and self-reflection, of any kind, forces you to analyse and pick apart who you are and who you've been in a microscopic way. I started to unlearn and unpick a number of narratives, behaviours and mindsets that really did not serve me, or the wider collective of human beings. My immersion into the world of yoga and spirituality was really the catalyst in creating a desire to look at myself and to be a better person. My focus extended beyond myself and my immediate experience, and I began changing internally. The things I cared about began to change; I began honouring myself more rather than simply following along a path society had paved. I began listening and educating myself, I began watching videos and aligning more strongly with certain issues that had never really meant anything to me before. That process involved releasing and shedding and letting go of past versions of myself that I didn't find fulfilling, or honourable, or in line with who I believed I was at my essence. I found a lot of issues with myself and a lot of things that I wanted to change - mindsets and behaviours I no longer wanted to have a place in my life - and i've been questioning myself since.
To people who haven't known me over the last few years, they might think that my stance now on the issue of racism is inauthentic or false, because there's no understanding of the personal actions I've taken to get to this point. What i'm doing now isn't for show, or 'to be a good white person,' I'm doing these things because I know better now. I want to utilise my voice and my platform to not only spread awareness and contribute wherever I can, but also to learn more.. to keep being educated.. to keep having my eyes opened.. so that I can keep questioning myself and those around me. I don't have anything to prove, I just want to be better.
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So whilst I wish I could go back and have started this journey a long time ago, it's not helpful for me to pour my energy into that because it doesn't serve me or what i'm trying to do. We all have a past we're not proud of in some sense of the phrase. I acknowledge mine, but I don't believe it has to define me. I've worked at hard moving away from the ignorant, close-minded, spoilt, selfish person I used to be, and I'm happy with a lot of the progress i've made, even though I still have a long way to go. I do speak up about things I feel passionately about and I do invest my time and energy into helping people because I discovered that's what fulfils me most. I'm happy with the work I do and will continue to improve upon that - I will never reach 'perfection,' or be 'all-knowing,' but if I"m doing my best then I can live with that.
I work in the government of NZ where race and discrimination is something that is trying to be addressed and improved on, and my eyes have been opened even more as a result. I am grateful to be in a position to be able to learn and educate myself further, and work somewhere that opens my eyes even more to the real struggles of inherent and systemic racism and discrimination. I feel inspired as a result of all these things to be passionate about a whole range of issues and to speak up about them too. From being more vocal about the black lives matter movement, and also in voicing, sharing and supporting the struggles of Māori people in New Zealand. There are so many issues that I feel so strongly about now that I didn't in the past.
So there is hope. People can and do learn and grow and better themselves. And I know that I want to be part of that, and I hope that if anyone ever stumbles upon something I share or that I write, that they feel inspired to learn more about these issues and invest their own time into them, as well. And so I will continue to do these things in the hope that they might be able to make a difference; to cause someone to think; to inspire a new narrative in someone's mind.
The Approach in Real Life
One important thing I've learned is that if we want to try and contribute meaningfully, we need to try and shift ourselves from blaming and shaming people for being ignorant, or for not doing enough, or for only now speaking up.
One of the most amazing women I've ever known (who has always been very progressive, liberal, tuned in and active in her stance on many of these issues) is the perfect example of this. Even at times when we had conversations and I was incredibly ignorant or uneducated, she always treated me with respect. She never once shat on me or degraded my character. She always strived to educate and to help me to understand better. She was always patient and fair, and I never felt judged - even as I sit here now and think that I would have judged myself.
I think we can all take something from that because in order to inspire and help entrench real change, both within people and society, we need to approach people in this way. Being accusatory or acting superior or righteous will get us nowhere - the people who have come at me like that in the past were met only with walls, and more defiance to understanding and willingness to change. I think as we begin to look at ourselves and how we can have these difficult conversations in our 'real-lives,' we need to invest time and energy into education and into helping ourselves to understand better; into speaking honestly with all our defences down, our hearts fully open and ready to engage.
Now more than ever we need to utilise the power that we have as people to FEEL - to empathise, to understand and to love.
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I want to confirm that on absolutely no level do I believe that any of this is about me, my intention for writing this was simply to acknowledge and honour what I was exposed to earlier and to call myself out on my past. But I hope that this will hopefully be a step in the right direction of what I know will be a long path of personal effort and intentional action to to my little bit in working towards breaking down systematic racism and helping to create a better future for all people.