This post was inspired by Sarah Hart-Unger’s reflection of her own journey towards learning more about structural racism, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death; and triggered by the disgusting racist comments made by fans of the England team, in the wake of the Euro2020 finals.
It is not an “how to” post, and I have no intention of moralising. This post is for me. My own reflection. Just like my round-up posts. I am simply sharing it, in case it can nudge you into doing your personal audit, just like SHU’s post nudged me.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, I vowed to:
- Educate myself about racism, and the experiences of being a non-White minority
- Avoid taking actions that would hurt or disadvantage non-White people that I interact with on a daily basis
- Shine a spotlight on the work of non-White academics
Goal 1: Anti-racist education
I have been reading books about racism such as “Superior: The Return of Race Science” by Angela Saini; and listening to podcasts such as “Be Anti-Racist” with Ibram X. Kendi.
In addition to ‘educational’ resources, I have been consuming entertainment produced from a non-White perspective. This included books such as “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett, music such as Pa Salieu’s songs, and movies such as The Hate U Give (which is based on a novel by Angie Thomas).
I also ditched the well-intentioned, but likely wrong, assumptions about the experiences of others, and started asking them directly. For instance, I don’t know, personally, the experience of being a Black academic online. So, in the training programme that I organised for PhD students about using social media as early career researchers, we asked people to share their experiences of interacting with others on social media, who their role models were, and what specific concerns they had that we could help them with during the course.
I realised that, while I developed a more nuanced understanding of systemic racism in the US and the UK, I have a very rosy view of its status in Portugal. In school, I learned about the 16th century maritime explorations as tales of glory, and about the subsequent colonisation as tales of benevolence (e.g., education) and salvation (e.g., religious conversion) of the local population. I want to learn about the other side of Portugal’s history.
Goal 2: Be mindful of micro-aggresions
The first change that I made was, actually, a result from watching The Hate U Give (see goal 1). In the movie, while discussing the rising racial tension in the community, the main character’s White boyfriend tells her “I don’t see colour”. He means well. He means to say that, for him, race is not important, and that he just sees people as human beings. However, as the main character explains, in doing so, he is also ignoring all the struggles that she faces daily because of her colour: “If you don’t see colour, then you don’t see me”, she says. So, now, rather than look at my meeting room, or my classroom, and just seeing colleagues or students, I try to be mindful of the ways in which their journey to where they are, or their behaviour in that place, is conditioned by being racialised.
The second change is to be mindful about language. Specifically, I try to replace the catch-all descriptor BAME with terms such as racialised or minority groups. I also stopped using the terms “slaves” and “slave owners” and, instead, use (or try to remember using), “enslaved people” and “enslavers”.
I want to be better at listening. I am still rushing to “try and make it better” – for instance, shining a light at the kind words directed at the England footballers to offset the disgusting racist abuse that was also directed at them. But the former doesn’t undo the pain of the latter. I need to let people tell their stories in full, rather than jumping into trying to fix it for them.
Goal 3: Support non-White academics
I am making a concerted effort to read, cite and blog about racialised authors. When I am skimming a journal’s table of contents, first, I have a quick read-through the titles to see any that seem worth reading. Then, for the remaining, I quickly read through the authors’ names For any that are obviously non-White, I will read the title again, and maybe the abstract. I have ended up downloading a few articles whose title didn’t jump at me, initially, but which turned out to be very interesting – for instance, this paper really helped me think about the risks of AI in a very structured way.
When I did my last check, in June 2020, non-white authors represented 18% of the scholars cited on my blog. In the 12 months since then, this proportion increased to 30%.
I need to do better in terms of shining a spotlight on the work of female, non-white voices. Even though 44% of the papers that I mentioned on the blog, in the last 12 months, were authored by women, only 5% were from non-White women.