I was momentarily deflated, although not surprised, that there is a billboard that reads, “Racism is not the problem.”
The understanding of what racism is is decidedly or perhaps intentionally misunderstood. Racism is prejudice + power (power being institutional power, systemic power, political power, media power, social power) and so forth. The power white people have to change Black and Brown peoples reality. Everyone can be prejudiced, but only white people have the power (globally) to back up their prejudices.
I’m always shocked how white people have the temerity to speak on behalf of black and brown people and, by doing so, further silences our voices. “This is not racism” is a despicable attempt at trying to gaslight every black and brown person who has had to deal with the trauma that racism brings. It serves to reduce racism to individual acts rather than the powerful system of racism. And in doing so, endeavours to apportion blame to black and brown people who may not fully comprehend why they are feeling marginalized. Why regardless of the amount of hard work they do can never attain a comfortable economic status. Why they are overlooked for promotion or offered less remuneration than their white counterparts?
Racism, when viewed as individual acts only, absolves those white people who are guilty of structural racism when they hastily sign petitions to exclude social housing in their areas. Racism is not simply one person harbouring personal animus toward another because of their race or ethnicity.
It occurs between individuals on an interpersonal level and is embedded in organizations and institutions through their policies, procedures and practices.
Systemic racism is composed of intersecting, overlapping and co-dependent racist institutions, policies, practices, ideas and behaviours that give an unjust amount of resources, rights and power to white people while denying them to Black and Brown people. Basically, systemic racism is Anti-Black practices.
As Black and Brown people, we must resist the crude undertakings of white people, such as the person who suggested this billboard, who are hell-bent on looking to place their “racism” on our shoulders, without us being the recipients of white privilege.
We have tried the Rainbow Nation in 1994, which saw white people remain in their elevated positions, while Black and Brown people were told to look at the failings of the newly appointed Black Government. Whilst I acknowledge the Governments failure to redress and rebuild what belongs to us, it’s a misconception to think that they are the only ones who are guilty of trampling on the rights of Black and Brown people.
Stating that this is not racism is racist. Saying that thousands of Black and Brown people who were interviewed agree with them is racist. Failing to address the “very real” problem of racism in all its forms is racist. No billboard denying its existence will make a difference. In fact, all it does is indicate how easily white people have moved on and how eager they are to reach a place where they are at peace, even if that peace is at the cost of our continued pain.
Racism is violent, even if it’s dressed up in the latest fashions and drinks high tea with the Queen.
Some Things to do:
Fight for a Black child to attend former Model C schools.
Demand that your Black and Brown colleague gets paid equally.
Sign the petitions and advocate for social housing.
Use your influence/ white privilege to demand the favourable rates most white people receive at banking institutions.
Boycott the companies that are guilty of exploiting Black and Brown people.
Lobby for a living, not minimum wage.
Support a Black and Brown business.
Make spaces for conversations where Black and Brown people can talk about their experiences without a white voice.
Insist on your children learning Black and Brown history in schools.
These are some of the things you can do to affect much-needed change, not pay for an ad on a billboard denying racism then thinking you’re doing your bit to help society.