Leo Babauta of Zen Habits writes about the "not knowing
" of confronting racism:
Many of us want a simple solution to the systemic racism we’ve allowed to happen — but there isn’t one. When we don’t have a simple solution, our first reaction is to get discouraged and frustrated and give up.
But we can’t just give up. We have to let ourselves stay in the place of not knowing. We have to stay with the questions, and explore with curiosity.
We have to listen. Listen to those who are most impacted, listen to their stories, listen to their anger and exhaustion and pain. Listen as if we don’t know anything, because we really don’t.
As he says, it's okay to not know and we have to realise and accept that we dont know. No one knows, not entirely, and thats why we all need to listen to, and work with, one another.
There's one thing he wrote that reads like a slap in the face, a wake-up call, you can claim you're not racist or bigoted but there is still always a sense of otherness:
There’s me, and there’s Other. Not the same, not connected, not unified as one. Other.
Otherness manifests in the tiniest of ways, ways that we may not pay attention to, not even give a second thought to because they are so small. The tiniest of assumptions or behaviours couldn't possibly make a difference, could they? The smallest of things couldn't possibly cause offence, could they? Maybe not individually, or at least not that is immediately noticeable, but when combined, when added up, when they become a consistent pattern, then absolutely.
What I may see as normal might be offensive to someone else. What I consider okay because it's coming from a place of humour could well be rooted in someone else's pain and suffering despite seeming innocuous, despite assuming it's okay.
Otherness is everywhere, it's natural and unavoidable, and will always exist on some level due to the very nature of "me" and "not me". We can, however, control our responses to it.
No one has all the answers and that scares us no matter what side of the issue we are coming from; to say we do is an incredibly self-centred view which only serves to further reinforce the otherness. Imposing our answers assumes they are correct and denies the position of others.
Assumption is dangerous.
Assuming that you are not racist (you couldn't be, right?) is dangerous. Assuming that you are not bigoted is dangerous. Assuming there's nothing you need to do differently is dangerous.
The only assumption we can make, the only thing we can know, is that we don't know how to fix this, not on our own, not even in a specialised, handpicked, select group. We all have a part to play.