Newbie anti-racist: Learning out loud

Sophia Cheng / 6 min read / Newbie Activist Life
3 June 2020
Making a pledge and a plan to be an anti-racist

Who is this post for? Well me mainly. For accountability, to chart my learning and my mistakes, so I don’t keep making them. But it’s also for those quietly curious and quietly outraged who quietly want to do more; who might glean something from my journey and be a little bit bolder. So I’ll be learning out loud (a phrase used in an FB post by Tiffany Joi Lanier, embedded below). Note, this is not an attempt to seek praise from anyone at the sharp end of injustice.

Why? It took me years to come up with the courage to say what we’re doing to the planet isn’t fair, I hid behind those more intellectual than me, more articulate etc etc bla bla bla. And since talking about it out loud, it has been the making of me. I’ve forged new kinships, put myself in new situations and learnt a shed-load. So I’m not going to stay quiet anymore. It’s already been too long. (There’s also the privilege part but I’ll unpack that in a future post.) I had drafted a blog post after reading Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race back in 2018… it is still in drafts. #fail

My learning about what it’s gonna take to curb climate change has pulled the wool from my eyes on systems. It started with the climate science and cutting carbon, then into challenging climate silence and capitalism, and now to inequality and colonialism. They are all interlinked, and now I can’t un-see it.

A friend of mine posted yesterday, that in 2020 you have to be clear which crises you’re referring to in conversation. The pandemic, the climate, biodiversity, political or inequality including race and class (I’d also add in there the crises of loneliness and movement – lack of). It’s enough to make your head swirl. But then, we’re out of practice of systems thinking; stuck on single hero narratives, good guy vs bad guy and 140 character stories.

But hey, I love learning. Except this time I’m not vying for A*s. This time it’s unlearning the fossil fuel-GDP world I was born into and learning about other perspectives and ways of living. And I’m not gonna go back to school and I want to learn in new ways; through music, comedy and conversations. I want to attend workshops where we learn together. Look at all the lessons history has shown us and deduce the wisdom from it, imagine a future that is better – and even write fiction about it! I want to consider how can I be a good ancestor. I want to learn with my head and my heart, to improve my listening skills. I want to learn inwards as well as outwards, learning about myself might be just as hard as learning about the world out there.

And here’s the first big inner hurdle I’m gonna have to face: I hate being wrong. In an obnoxious Hermione way but also in a shame-inducing world-disappears-from-my-vision way. And sometimes in a knee jerk, defensive, I’m-gonna-make-you-feel-small way. See, I learnt to equate being wrong with being bad. I fear nothing more than being told off. So I go out of my way to not be wrong – and on tricky topics (repeat the above crises) it has usually meant I stayed quiet.

As a rational thirty-something who has done some internal work and knows her values, I know I will get it wrong if I do this learning AND talk about it. In fact, it will be a marker of my learning but it makes my left armpit sweat just thinking about it.

I also know that while we’re in the “Age Of Converging Crises” – it can be transformed into the “Age of Thriving Within Planetary Boundaries” (ok so my age names needs a bit of work but you get the idea). If enough of the houses are broken – surely we can make something new in the rubble?

So, this is the start of my anti-racist journey.

But wait, what is an anti-racist?

Good question. Here’s the Oxford Dictionary definition: “a person who opposes racism and promotes racial tolerance.”

So I understand that to be an active term and therefore a practice. As oppose to passive and not engaging with the issue. I hope to get more articulate about this over time.

I pledge to (SMART goals)

  • keep learning (read/watch a book or documentary each month and discuss it with a friend who’s on the same journey with me)
  • keep talking (have a considered conversation about race with someone white/not on the receiving end of systemic oppression once a month)
  • keep listening (tune into contemporary discussions, debates, articles, podcasts and discuss with a friend)
  • keep sharing (use my business and personal platform to amplify solidarity messages once a week + an educational resource once a week)
  • keep an active eye out for opportunities to be more inclusive, pass the mic, purchase from and hire.
  • keep reflecting (share my reflections from ⬆️, the good and the bad here on this blog in the form of monthly updates)
  • keep showing up when I invariably balls it up *gulp*
  • keep going even when the hashtags stop trending
  • keep it simple and not use jargon, not assuming that everyone will know all the terms or the history (focus on plain human language and on education)
  • keep in mind that it wasn’t so long ago I was super ignorant and it takes time and patience to learn this stuff (be gentle and honest in my writing and compassionate in my listening)

Right, that’s enough musing for now. On with the hard stuff.

This month I will:

  1. Read: How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. I’m reading it with a friend, because I need accountability for this, we will both have our blindspots but two heads are better than one. Because I feel stronger and more committed doing it with her.
  2. Watch: Trigger Warning by Killer Mike with my housemates. Combines comedy and education, my favourite combo.
  3. Listen to

Haven’t worked out the other stuff yet. I’ll report back in a month.

And of course, you’re very welcome to join me.

A Few More Quotes On Being Wrong (and that it’s ok)

Sophie’s whole thread is really good.

Guilt, I did something bad. Shame, I am bad – Brene Brown

Avatar photo Sophia Cheng With a decade of communications experience across the for profit and nonprofit sectors, agency and in-house, Sophia has made a habit of making ‘the hard stuff’ more accessible. Since 2018, she has reorientated her life around the climate crisis. She has forged her decade of communications experience into offering workshops, mentoring, blogging, and more, on the biggest issues of our time. View all posts
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