Meghan Markle and her family were forced to leave the royal family because despite being beautiful, successful, independently wealthy, eloquent and charitable, the U. K. was not ready to accept a biracial or Black person into such a powerful position. She did not fit the image they had in their minds of who would be a suitable match for Prince Harry. She would never be good enough. The royal family refused to defend her from the constant abuse, although they defended Kate Middleton even when the level of abuse she receives was of less frequency and intensity. I believe Meghan was seen as 'the other' from the beginning and treated in ways that dehumanized her. She wasn't seen as worthy of protection. People refused to consider that race may be even one factor in the discrimination she was facing. The lack of empathy and compassion was probably also because she was now in one of the richest and most powerful families in the world, being partially funded by the tax payer. The expectation was that the abuse and increased scrutiny was the price she was expected to pay. All sorts of things were said to portray her as a villain in the media, when her only crime was being half Black. The U. K. as a whole will probably take a long time to admit that as they continue to vilify her for stealing Prince Harry (when it was really him who decided to move out of the U. K.). However, what happened to her did cause important conversations to come to the forefront all over the world. I hope that her lawsuit against the British media, regardless of whether it is successful in court, will be a force for change.
When I first saw the video circulating of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd's neck on facebook, my first thought was how is this still able to occur in 2020? After so many incidents like it in the past on recording, you would think that systems would have changed so that this could not happen again. Nevertheless, it happened with 3 other officers present in broad daylight on a busy street in front of numerous witnesses in a first world country. Why? People generally don't do things like this so brazenly unless they think the consequences they will face will be insignificant, or perhaps they think they will get away with it entirely. We have seen this happen before, particularly with White officers and Black civilians. The police have power because of their position in society. Power with an absence of proper checks and accountability lead to the abuse of that power. Targets are typically oppressed groups, particularly minorities, and especially Black people in the United States.
With the rise of cell phones, these incidents are being recorded and the truth being exposed so that perpetrators can be held accountable. Convenient excuses used in the past of officers taking innocent people's lives on the premise of defending themselves against aggressive Black men resisting arrest will no longer hold as the public outcry becomes louder, as society demands change. Change will not happen overnight but little victories add up and change on a micro level leads to change on a macro level. Every generation becomes better than the one that came before it.
Overtly racist comments are rarely made in public discussion but the belief that minorities are more aggressive, particularly when standing up for their rights or bringing up systemic discrimination persist. Mistakes are blown out of proportion. Punishments are harsher. Expectations for achievement are lower. The benefit of the doubt is not given as much and there are fewer second chances. There is not as much room for error because judgements of behaviour are immediate and attributed to inherent flaws rather than external changeable factors. Assumptions are made about profession, class and/or social status.
Sadly, people with White privilege often make decisions about people whose lived reality they know (or care to know) very little about, though they may pay lip service to it. Or they may say they "don't see colour", or one is "playing the race card". Race is not a card to be played, it's a non-changeable factor that causes real disadvantages in many areas of life, as evidenced by research in many social contexts. For example, the fact that there is a significant wage gap between Canadian born and educated minorities, and Canadian born and educated Caucasians despite the children of visible minority immigrant parents going to university at much higher rates than the rest of the population. Refusing to acknowledge race is a way for those with white privilege to ignore systemic inequalities, maintain their power and diffuse their responsibility in considering what factors contribute to discrimination and exclusion from the highest decision making positions. By pretending the issue does not exist, it is easier to maintain the status quo that is already in their favour and avoid any change that could upset the power balance. It is easier to silence dissenting voices by inflicting punishment, to teach others vicariously not to speak up.
This lack of empathy for 'the other' dehumanizes the victim, inhibits one's ability to feel their pain, and as a result causes injustices to be swept under the rug or minimized to as great extent as possible. When someone complains or files a lawsuit about racial discrimination, the judge or person in charge of hearing the complaint is more often someone with White privilege than not. People from this privileged group can at times lack the awareness and humility to truly understand (or to take the time to learn) the subtle nuances of racism and all the ways in which it has historically (through intergenerational trauma) affected and continues to affect racialized people. These people don't take the time to learn because there are no consequences for them for their ignorance. If you make an appeal, the higher and higher you go up the chain of command, almost all the decision makers are people with white privilege.
As one of my favourite authors Najwa Zebian notes, they often would like to believe something is wrong with you then something wrong happened to you. You are written off as a troublemaker when you have the courage to advocate for your rights. I believe that placing of people with White privilege in positions where they have to decide on whether racial discrimination happened, for example in regulatory bodies, organizations, courts and tribunals, has the potential to show a lack of sensitivity towards the complainant and can possibly risk re-traumatizing them in the process.
I believe the only way to fight back against this is to keep speaking up, keep recording through audios and in journals the microaggressions and keep having the courage to bring up these issues publicly despite attempts that those with power and privilege will make to ruin your reputation. Know in your heart that you are not the labels they place on you. The more people who complain about this treatment, the harder it is for the same person or organization to keep treating people badly.
Success is not to be judged just through the outcome. On the other hand, success comes from knowing you used your voice to fight the good fight and you can be proud of yourself for raising awareness and making it easier for the next person who finds themselves in the same situation that you did.
"We don't change the world when we whisper, we change it when we roar"
- Cleo Wade
It's inaccurate to assume you don't have unconscious bias towards stigmatized groups because you have friends from those groups, are married or in a relationship with a person from those groups, that you have been nice to them or that you haven't done anything wrong towards them. The fact is that good people often hold unconscious racial and other types of bias. Holding these biases does not make you a bad person, you just need to recognize that you need to learn more about the nature of these biases and how to reduce them in order to grow as a socially responsible citizen.
Growth comes from learning about different perspectives and experiences; for example watching films, reading stories or listening to audios/ videos from: women, minorities, immigrants, poor and working class, persons with disabilities, LGTBQ, or people with different religious and cultural backgrounds than your own. These stories are being told and it is up to you to seek them out and listen with an open heart and mind. This process of reducing unconscious bias takes time, effort and a sincere willingness to change.
After realizing to what extent the dominant narrative about these groups is shaped by people who are not a member of those groups, you will start to change your beliefs because your assumptions will be challenged.
I watched the entire series of Little Fires Everywhere in just 3 days and highly recommend it for a thought-provoking look into race and class in America and how it shapes the choices available to us. Elena, an upper-middle class White woman, (who was born into wealth and is married to a lawyer, who is also White) tells Mia, a working-class, lesbian, Black woman who is a single mother, estranged from her parents and was recently homeless, "A good mother makes good choices" to which Mia responds, "You didn't make good choices, you had good choices".
While people can be quick to judge the choices of others, very seldom do they adequately consider what factors led to them having to make that choice, or question if it was actually a choice at all? It is easy to blame others and assume you would do better if you were in their situation but since you lack that lived experience, there is no way to know for sure what you would have done. It does cause discomfort to realize that you may have done the exact same thing if you were them and had the same "choices" to make as they did.
The power starts to re-balance when we have a collective shift in attitudes and expectations about different groups in society. Choosing to say something is better than saying nothing at all when it comes to speaking about injustice. We need people with privilege to advocate on the behalf of those who don't have it.
When you change your beliefs towards and expectations of people, the way you unconsciously act towards them will change because you will develop more empathy and be less likely to view them as 'the other'. This is making the unconscious conscious so that longstanding behavioural patterns change and we as a society progress in the right direction. I think that's something you can find peace in.
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