During today’s ongoing worldwide anti-racist demonstrations, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was toppled and unceremoniously dumped in the harbour. You can see the BBC News report of the demonstrations here.
For now though, let’s park our thoughts about the rights and wrongs of tearing down a statue, and simply seek to empathise with how black people would have felt walking past Edward Colston every day. In this highly-charged atmosphere, with the added tensions of coronavirus, we need to keep our focus on the deep issues of racism and white privilege. Let’s discuss these issues respectfully and communicate with grace.
Knowing the history of Bristol, I personally feel that the statue should have been taken down officially and (possibly) placed in a museum long ago. Such an official act could have acknowledged the hurt of the past and brought people together. It could have been a profound moment of repentance, redemption, reconciliation and renewal. Sadly, that moment has been lost.
In these difficult and challenging times we need visionary leaders in all countries and at all levels, unfortunately they currently they seem to be few and far between.
Note: I attended a Yes concert in Colston Hall in the 1970s. They played Tales from Topographic Oceans in full before the album was released in 1973.
I guess we all have an understanding of racism, namely the belief that one’s own race is superior to others. A document (recently published by The Salvation Army) says: Racism can be subtle and embedded, even though people avoid using direct racist terminology. Racism can also be overt, systematic and cruel, as epitomised by the slave trade, the Holocaust, apartheid, the caste system and the treatment of indigenous people. It also puts us all on our guard by saying: Racial prejudice is present in us all to some degree and must be rigorously countered.
Occasionally, you hear white people say they haven’t experienced racism, but that’s a little like saying hunger doesn’t exist because you had a large breakfast this morning.
This brings us neatly to the concept of white privilege, something that’s less well understood. It’s been defined as follows: White privilege (or white skin privilege) is the societal privilege that benefits people whom society identifies as white in some countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.
White privilege does NOT mean you’re racist.
White privilege does NOT mean your life has been easy.
White privilege does NOT mean you don’t face struggles too.
White privilege simply means your life isn’t made harder by your skin colour.
It’s as simple as that. Every one of us has a responsibility to empathise with everyone we come into contact, and with different groups within society, to learn to live in other people’s shoes on the journey of life.
Note: As a white person, who obviously hasn’t experienced this type of discrimination, I hope my thoughts are helpful. I offer them in humility, and with a willingness to learn.