Why asking questions is vital to stopping everyday racism

With the current situation in America following the murder of George Floyd, I finally got the kick I needed to write the blog I have been thinking about writing for a while. You may be thinking, another blogger jumped on the bandwagon and to a certain extent you’d be right. My planned blog was actually in response to reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, a different form of inequality I know, but events this week have got me thinking more about how the theme applies.

One of my reasons for hesitating about writing any blog around subjects of inequality is the potential for backlash. I know I should be able to stand up and speak but the honest truth is for many of us it is easier to add our voices than to stand out. I will be the first to admit my weakness in this area and how pleased I am there are people better than me, those willing to speak first. 

I also cannot get away from the fact such a horrific murder happened to make me write this and that, in part, this happened because so many of us don’t speak up. The issue with discrimination is that it happens on a daily basis, often unnoticed and unquestioned by those of us who would consider ourselves not to be racist or otherwise discriminatory. It’s these daily events, our unquestioning acceptance of the norm that results in the overt displays of racism and in this case murder committed by someone employed to protect. 

Earlier this year I read Invisible Women, it was unbelievably eye opening – I don’t think I’ve read another book that has changed my view of the world quite like this one did. In this book Caroline talks about data gaps and data bias and the impact of this on women. She explores examples such as cars, technology, medicine and natural disasters with a whole lot more. The book opens our eyes to what happens when data isn’t collected and the position of women isn’t considered. Having read this and had my eyes opened I went on to read Diversify by June Sarpong, a book that explores a wider range of inequality, including race, class, disability and age. Another thought provoking book looking at the world we live in and how it impacts differently on different people. 

The reason I discuss Invisible Women at a time when the focus is very much on race is because it seems to me that if the failure to consider women continues to reinforce the inequality women face. The same must apply to race. It’s very difficult to consider the world from someone else’s perspective unless you hear it from them. Unless we get diversity at the top, whether that be companies or politics, we won’t see true inclusion throughout. 

One of the most hard hitting things for me as a woman reading Invisible Women was being able to identify with the examples given. There were many examples where women’s specific needs are not accounted for – toilets in public places an example that springs to mind. I know about these things. I’ve experienced them, yet they seem so normal along with the criticism women receive when those things impact us. These things are so normal that it’s easy as a woman to not only accept them but to reinforce them and just see them as a normal my daughter must accept. 

Until we start breaking down this “normal”, understanding the impacts, collecting the data and giving a voice to the people it impacts we can’t break down a world in which treating people equally does not bring equality. These are the things we all do even when we don’t consider ourselves to be racist or sexist. 

I was for a period of time a school governor. One of the required agenda items for governors meetings was “racist incidents” – we had to be made aware if there were any within the school. This referred to overt racism, incidents where a child had called names or hate had been expressed, the type of incident no primary school pupil should ever be subjected to. However, we never looked at the impact of decisions on different groups of people, despite it being well documented that educational outcomes correlate with race. Correct me if I am wrong but, despite the correlation, there seems little evidence or even willingness to gather evidence about the cause of that correlation or importantly how to change it. If this is what happens in schools and we know education is crucial to breaking down barriers then what other examples are there? 

I suspect there is another 320 pages that could be written about the data gap and data bias in a world designed for white people. In fact, Caroline touches on race the fact that whilst there is little data on the impact on women there is much less data on the impact on women of colour. 

Many people and companies are putting their name to the anti-racist message. This is no doubt a start but of little use if it is only lip service. 

In an Equality and Diversity workshop I ran not too long ago, one of the delegates argued that it was logical that data is not collected about women and that male is seen as the default. After-all, his argument went on, there are more men than women. (Let’s ignore for a minute that the UK 2011 census reports 51% female to 49% male population, and further ignore the missing figures in this data). The room did not question his assumption that women made up less of the population and therefore of course it made sense to use men as the default. If this argument can be seen as logical and rational when talking about, for all intents and purposes half the population, we can see how race gets ignored. Under this argument why would you ever consider any group that made up less than 50% of the population? 

Only when we stop what we’re doing and listen to diverse voices, understanding the implications of actions and decisions on different people and accounting for those implications, will everyday discrimination and inequality stop. It’s no good just adding your voice and claiming you’re anti-racism. This needs to be accompanied by action, action that looks at the hidden details, action that makes talking about race, sex, gender, class, disability, age, religion the norm. Only when we can stop everyday discrimination will be we be able to stop such horrific examples of racism that quite rightly cause public outcry. 

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