White people open up about the lessons they learned on racism in 2020


What lessons have you learned this year? (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

Despite the deaths, the brutality, and the environmental tragedies, some good has come from the very sour lemons served to us in 2020.

One of those things is a greater understanding of, or at least an attempt to understand, racism.

In the summer we saw the public take heed of racial injustice in a way we’ve never seen before.

Following the brutal killing of George Floyd, people around the world woke up to the insidiousness of police brutality, institutional racism, and anti-Blackness.

We saw brands offer to do better, celebrities offering their solidarity, and the architecture that celebrated oppressors toppled.

It’s safe to say we’ve all learned a lot.

White people, who may not necessarily have grappled with their own race in the past, have had to come to terms with their own privileges.

Many have learned vital lessons this year that they want to use going forward, so they can be better allies to people of colour.

We spoke to some of these white people, who explained what they’ve learned and how they’ll be incorporating these changes into their lives.

Jack, 28, Cheshire

‘One thing I’ve started to accept is the idea that all white people are racist. Or at least, that all white people benefit from structural racism, and we have to actively fight against it rather than just saying “I’m not racist” and thinking that’s enough.

‘A Black friend of mine says she has a “guilty until proven innocent” view of white people which, honestly, I can’t blame her for.

‘I’ve learned not to be offended by blanket phrases like “white people are trash” etc. Or to view it as racist when POC want spaces without a white presence. I used to have the view that this was racist, but now I totally understand why they would want that, and of course, anti-white racism doesn’t exist.’

Rachel, Manchester

‘Before, I was unaware of things like microaggressions and the correct term to refer to people. This is embarrassing but until this year, I wouldn’t even use the word “Black”.

‘For a white person who is trying not to cause offence, but hasn’t actually learnt from people of colour, there was a lot of confusion around it. So I would say, “You know, the person… in the red jumper…” even when they were the only Black person in the room.

‘It took a friend and colleague to actually say, “It’s okay to say Black” before I would use that word to describe someone (only if it was in context, obviously).

‘I’ve also become more vocal and active on Black inclusion. Previously, I would say “Hmmm… that looks awfully white” and now I will call it out, and say to my groups, “We need to hear from a black person because of XYZ”.

‘I had thought for a long time about Black inclusion but this year made me actually do something about it.

‘I connected with more people of colour. I’m autistic, so it’s hard to communicate, but I was blown away by how receptive and understanding people were. They understood I didn’t just want a Black face in my group or at my event, I wanted Black voices to be heard. Without Black Lives Matter (and a friend telling me that it being uncomfortable wasn’t a reason to duck out of it) I would never have made those approaches.’

Ray, South Dakota

‘I used to be embarrassed to share this, but now I think it’s imperative that I do. I’ve been dating a Black man for over four years. I used to minimise and even deny the severity of racism he faced. I am from the Midwest and I always would say, “well yeah, racist things happen but not here or at least not to the severity of what happens other places”.

‘Then the George Floyd murder happened four hours away from where I live. It was so close to home. I just imagined my boyfriend and how that could have been him. And it all started clicking for me. I started listening to more Black stories and not just listening but actively trying to understand. I started reading books to help me identify my own racism and I started educating myself on black history.

‘I started recognising the way I denied things and the way I didn’t take my boyfriend’s reality seriously enough. I started to identify my tendency to take on my family’s political beliefs without really questioning them.

‘I’ve had to start reevaluating relationships I have with people. I’ve identified the ones who truly want to understand but just aren’t there yet and so I try to be a source of education to them (as does my boyfriend).

‘There are some things I can’t tolerate anymore. Denying the reality of my significant other is one of them.

‘I’m still learning and working to identify the parts of myself that don’t align completely with anti-racism so I can be the best person for my future husband, our children, and other Black people. As I said, it’s not fun to admit I once was that person, but I think it’s important for people to hear that people can change.’

Blair, Massachusettes

‘You aren’t an anti-racist ally because you want to be. You are an anti-racist ally when you have put in the work to build trust and be named as such by the BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of colour) community.

‘All the anti-racist reading in the world won’t turn you into an ally on its own.’

Rachel, Ohio

‘This year has opened my eyes to more of the casual racism that is everywhere. I’m trying to be vigilant about recognising and correcting it in front of my children.

‘An example I came across this year is a book called “The Color Kittens” that we began reading with my three-year-old and it quickly became a favourite of hers. It took a couple of reads for me to recognise that on the page about “pink” they say pink is like “a baby’s nose”. I’m not sure that would have sounded an alarm for me before this year, but this time it did.

‘So I talked to my husband and we agreed that we would stop to say that babies have noses of all shades – black, brown, white, pink. We both did this every time she asked to read it. Now my three-year-old knows that’s part of the story, and she’ll interject with it. I’m hopeful that these small corrections will help shape their point of view to be less white-centric.’

Hayley, Pennsylvania

‘It’s our job to do the work and inform ourselves. Books, blogs, videos; it’s all available for consumption. All that, plus action is needed.

‘It’s not enough to be informed. It’s not enough to not be racist. I have to be anti-racist.

‘I have to give myself some grace. I’m learning but I also need to humble myself and accept criticism or critique.

‘Change isn’t supposed to be comfortable. Activism is active. Just because I have a small sphere of influence doesn’t mean I shouldn’t influence it. I can make changes in how I’m raising my sons and the conversations we have. I have a chance to help mold the next generation.

‘That is my job to do. It starts in my home.’

Laura, Nottingham

‘Anti-racism is not something you can achieve and understand but something that you constantly keep challenging yourself on and try to learn more, and be an ally in better ways.

‘I’ve learned to be more confident in challenging things that aren’t right even it causes a scene or you lose people.’

Bethany, London

‘I think the main thing I learned is the importance of platforming Black voices. Learning is good, understanding is good, but anti-racism will never work if white people are at the forefront.

‘If you have any platform at all, instead of using it to big yourself up, you should use it to make sure Black voices are heard. That’s also true in discussing anti-racism, it should be highlighting the work of Black people rather than your own.’

Saul, Minnesota

‘It’s pretty common for white people to see ourselves as experts on a subject, and not to recognise that we have a lot to learn. So a starting place is to catch yourself when you’re starting to move into that mode, and just be quiet and listen.’

Hannah, Montreal

‘This year I began to understand the “act” in activism a lot more. I was content with the self-reflection and personal education I’d undertaken, and the awkward conversations I’d had with people I cared about.

‘But I was too comfortable, and in 2020 I’ve learned that it simply isn’t enough. Knowledge is not a proxy for action.

‘Having lived in Australia and Canada, I have been actively learning more about the intersections of racism and colonialism on indigenous communities.

‘One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year has been about decolonising my own ego. On reading a First Nations activist who tweeted something along the lines of “stop saying ‘our’ indigenous brothers and sisters, you don’t own us”.

‘I have been reflecting a lot more on how I can use my privilege and platform to amplify and support others, and how I can play an active role as an ally without centering myself or my white woman’s tears.’

Beth, London

‘This year I’ve realised that being a white woman from a privileged background means I’m automatically in a good starting position for life. I knew it in the back of my head but it’s only recently through the anti-racism work that I’ve truly realised how lucky I am and therefore how much I’ve been unaware of.

‘The most important thing is I’ve tried to get over that guilt because it doesn’t help anyone me feeling bad about being white.

‘A big lesson, is to never, ever assume someone isn’t British, thankfully I didn’t really actively do it before so I didn’t learn through being unintentionally racist but through reading and other resources, I am acutely aware of the assumption that can be so hurtful. Another thing I’ve learned is that it isn’t taboo to talk about race, provided you do it in a respectful way.

‘Perhaps the best lesson I’ve learned is that, like anything else, nobody is expected to know everything and as long as I’m trying to educate myself and become more aware of my white privilege and in turn the experiences of other people, then i’m doing the right thing.

‘There’s not a limit to understanding race and the racist culture in our society so I just need to keep going.’

Do you have a story you want to share?

Email metrolifestyleteam@metro.co.uk to tell us more.


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