I had a conversation with a stranger on Facebook a couple of days ago, which is not something I tend to delve into, due to anonymity causing individuals to act in ways they wouldn't in person. The conversations I see online between people with polarised views often seem to result in intense animosity, cruel words, and a hell of a lot of name calling. It is something I would usually avoid, but for some reason I decided to engage with a stranger online on Saturday afternoon. I was filled with palpable anxiety awaiting the response to my reply and assumed I would be met with an army of people telling me I was wrong and a snowflake. But I was pleasantly surprised by the response and found myself having a constructive conversation in which, I hope, we both learned something. I wanted to share it with you as an example of a positive conversation in which both parties spoke respectfully to one another. I have changed the names of the people I don’t know and reworded their responses, but the essence is the same. I've left in the responses from me (Hannah) and my sister (Emily).
SUSIE: We live in Great Britain, a country that is great because of our people, our heritage, our failures and successes. Our country has become multicultural and people using ‘Black Lives Matter’ are starting to take over our Great Britain. GO HOME if you don’t like living here. If you have no respect for our country GO HOME. If you can’t live like us GO HOME. I would always treat people with kindness if they come here to enjoy our society and live respectfully. People who pulled down the statue that represents slavery are criminals. Stop being cowards, be proud of Great Britain.
BRIAN: If they respect our ways and don’t try to change them, anyone is welcome in the UK. Race, religion, colour, all are welcome as long as you don’t abuse the system. A system in place to help ‘us’ respect the law, making us ‘Great Britain’. Don’t come her if you can’t respect what our grandparents have fought for.
EMILY: But people are clearly not welcome here. In fact, they’ve been made to feel so UNwelcome that they’ve resorted to protesting, despite having been born here or having every right to be here for other reasons. Because of the colour of their skin they have been persistently treated unequally. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. People are constantly made to not feel welcome, despite them abiding by the law and treating the country with the utmost respect. If you think that everyone who is respectful of Britain should be welcome here then you should be standing with the people of colour who are fighting for just that. Why aren’t you telling the white people who treat our country with disrespect and abuse the system to ‘go home’? No hard feelings, I just think it’s not as simple as ‘all are welcome, so long as they respect our ways and don’t try to change them’ when the only thing they are trying to change is systemic racism and inequality. If the UK eliminated systemic racism we’d be a far greater Britain.
HANNAH: Emily, I agree with you. How many white people abuse the system? To single out people of colour and tell only them to stick to the rules is, quite simply, a racist thing to say.
SUSIE: I could maybe have worded my status better but I won’t change it as I’ve learnt a lot today and it’s made my tomorrow clearer. Hannah, my post was badly worded and I just assumed everyone would treat people respectfully, whatever their religion or race, because that was how I was brought up to live.
EMILY: It’s true, it should be a given that everyone is treated with respect and dignity in the country you live but unfortunately it is not happening. We are all learning, and it’s good that we are able to have these conversations and learn from one another.
HANNAH: Susie, I understand you might have worded it wrong, and I don’t know you, I’m sure you are a lovely person - we can be nice to one another and disagree ;) – you seem reasonable enough. But people aren’t being treated with respect. My issue with what both you and Brian have said is that, although you might not witness it, people of colour are not treated with the equal amount of respect that white people are. And we don’t all see it because we are the majority, we aren’t surrounded by people of colour so we are often unaware of the systemic and subtle oppression still at work in our society. And we shouldn’t be calling out only people of colour when they break the law, as many white people break the law every day. We must all be accountable for our actions, not penalise those who are British, but have a different skin colour to us. Don’t we want to be known as Great Britain, a great country because of our compassion and acceptance of others? Our willingness to open our hearts and try to make more positive changes so that mistakes aren’t repeated in the future? We can see this as a positive thing, something to help us move forward as human beings.
SUSIE: I agree that if anyone wishes to come to the UK they will be treated respectfully if they act in a respectful way. Isn’t political correctness a big part of this? We should be proud of our race but also proud of who we are, because race would be taken out of the equation if we all treated each other respectfully. Or is it our behaviour that makes people racist? My biggest concern is the violence and innocence that has been happening.
HANNAH: But the violence began with a black man being murdered by a white policeman. Why were you not speaking out about that? Why are you now choosing to speak out about a tiny percentage of people who are being violent? Why did the death of George Floyd not enrage you the way a small amount of non-critical violence has?
I feel I should mention that I am not talking about ‘people coming here’. I am talking about the people who were born here and have lived here their whole lives. Those are often the people who are being affected by subtle racism. They are respectful yet they do not receive the same thing back.
SUSIE: Oh I see. Which area of their lives are most affected and why?
HANNAH: I am not an expert, and I don’t have all the answers, but there are some fantastic books out there that you can read. The bits I do know are, most workplaces are white. For example, a film may have a few actors of colour in them in order to show they are inclusive, but if you go behind the scenes to the producers, makeup artists, composers etc, all those people will be white. In the music industry, white rappers are more successful than black rappers, despite the fact that rap originated in black cultures. It has been appropriated and used to make money for white people. People of colour I know often speak of walking into a shop and being watched, or even asked to prove they paid for the products in their bags. I could go on, there are so many subtleties that we aren’t aware of because they don’t affect us. And no-one is angry with anyone for not being aware, but once a person of colour is telling us, for example with BLM, then we should be listening to their pain. Women were oppressed for years and without the protests by the suffragettes we would still be living in a world where you and I would have no freedom. Yes, the protests are difficult, but change doesn’t happen without a little collateral damage.
SUSIE: These were the points that were raised in my mind:
· George Floyd was a criminal.
· He was committing an offence at the time.
· The policeman might have been afraid.
· It might be a case of two bad eggs.
I am fed only the facts I see in the media, but I know no-one deserves to die like that.
HANNAH: I don’t need to know all those things to know that no-one deserves to die that way. Those things are irrelevant, and the police should not be taking it upon themselves to murder people, innocent or guilty.
You’re bang on the money there, when you say you don’t know all the facts, because none of us do and it’s great that we can put our hands up and say that we don’t have all the answers and are open to learning. The media is a culpable vehicle for propaganda and showing us only the things that will spark emotive responses.
END OF CONVERSATION
Susie liked my last reply and that was the end of the discussion. There are a few interesting things I want to bring up. So often I see people telling other people to ‘educate themselves’. I find this phrase very aggressive. Susie seemed to ask me to educate her once I explained kindly that people of colour are systemically oppressed. I am not trying to educate anyone, but rather open their hearts to the possibility of learning something new. I’m sure Susie still has her own views and prejudices, but I am also very sure that she softened because I was speaking to her with respect and treating her as an equal human being. It is very easy to dehumanise the person we are speaking to when we are not face to face with them, but humans are actually inherently good. Yes, there is evil in the world and often people are misinformed and ignorant, but more often than not they aren’t acting or speaking with malice. Assume the best.
I learned a lot myself from this conversation. I learned that many people have no idea what they’re actually countering. The people I encountered during this discussion appeared to think people were protesting slavery, a thing of the past, and not the injustices that are happening right now in our world. They seemed to have no knowledge of systemic everyday racism. Instead of being angry with individuals who have never been taught about this stuff we ought to be turning that anger onto an education system that fails to teach this stuff in schools. I also learned that many individuals don’t realise that actually people of colour can be born here and be British. They are entirely misinformed, and actually they might be receptive if you speak from a place of love and empathy. Open your heart and watch the person opposing you do the same.