You’d be surprised what you can learn from a person of colour if you actually let them have a voice

Once again it’s time for Piers Morgan to be quiet

Ah yes, Piers Morgan in a heated discussion with one of Good Morning Britain’s guests, the sound of a weekday morning. But what made this particular debate all the more controversial is that it was all about racism, more specifically whether or not all white people are racist.

For a bit of background, Munroe Bergdorf was recently hired by L’Oreal as the first black, transgender model to lead one of their campaigns – a real step forward in increasing the brand’s diversity. Yet she was fired just a few days later, after she spoke out against the recent protests in Charlottesville, comments which were apparently “at odds” with the values of the brand.

This in itself doesn’t seem to make much sense – how can you champion diversity yet claim that speaking out against racism is at odds with your ideals? However, the situation escalated further after Bergdorf’s comments were taken out of context, a whole speech (which has since been deleted by Facebook) on the problem of systematic racism, reduced into a single phrase: “all white people are racist”. This is what led her to appear on breakfast television, bringing with it a chance to explain herself, but instead she was completely shut down, with Morgan telling her that it was no wonder her comments were taken out of context when they were so “inflammatory and offensive”.

If he had taken the time to listen to her instead of taking personal offence to every comment, Piers would have understood what she was trying to tell us – white people are racist if they fail to act to break down structural racism when given the chance, or if they refuse to acknowledge that they have likely benefited from the fact that society is inherently racist. The first part of this is easy, we’re taught from primary school age that being a bystander is just as bad as being a bully, so surely the same applies to racism.

My full statement on the domestic terror attack in #Charlottesville: My heart is with the people of Charlottesville, especially those standing up to hatred, racism, and bigotry. The white supremacist violence on display in Charlottesville this weekend is an affront to everything this country represents. When you give license to open expressions of bigotry against some groups, you open the door to bigotry against all groups of people. Each of us—especially those of us in public office—has a moral obligation to condemn these actions in the strongest of terms. False equivalencies between "sides" simply provide cover to the white supremacists seeking to take our country backwards and tear our communities apart. Our diversity is our greatest strength—and we will not allow anyone to turn that strength against us.

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The second part is a little more difficult, it’s when we start to become defensive and refuse to listen.

“But white people are discriminated against too!”

“Why should I feel bad for what my ancestors did?”

“Being white isn’t a crime!”

Of course it’s not, and if you’d just listen you would realise that nobody has ever said that. And yes, it’s true that white people can be discriminated against for a whole variety of socio-economic and political reasons, race just isn’t one of them. I hate to break it to you, but all of these issues can exist at the same time without one diminishing another, that’s just the society we live in.

Until relatively recently, I thought that because I’ve never said the N word and I occasionally tweet #stopracism, I was doing a good job at being a so-called “ally”. I’m sure many white people have the same attitude, but how can we be doing enough when in the last year alone we’ve seen Neo-Nazis, the election of Donald Trump, Brexit for the sole reason of limiting immigration (for a lot of people) and a significant rise in hate crimes in Britain? Racism obviously isn’t going away as quickly as any of us would like, so what can we do? Well, for starters we can listen to the people who have experienced racism first hand.

The fact is that people of colour just aren’t being given a platform from which to speak. If they aren't being verbally slapped by white newsreaders, they are being denied the chance to reach the highest positions in society from which they could create real change. To give just two examples, only 7.8% of MPs are BME, and just 5.25% of board members of FTSE100 companies. And if you think this is due to discrimination that existed generations ago and will soon be corrected, you’ll be shocked to hear that just fifteen black, male undergraduates were accepted in to Cambridge in 2015, a university which will likely be producing many of the next generation’s politicians and CEOs.

Although we can sympathise on some level, we can’t really understand all of the discrimination that people of colour face unless they can openly share these experiences, and that just isn’t happening because they aren’t being given the chance to speak out without judgement. As a comparison, men have often dismissed the problems faced by women, just as people of colour are dismissed today. Instead of realising that women were only looking for basic equality, they felt threatened by the thought of women having the vote, equal pay and contraceptive rights, so resorted to shutting down the conversation before it had even begun. Just think of how much sooner women could have gained these rights if they had just been willing to listen. Even now it's still illegal in so much of the world for a woman to have an abortion, or even in some places to drive, decide who she wants to marry, and so much more.

I’m tired of hearing about white supremacists and racially charged hate crimes, but I’m starting to understand that the problem goes much deeper than a few individuals who take their views to a violent extreme. I want to understand the structural racism I grew up in ignorance of, so that our generation can help to move things forwards, but this will be so much more difficult if we get defensive and refuse to listen the moment someone tries to draw attention to the issues. If you know that you’ve never actively discriminated against anyone, it should be enough to know that within yourself. Stop making this about “not all white people” and take the time to listen when brilliant minds like Munroe Bergdorf try to speak out.

University of Leeds

The Tab Leeds

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