BE THE CHANGE
Step by step ways to create the kind of world we want to live in...
What's this all about?
I'm the founder of Inside the Travel Lab and I live in the UK.
Like so many of us, the murder of George Floyd by police in broad daylight in the Land of the Free chilled my soul.
This page collects the weekly segments on "Be the Change" that we've run in our newsletter since. It's a work in progress.
But then again, isn't it all?
We have readers from all around the world, with different racial identities. If I make mistakes, please flag them up. I'll then do the work to set things right.
Last week, I wrote about hope. About living in a world where "the rule makers act with integrity, the enforcers protect us, and one where we can live, love and laugh with friends and strangers again."
This last week has not exactly brought that dream to life. The events of the last week have, once again, put inequality and injustice under the spotlight.
I know that you signed up to this email newsletter for creative writing and photography tips. And I, sadly, have read comments from people saying that they don't think that the Black Lives Matter movement has anything to do with that.
I disagree. I know that terrible events happen across the globe and am aware of the charge of hypocrisy for not highlighting the maternity massacres in Pakistan or the hundreds of other terrible situations that unfold with depressing and enraging regularity across the world - and at home. I know that I'm not perfect.
But this is in America, the most powerful nation on earth. And Black Lives Matter.
How did we get to this? Where one of the leading causes of death for young Black men in the US is at the hands of the police? In 2020?!
It's not a rhetorical question. It is a real one.
And nor is it a US only problem. The insidious, ugly tentacles of racism creep through all societies and all countries.
This all seems so obvious that it doesn't need to be said. So obvious that I'm worrying that I'm going to sound patronising by writing this. Like I'm jumping on a bandwagon.
But from what we can see of our systems and our institutions, and if we look closely, perhaps even ourselves, it needs to be said and it needs to be done.
BLACK LIVES MATTER.
We don't all have a level playing field. We haven't moved past racism. We're not doing as well as we may like to think.
So, what now? What do you do when you don't know what to do?
1) Read, listen and learn.
3) Soul search.
4) Speak out.
5) Rest. Remember to take care of yourself.
6) Rinse and repeat.
All Lives Matter
And tempted to say All Lives Matter? Of course they do. It doesn't mean ONLY Black Lives Matter.⠀
For example. You sit down at a table with friends for dinner. Everyone has food except Bob. So someone says "Bob needs food." ⠀
Someone replies "Everyone needs food."⠀
Well, that's true. But not relevant right now. Worse, it diverts the conversation towards the philosophy of food instead of MAKING SURE BOB HAS DINNER LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. Which is not, frankly, a lot to ask for.⠀
Racism hasn't gone away. But some of the ideas around it have. If, like me, you grew up being taught that treating everyone the same way was the morally right thing to do, the situation has changed. Although the idea may have had good intentions, it didn't bring about good results.
Simply put, if you train yourself not to notice race, you won't notice racism. And we need to notice all the subtle parts, not just the visible violence. For example, we need to notice that the majority of speakers at conferences, CEOs in the news, heroes in children's stories, judges, lawyers and politicians - are white. Often, exclusively so.
Racism is not just about the nasty bogeyman with the swastika flags. Study after study reveals that we all carry bias, whether we want to or not. And some of those biases have been turned into powerfully oppressive systems that perpetuate gross injustice. Often deliberately.
So, this week's project is to actively take a look at the racial make up of the people in charge of the stories, businesses and institutions you use. Whose voices are you listening to? Which perspectives do you hear? Is it time to add more diversity? If this is the first time you've done it, this could take some time. Progress not perfection is the name of the game.
Next week, we'll talk about what to do next.
Check out the fantastic instagram account from @glographics for a visual look at some of these ideas.
Juneteenth & Toys
Last week, we talked about taking an active look at the people in your world - at work, at home, in books and in movies.
After a closer look, are things not quite as diverse as you would have hoped?
Make a shortlist of areas you can easily change first. The books you read, movies you watch and toys you buy for children.
Next week, we'll talk about what to do next.
Check out the gorgeous instagram account from Francesca on @onegrloneworld and her inspiring description about Juneteenth.
This week, let's talk about Pride. Every June is Pride Month, a combination of celebration and activism around the world. No, wait. Of course, that's not quite true. Several countries still carry the death penalty for same sex relationships and basic legal rights are still being fought over in the UK and US, for example.
So, as well as looking at race when we look at the world bubbles we live and work in, we need to look at other ways the system tries to keep people down.
PS - since we're on lockdown still, here's a Netflix list of things to watch for Pride.
Books on Anti-Racism
This week, let's talk about two books that are currently in the headlines:
- Why I'm no longer talking to white people about race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
Both make very interesting reading and both explore the concepts of institutional and systemic racism, reframing words and terms with plenty of examples along the way. Sometimes, the examples trip things up as they're very country-specific. In brief, White Fragility looks through a US lens, Why I'm no longer talking takes a British view.
The biggest take home for me, though, from both books was the idea of racial stamina. Followed quickly by the idea that most white people don't have it. The discomfort of talking about racism makes people argue or withdraw rather than engage and listen.
So that's one simple step I can take right there. Stay and listen, even when (especially when?) it feels uncomfortable. Stamina, after all, can be built up.
How to respond on social media
Have you ever wondered what is the right and wrong thing to say?
While the world will never agree on everything, here's a fantastic guide to commenting and responding when people share their trauma with you. It's written by Glo of @GloGraphics and is presented in a beautiful, easy to read format.
The Race Pay gap
Last week, we talked about how to avoid making things worse with well-meaning comments.
This week, let's talk about something that I learned about at medical school but which is, sadly, still very real.
The gender pay gap has been in the news over the last few years, but of course that's not the only gap in town. There's a race gap, too.
In the US, according to NationalPartnership.org, "among women who hold full-time, year-round jobs in the United States, Black women are typically paid 62 cents, Native American women 57 cents and Latinas just 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men."
The UK has a different order but the same idea that, somehow, even when other factors are taken into account, people earn different amounts by race.
So what can we do?
Well, we can start to talk more openly about our own pay, for a start. That doesn't necessarily mean broadcasting it on Twitter. But it does mean being more open with colleagues. We can talk to our bosses about whether or not they feel this is an issue. And if we are the boss, we can talk to ourselves.
Is it an issue? If it is, what are we going to do about it?
The Jim Crow Era
Chances are, if you're not from the United States, you may have heard the phrase but may not exactly know what it means. I didn't, for sure.
Well, time to clear that up.
First of all, unlike Joe McCarthy of the McCarthy era, Jim Crow was not a politician.
Jim Crow was a blackface theatre act developed by Thomas D. Rice in the 1830s that depicted Jim Crow as lazy, untrustworthy, stupid and unworthy.
Although slavery officially ended in 1865 in the United States, a further 100 years would pass until the Civil Rights Act arrived in 1964 to make segregation illegal.
In the meantime, a collection of state and local statutes were passed in different parts of the US, bringing in different levels of segregation in schools, buses, beaches, hospitals, jails, entrances to buildings, property ownership and more. Voter rights were restricted and interracial relationships prohibited.
So, the Jim Crow Laws and the Jim Crow era were not one defined event, but instead describe a range of measures designed to keep Black citizens in a form of indentured servitude.
This is obviously a condensed version. To read more, try the Jim Crow Museum.
So. Where does that leave us now and what actionable steps can we take?
Well, if you didn't know about it, it's good to read more. The phrase is used so much that it pays to know what it means! Perhaps make a list of phrases you hear in the news and look up what they are talking about when you have a spare five minutes.
If you did know about it, have some compassion. Remember that no-one can know the history of the whole world and that you don't either. If people look befuddled when you talk about it, either tell them, use the words "official discrimination era" or (depending on context, we're talking good faith here) advise they look it up.
Any more ideas? As always, I'm here to listen.
PS - this week's segment focused on the US. But that does not mean that I think that only the US has race-related issues nor historical wrongs to right. Absolutely not. It's such a big, entangled problem across the world that we have to take things step by step.
Dear White People
Last week, we talked about the Jim Crow era.
This week, let's take a look at the Netflix show Dear White People.
This is a TV series that was doing the rounds on the lists of recommended shows earlier this year and I've now caught up with the first two seasons. Unlike most of the other suggestions on those lists, this is less documentary or heavy drama and more, well, lusty comedy while making some serious points.
It follows the lives of Black students at a fictional Winchester University in America - and it helps to fill in a lot of the gaps if you're not from the US to begin with.
While racism is a problem worldwide, a lot of the language of the recent protests is American and assumes a certain cultural familiarity with how things work (and how they don't) in America. Turns out, so many things are different between even the US and UK, from constitutional complexities and gun laws to Halloween parties and sports scholarships, that it can be difficult to follow along. Dear White People helps to make it easier, while also leaving some key questions hanging in the air for you to answer.
Stories for Children
This week, let's take a look at children's stories. How many of them feature white boys as the hero? Even in Paw Patrol, which is a kids' cartoon about dogs, the guy who saves the day is, well, a guy and white at that. The girl stays at home and makes the puppies look nice. And while the mayor of the town is a woman of colour, she is also, quite frankly, a simpering idiot.
Does it matter? Yes and no. I mean, changing this one programme is unlikely to change the world. But as we've been saying, sometimes it's the little things that build into big things.
It's important for all children to see different people as the hero and to experience different points of view.
This is certainly an area where I realise I could up my game. We do have a range of stories for baby Lab, but nowhere near enough. So, while I can't recommend all of the 50 Children's Books That Celebrate Diversity curated by The Everymom, I will say that Julian is a Mermaid is one of the best I've shared with Rosa. Bonus points if you dress up as a mermaid by the end...
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As well as being an abomination in terms of disease and free movement, 2020 is also the 400 year anniversary of a pivotal journey in terms of world history.
Four hundred years ago, the Mayflower travelled from the Netherlands to the eastern coast of today's Massachusetts. The pilgrims arrived weak and emaciated and founded a settlement that would go on to become the most powerful nation in the world.
It's a powerful story. But it's not the whole story.
For of course, many people had already "settled" in Massachusetts. The Wampanoag people already lived there.
And it wasn't until I posted a photo from Massachusetts on instagram that I realised just how unevenly the story is told, even today, even in America.
Happily, things are starting to change. I interviewed the woman in charge of the anniversary events. She explained how they had three strands running through the year: the European pilgrims and their ancestors, the Wampanoag story and their ancestors - and the story of recent refugees and how migrants and refugees have contributed to modern day America. In a similar way to the events marking 200 years of the founding of Singapore, they wanted to focus on commemoration and understanding, not celebration or glorification.
Also, if you're ever in the Plymouth area, do check out the Plimouth Plantation. It's a huge, open-air museum that tries to faithfully show life for all the people involved at the time, the Europeans and the Wampanoag.
Talking About the Slave Trade
I think we can all agree that slavery was wrong. That should be an easy enough starting point. It was wrong when it was used to build the Pyramids in ancient Egypt. And it was wrong when it was used to build the Acropolis.
But it's probably more useful to look at more recent examples. Such as the enormous trans-Atlantic trade that took place for centuries between Europe, Africa and the Americas.
But even that is wrong, wrong, wrong. The language is wrong.
The slave trade. Slaves were used. That's how I read about it in text books and, for years, that's how I wrote about it.
It was the Whitney Foundation in Louisiana that pointed out how serious a mistake that was. The slave trade seems so much more palatable when written like that, as though it was an inevitable accident of history, like volcano eruptions and floods.
The Whitney Foundation in Louisiana doesn't talk about it like that. This is a plantation where the history of the place is told through the eyes and the language of the people who lived there. Where historians painstakingly search for the names of the people who were captured or birthed into a system so horrific, it seems impossible that it ended only a few short generations ago. There is a memorial wall with fragments of names. A cemetery for the infants torn from their mothers, having been "bred" as "stock" by "forced breeding" with the full blessing of the law in a place that imagined itself to be the land of the free.
And that's not the half of it. Nowhere near.
Slavery in its ancient, previous and current day forms is too big a topic to digest in a single email or to be resolved on a single day.
But we can at least take the step in altering our language when we talk about it. Instead of using the word slaves, try enslaved individuals.
See you again next week.
Last week, we talked about the International Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.
This week, I want to talk about a slip up of mine.
What's up, grandma?
So, instagram has a new feature. Bear with me if you hate all things social. It's called Reels and it takes a bit of getting used to.
Someone asked how I was getting on with it. Before I tell you my answer, here are my excuses. I was tired. I had a lot going on. I knew as I typed out my answer, that it wasn't a good one.
"I feel like a grandma at a self service checkout for the first time! And that's doing a disservice to grandmas!"
"Certainly is!" typed back my mother-in-law.
In my tiredness, I'd fallen back on a lazy cliche but it's one that needs to go. Age - and fertility - quite obviously don't equal learning skills with technology.
Ageism, particularly towards women, is real and unpleasant and I want to be no part of it.
So, as "harmless" as jokes like that can seem, they're just another insidious way to keep people down. There's plenty of other things I could have said. And if I was too tired to think, I should have just said nothing.
So how about you? Any "jokes" that could be removed from your vocabulary?
How Racism Doesn't Exist in the UK
We've been talking a lot about the history of race relations in the US and I wanted to check in with a story from the UK this week. Because, as we all know, racism is not just an American problem.
I want to share the story of my friend Imran, with his permission of course. He's one of the kindest, gentlest people I've ever met, although he does look like a bodyguard. I always get the impression he could throw me through a set of double doors in a cartoonesque fashion at any moment.
Anyway, here's his story:
"My Personal Experience of Racism (Overt and Systemic)
Following the #BlackLivesMatter movement, I have had a few debates with some of my so-called Facebook “friends”. One argument that I am presented with is the so-called “fact” that in the UK racism isn’t as bad and that minorities have privilege. As such I thought I would share my personal experiences with my Facebook family. Yes, I am successful and have a great life and career but this is not without overcoming adversity and Racism.
1. My experience of overt racism started as a child. The National Front were very active in the town I grew up in and I was regularly called a paki, a wog, a nigger, a darkie and more by grown men all the time. Whether on my way to school or in the park. Swastikas and NF graffiti were common.
2. As a child I was watching TV in the living room and remember a brick being thrown through the window. It shattered the glass and I was petrified. I heard racist shouting outside. My mum called the police and when they eventually turned up they were not being helpful at all. I remember my mum trying to close the door and the police officer kicked it open which injured my mum’s hand. My mum made a complaint but nothing ever came of it.
3. My very first physical fight at school was with my best friend James, who was white. We used to sit together in lessons and play with each other at playtime. One day James came in to school and said to me that he needed to have a fight with me and I asked why. He said that his dad had said he needed to fight all the pakis and kick them out of our country. So we had a fight. I won. We went back to being friends even though now I knew his family were racist.
4. I grew up in a single parent family and went to a failing school. The school did not have great facilities and it was set to fail its students due to underfunding. Despite this I always did well. My primary school science teacher (a white farmer’s daughter) was my first positive white experience. She gave me confidence that I could go to university and do well.
5. When I was doing my A-levels, I was applying for universities and my teachers were asked to predict my grades for UCAS. The head of the maths department predicted me a B. I had never had a B in my entire academic life. I had always got A’s and topped the class. I asked my other maths teacher and she said I should be predicted an A. When I complained to the head of maths and the headmaster the head of maths said “we had to be realistic”. As such this limited the type of universities I could apply to. Yes, I got an A in the end which I took great pleasure in showing the head of department, but the damage had already been done. By the way, the same head of department predicted A’s for white students who I regularly beat in tests and mock exams.
6. When at university my friend (a Sri Lankan) and I went to apply for the university air squadron. I remember we went to take a test, it was a room of about 25 people. My friend and I were the only non white people in the room. Before the test began the squadron leader said that only British Nationals could apply. My friend put his hand up and said his parents were Sri Lankan but he was British. He was asked to leave. When this happened, I put my hand up and said my father’s parents were Pakistani but my father was dual national. I was asked to leave. I met my friend outside of the building and he said that he wanted to wait for me outside the room but he was told to leave the building. A very embarrassing situation. I enquired about the entry requirements a few months later and I was eligible. I guess I was not wanted. In the end I got a first class degree but I know others who got third class degrees but learned how to fly. Despite my success I felt I had missed out.
7. Whenever there is a terrorist incident, I am subject to people shouting ‘terrorist’, ‘shoe bomber’ or ‘osama’ when on the street, usually from a transit type vehicle.
8. My nieces and sisters have been verbally and physically abused because they choose to wear hijabs. You could put this down to the area they live where racism is very overt but when my sister came to visit me in Bristol she also experienced the same verbal abuse.
9. At work, I have worked hard and been recognised through meritocracy. I do however remember being promoted once and a manager, who was 2 levels above me at the time and not part of the recruitment process, said that I met the “diversity” requirement. I also heard him say that another Asian lady who got promoted at a later date met 2 diversity requirements. Now I am at the same level as him, I will call him out if I hear this nonsense again. I should have called him out then but didn’t have the confidence to rock the boat.
10. Last year (2019) I was called a Paki in Filton by a group of teenagers. I confronted them. I came home and called the police. When the police officers came to speak to me they said I was in the wrong because I approached them.
Just a few examples that have shaped who I am and I have had to overcome in life. So please refrain from telling me that the UK is less racist and I am privileged.
Love to all"
Having worked in A&E/the ER and seen firsthand the results of racist violence, this account surprised me less than it did many of my other friends. But it's still a harrowing read.
Since this segment each week focuses on an action for the week ahead, what can we do?
Well, we can share stories like this. We can listen. And we can believe. We can also realise that racism doesn't just come from thugs in the street but is woven into our institutions and people's life opportunities.
Also, if you have a story you would like to share here in this space, please let me know.
See you again next week,
Last week, we talked about personal experience in the UK. This week, let's talk briefly about language. In particular, the term non-white.
I was chatting with a good friend the other day when this term came up. And I understand the difficulty. Language about race is fraught and frequently changing. What's more, it's different in different places in the world. That's what happens with language, whether we're talking about chips vs crisps vs fries or far more serious subjects.
But since we're all here trying to do the right thing, I'm going to assume that no-one reading this means to use any racial slurs or cause harm.
So what's wrong with non-white? Doesn't that feel a safer option?
Well, it has its own problems. It's very white-centric, heading back towards the idea that white people are the default, race-free option and that "everyone else" has a racial identity. It's also not all that helpful. White people are the minority in the world, so who are we talking about when using the word "non-white?" Perhaps more importantly, why are we talking this way? Does skin colour come into it? Or would the point be better made by, well, making the point.
This section is supposed to focus on actionable tips. In such an ever-evolving world, what can we actually do? I'm no expert, but here's a condensed version of suggestions from those with more experience than me.
Pause before using the term. Try to be more specific instead. If you mean Black, say Black. If you mean Syrian refugees, say Syrian refugees. If, however, during your pause, you realise that you don't need to talk about race then perhaps pause a little bit longer. And reflect on why you ended up there.
See you again next week, Abi
The Asian Booklist
A few weeks ago, I interviewed the incredible Kia Abdullah, author of Take it Back and the recently released Truth Be Told. During the interview, she highlighted how prejudices run through the publishing industry and how little information is gathered to help deconstruct any problems.
From my own experience, I know that when I was offered a book deal a few years ago, it was on the understanding that it would be published under a white, American, male sounding name. Not my own. I turned it down and still have very mixed feelings about that.
So, when I realised that Kia also runs the Asian Booklist, a newsletter aimed at cheering on Asian writers in the UK by showcasing their work, I signed up in an instant.
The books cover all sorts. Children's illustrated books, thrillers, poignant political analysis. It's not all heavy, but it's there if you want it to be.
So that's this week's easy action step. Sign up to the Asian booklist. And let's take steps to make sure that all creatives and authors are valued for their work, not their name.
See you again next week.