‘How to be a better human’, it would be an excellent name for a handbook, wouldn’t it? Imagine if it were compulsory reading! As the earth spins on through Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, climate change, refugee crises, orange presidents and more, I’ve been questioning how and why being a better human can and indeed must occur for each and every one of us.
I’ve posted links before to encourage those of us brave enough and vulnerable enough to examine our own unconscious biases and become ‘anti-racists’. Racism has been a sensitive issue in my life and deeply changed the life of my forebears who experienced the loss of family members, property and ultimately had to run for their lives. For a long time, I thought that this fact of my family’s history and my ancestors’ experience made me immune to racism. This was entirely naive and untrue.
I truly believed that the tendrils of white supremacy had not touched me. I had not understood that whether we know it or not our education systems, political systems, ‘western’ culture and popular media are all drenched in it. Whether or not we meant it or knew it, we have been taught that white is better, same is better, and that everything and everyone else is far less significant.
Listening to Brené Brown and Austin Channing Brown’s Unlocking Us Podcast interview I was struck by the imperative of being better in our relationships with other humans regardless of differences in race, culture and privilege. A theme came up in this chat, and in other conversations online (like this post on Instagram) around how changing and self-examining and taking responsibility for our own unconscious racism and discrimination is not going to be comfortable, nor nice, nor polite. It is, however, the most loving thing that we as humans can do right now.
In real life, this plays out in a multitude of small comments on social media, more public and impactful statements by our leaders and politicians, right up to the occasionally murderous actions of our law enforcement officers and civilians. I am not referring to the far right side of things here. I’m referring to the mainstream.
So let’s get back to tin tacks.
Can we simply be better humans? Can we allow ourselves to experience some deep discomfort, recognise and even sit with our inappropriate and outdated notions of inequality? Might we then become aware of those notions and possibly even change them? Might we then be able to admit that alongside our ‘decent and nice’ personality sits a bigoted and outdated attitude of intolerance and inequality? Nice and polite don’t mean shit if that’s what’s going on right beneath the surface.
If we can allow ourselves to be called out, and in turn, ourselves call out those attitudes, beliefs and bigoted notions – despite the discomfort and the risks – might they then become a little less ‘accepted’ and a little more obvious? These are the maintenance plan, or the perpetuations, of white supremacy in our society. If you have been at all ‘other’ in your life you likely pick them up more easily than others. They shine out like ugly beacons highlighting the bull we have all been led to accept.
Saying something like ‘us Aussies know that xyz is always xyz’ can be incredibly alienating to any of the large numbers of people from more diverse cultures that populate this great land. Sure be proud of Australia, but don’t act like you have the license. Unless you are Indigenous, you do not. And even then, my understanding is that Country owns people, rather than the other way around. We are custodians, at best. We are not better because of our pride (or ego), we are worse for it. We are dividing the thing we love into pieces that don’t fit together when in fact they do. We are all human here last time I checked.
So how do we be better? Read those books. Do those searches. Ask questions. You’re a grown-up, act like one. Value when a person who you see as different to yourself takes the time to explain to you what that feels like or calls you out on your unconscious biases. I mean like pay them for their time, or thank them properly. It isn’t their job to make you better, It’s yours. Be humble. Say sorry. Learn.
Having a thought or a feeling about this? Comment below so we can talk it through, like grown-ups: with respect and the uncomfortable, not-always-nice- but-very-important-love that we all know we have in us.
Be better, even if it’s hard. I’m double-daring you.