• Sophie Smith

It's time for change

Updated: Jun 17

Dear white friends

I have been slow to respond to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. You see, I thought I was woke. I have diverse books for my kids, I chose a very progressive school where my kids will be exposed to all sorts of colours and languages and cultures, and I am deeply aware of my privilege and working to use it to help others. It’s easy to feel self satisfied and smug when you feel like you are ticking the boxes, to feel like you have arrived in the “not-a-racist” team.

I have been so challenged in the last two weeks and these have been some of my realisations:

  • There aren’t two teams - It's not Racist (baddie) or Not Racist (good guy). As a white person, we are intrinsically racist and need to be constantly working to be anti-racist - to uproot racist bias, thoughts and actions. It's a journey that we need to keep travelling, actively and continuously - not one team or the other.

  • Racism is evil, but we are not. Like any negative emotion or habit, the healthy thing to do is to acknowledge the racism or racial bias with curiosity and love for ourselves, but seek to change. Don’t let the shame prevent you from taking action. We also need to recognise that as much as the racism is our personal bias, it is also deeply systemic.

  • We must change this! This problem is not something that we just empathise with black people about. It’s something that will only change when we, as a white people, start changing and teaching our children to change. It’s not ok to just teach them inclusivity - we need to be actively anti-racist and teach them to be anti-racist allies too.

  • Black dolls and black literary characters are not enough - we need to be authentically connecting with people of colour in order to be fully open to their stories and experiences. It’s the real life stories of brave women I know that have changed my heart and will continue to do so. And it's their stories that we need to amplify.

  • I need to be open to learning - especially if a person of colour says that something is racist or offensive. We don’t get to define racism. We also don't get to say "But not all white people..."

What can we do?

If you shared a black square on your Instagram feed, or a trendy graphic showing multi racial hands, and claimed to get behind this movement, then how are you making this happen? Today, tomorrow, and into the future. This is NOT a week long trend, this is a call to CHANGE! Change your way of thinking and doing, change the future of our world. These are some of the things we can do in response to the #BLM movement;

1. Put your money where your mouth is: Are you paying your nanny or your gardener enough. Not just the minimum wage, but enough, a living wage? Did you ever consider that they may have higher life ambitions, and perhaps you could help them get there?

Support black businesses and artists. Find organisations you believe in and can get behind and support them financially. Preferably one founded, and led by people of colour, with a sound development philosophy. Feel free to chat to me more about this, it’s a post for another time.

An example of this is the amazing Molo Mahlaba school in Khayalitsha, which is committed to the education of black girls, especially at this time as they support the girls through the COVID19 pandemic. If you had a good education, you will know that it sets you up for life. Many black South African children will never have access to quality education, continuing the cycle of poverty and injustice that is the legacy of Apartheid. It's time to break the cycle.

2. Use your influence for good: If you are an influencer, consider that there are more important issues to influence people on than what toaster to buy or how to decorate your child’s nursery. This is a crucial time in history and you have a voice. I get it - this is how you make your money, but at least donate some of the profits or start a charitable foundation, or elevate some black voices and stories. How about shifting the power dynamics and choosing to collaborate with a black artist or business owner to really boost their business, rather than just giving a shout out?

There are thousands of people with their eyes on you every day - when you tell them to buy collagen powder or a protein shake, they listen. How about influencing them to make the world a better place?

3. Learn an African Language: If you live in South Africa, learning an African language is the least we can do to show respect and appreciation for the various cultural, racial and ethnic groups in our beautifully diverse country. There are many resources available, I can recommend Xhosa Fundis, and Ubuntu Bridge for courses and materials.

4. Listen to more black voices: Follow more people of colour on social media, influencers, businesses and creatives, and not just "follow" them, but turn on post notifications so that you see their content in your feed and can engage (and learn).

Find accounts like those of Rachel Cargle who are committed to sharing, educating and explaining how we can amplify black voices and become better anti-racist allies.

If you can, read more books that amplify black voices and explain more about whiteness, racism and what we can do.

5. Talk to your kids & set the example: Buy some books that don’t just feature black characters, but actively discuss black hair and skin, that celebrate diversity and that condemn racism. Make sure that the characters they see on TV our diverse.

Be aware that your children are watching you and learning from you constantly. How do you respond to racism, do you have diverse friends, do you discuss the historical reasons for poverty and inequality? Have the difficult conversations, the ones that make you, and possibly your kids, feel uncomfortable

Our kids are the future and it’s up to us to raise them as anti-racist allies. .

6. Count the cost: If you are a brand, make sure you feature a diverse and inclusive range of faces/families on your feed. We are a multi-racial country- your business profile should be reflective of that. As a photographer, I will continue to prioritise family shoots with families and mothers of colour, because I want a diverse portfolio that reflects the country we live in.

I’m sure there are plenty of other things we can do, and if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them and add them to this blog. Remember that it’s up to us, as white people, to do the work and create the change. We can do this. We have to do this. Enough is enough.

Having said that, if you ever need a SAFE place to ask questions, and learn more, please drop me a DM or an email any time.

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© 2019 Sophie Smith