In the days after the mass shooting of people in Buffalo, New York State I wrote something similar to the below to reflect on the two years since the murder of George Floyd, for the RIBA.
When we ask what has changed societally in the two years since the murder of George Floyd, it’s difficult to find a good answer.
How can we find a message of hope?
Optimism may seem naïve. Progress, impossible. Change, utopian.
To find hope, then, we have no choice – we, as individuals, must look in the mirror. We must ask ourselves, in the last two years, especially, if you’re white, or socialised as white – what have I changed about me?
Introspection is hard but is most useful when it involves taking on feedback from the lived experiences of those around you about your behaviours.
Dealing with racism is something racialised people have to deal with every day. Some days, we brush it off and take little notice, but on another days, those same actions can feel like you’ve been whacked across the face with a bag of bricks. Sometimes it’s something small, like an ill-thought through comment; sometimes it’s something big, like being denied an opportunity.
Individual actions are key to driving change. So what can you do?
Many who have heard me speak will be familiar with the statistic from Professor Timothy Wilson’s book Stranger to Ourselves, Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious – that we process 11 million pieces of information at any given moment (if we have access to all five of our senses) but have only the conscious capacity to process 40, so the reality of bias, i.e. short-cutting of information and heuristics are a human biological necessity. We are, therefore, all biased, and whilst some biases are good, many can be unhelpful, and these are the ones we need to work to manage.
When you do perceive people with more melanin in their skin than you as “other,” biases are likely activated and may negatively impact your behaviour.
Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is a behavioural framework designed to mitigate that bias.
Being told your actions culminated in a racist impact can be tough; it’s been socialised to be. I encourage you to recognise any defensiveness and discomfort you may feel and then lean into and tackle it, acknowledging that you need to listen to hard truths.
More information on how you can effectively do this was helpfully addressed in the Discomfort and white shame episode of RIBA Radio.
Leaning into discomfort and choosing to consciously do something different is the necessary step to making meaningful change. If you do take this action, you’ll not only grow as a person, but become a better citizen and a better ally for racialised people. For more tools on allyship read this How to be a better ally blog I recently wrote.
We are the hope. It lives in us.
I cleave to the words of Timothy Wilson:
“The “do good, be good” principle is one of the most important lessons psychology has to offer. If you do not like something about yourself… it can be helpful to alter your behaviour in a more positive way…
To fashion a satisfying, functional self-narrative, and to establish a desirable pattern of habitual, non-conscious responses, the best advice is to practice, practice, practice…
Little steps can lead to big changes and all of us have the ability to act more like the person we want to be.”
When it comes to racial bias, who do you really want to be?
I, often, say to myself, “Whatever I believe becomes my reality”, so, I ask you to remind yourself of this too; to have hope, you must create it.
I leave you with a plea:
Believe in change, however ready, or not, you feel.
Act to make it happen, however comfortable, or not, you are.
And be actively conscious, always, that when you change your world, you change the world.