Written by Kate Lee
In response to the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Kate Lee convened a three-part community learning around race and discrimination. Kate shares with us her learnings, and reflects on the on-going process of being actively anti-racist.
2020 has been tough. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, America began a reckoning with racial justice, and the country that we have made our home, either permanently or temporarily, is hurting. My reaction was a personal struggle in the ethical and moral obligations of being an immigrant living in NYC for seven years, and not having voting privileges. And until the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the case of Amy Cooper, I had pointed my finger at America, “this is your racism, your country. It is not my history”. As I start to wake from my slumber, I realize how I have let my immigration status excuse me from being an active citizen, and that this allowed me the moral high ground of Australians are different. I realize now how this way of thinking was an escape from doing the tough, exposing, disorientating and deeply uncomfortable work of taking personal responsibility for racial bias and the larger structurally racist society in which we live.
My first step was to convene the Australian Women in New York’s (AWNY) three-part Community Learning series on Race and Discrimination. Creating this series was a direct response to the racial justice movement sweeping the United States and a call to the AWNY community to engage, understand, and learn more about racial injustice in the U.S., Australia and ourselves.
The series was created from wanting to be a better campaigner for racial justice in the USA, and wanting to be able to stand next to my Black and Brown friends without the shame of not stepping up. And on a separate page, I wanted to list all the ways Australia was different (read: better). Through this community learning, and the readings we did as a group, what I have begun to see is a different picture. Australia is not better. I now see how interconnected our two countries are when it comes to whiteness, race and discrimination, and how important it is to do this work (anti-racism) so that we can see the similarities and differences, pinpoint them, and know how to create change.
For me, racial justice is not a political issue. It is an ethical and moral calling to deeply examine the cultural, political and personal structures in which we and our societies have grown.
I’d like to share some of my learnings and reflections from convening the series. These are just the beginning of my seeing, or grasping, the identity that I hold as a white person (note: the series was for white Australians):
- White supremacy does not belong alone to the bad people who live in the south. It is the cultural, social and political frame in which I live in both America and Australia. Naming this has helped me, as a white person, see that I am inexplicably tied to a racist culture and acknowledge that racism lives in me.
- My bias is ever present and I have to consciously work on it and check myself. This is what it means to be anti-racist.
- We know that the U.S. is an important economic and cultural ally.
- That makes me think that racial justice in America matters (or should matter) to Australians, and that there are learnings that white Australians can take from what is happening here in America.
- All white colonized/colonizer countries profited off slavery from the cotton industry. None of our hands are clean. (See episode 2 of 1619 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/…/23/podcasts/1619-podcast.html).
- When a white Australian says “America and Australia are similar“, I believe they are seeing through the white supremacist lens that dominate the two countries.
- It is hard to be a woman and speak about these topics to other white people because you are expected to be nice, agreeable and gentle. AND, I have that same expectation in myself and of other women, which I am challenging.
The conversations we had in our groups helped me feel more grounded to speak about this difficult topic. And I am learning to sit with my unease and, as a result, able to better hold the unease of others. But I’ve still a long way to go…
Being able to see the ‘sea’ in which we swim isn’t easy. But I believe in the power of community learning to support each other in coming to this difficult work, all of which lay in the hope and aim of making this world a better and more equitable place for all to live.
The below was our reading list. We focused on Aboriginal and African-American writers, and structural racism. There are many resources in which to engage with, and these really only touch the surface. I encourage you to read and begin a conversation. Know that you may be worried you’ll say the wrong thing (and you might say the wrong thing!), but it’s part of the process – and at the end of the day, we are in this together:
- Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Case for Reparations, The Atlantic, 2014
- Aileen Morton-Robinson, The White Possessive: Property, Power, and Indigenous Sovereignty: Chapter 1, 2, 3.
- Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
- Tema Okun, From White Racist to White Anti-Racist: the Life-long Journey
- Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, ChangeWork, 2001.
- Look up the following terms in the dictionary and consider their definitions: implicit prejudice, symbolic racism, and modern racism.
- Look up the history of the implicit association test, a psychological measure that’s aim is to measure how implicitly prejudices a person is. You can take the test here.
I was anxious to attend these events with you Kate, but in knowing that you would hold the space, be open to hear and not be judgmental as to how I was going to be, was enough to allow me to be present and curious as to how I was feeling. I have a sense of trust between us. I felt uneasy as I didn’t quite know how I felt – but I found the courage to speak about issues that I was ashamed of and certainly uncertain about. I had never really spoken about racist issues before, and now, I want to. Following on for your work in this field, I’ve been finding my voice with women who I know have a deep sense of curiosity and a necessity to learn. I want to become self-aware in ways to be considered an anti-racist. I ebb and flow within the spectrum of race, discrimination in the USA and Australia. Sometimes I get it, and other times I completely misunderstand. I have a desire to continue conversations with family and friends, both white and black, to broaden my understanding. And to be open and curious to discuss different aspects and the uncomfortableness that prevails within me around race.
You have opened me up Kate and I thank you SO much for this. I have taken the first step, a baby step. I feel challenged and excited! With gratitude, Susie xo