Books

Nova Reid: 'Being anti-racist is confronting and will feel uncomfortable'

Nova Reid lays out her anticipated new book, 'The Good Ally,' an anti-racist guide for bystanders to become change-makers.

Credit: RO Photographs

I wrote The Good Ally to help people truly understand racism beyond an overt act of hate. Beyond semantics and victim blaming, to take responsibility so we can instead focus our efforts on seeking out the truth. Then we can finally start to address racism, rather than continue to inflict harm on one another and reproduce it. The trouble is, seeking out the truth can be painful and Britain’s global and firm role in racism is pretty ugly. So being anti-racist IS confronting and WILL feel uncomfortable. There’s no avoiding it.

Racism is built on so many lies that in order for us to be anti-racist, we absolutely have to start being honest with ourselves and one another. That means choosing to take responsibility for our own complicity and claiming all of our collective history, not just the parts that are sanitised to make us feel good.

For centuries, racism was a cultural norm. In fact, it was firmly embedded in English law. As such we have been taught to uphold and maintain destructive systems of oppression as the default, without question. We’ve been conditioned to go along with that powerful current because it’s easier than swimming in the opposite direction or, worse still, drowning.

To be truly anti-racist, to be able to withstand and do this work without experiencing regular burnout, you will need to be self-aware and embed and prioritise self-care (which is why I wrote a chapter about this in my book). I would not be able to do this work without it. You also have to be honest with yourself about whether you currently have the emotional and psychological capacity to engage, only you can be responsible for that.

Anti-racism work is about unlearning discrimination that has been normalised; consciously and continuously disrupting the status quo, in society, in work, in others and ultimately in yourself. That WILL feel uncomfortable. It may even feel discombobulating; you are going to feel guilt and, most probably, shame.

So when it feels tough, when you want to stop, that is when you should slow it down and turn up the curiosity dial, to lean in a little closer and lean into the truth about what is really making you want to disengage. Disengaging from tough conversations is easy, staying with the discomfort is where we build resilience and where we are most likely to make important breakthroughs.

Fear, no doubt, may be a powerful force keeping you stagnant because you have learned to centre your own feelings ahead of speaking up on issues that matter, and perhaps not even noticing the injustice to begin with. You have learned to prioritise your comfort over courage. Would you say you have struggled to be a ‘good ally’ in the past or even now, through fear of causing offence, saying the wrong thing or not feeling like it’s your place to say anything? When this happens it subconsciously means you place your fear of causing offence as being more important than helping. And you inadvertently end up not actually helping.

You’ll probably want to curl your toes. A lot. Laugh, cry, shout and scream. You’ll feel joy, at times despair, but beyond that, is hope. The truth is, the more you do this work, the more you’ll know what to do. The more you do this work, the easier it will be to know what to say. The more you do this work, the clearer it will be and the more glaringly obvious instances of systemic racism will become. The more you do this work, the more clarity you will have. It will be like seeing the world with a new pair of glasses, but the difference is, instead of feeling helpless, by the end of our journey together you will know exactly how to help role-model change, because once you start, you just can’t unsee it, you can’t go back.

Being anti-racist is ultimately about evolution. It’s about putting an end to this cycle that continues to dehumanise people. To have the courage to not only confront the status quo but turn it inside out. It’s about being able to tolerate your fears of being hated whilst simultaneously wanting to belong. Being a better human isn’t about getting it right, or never experiencing vulnerability or fear, it’s about learning to be present with fear, getting it wrong and doing it anyway.

It’s about holding yourself and others – brands, institutions, government and most importantly, people you love – accountable for their racism. As Angela Davis once said: “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world and you have to do it all the time.”

If you are truly anti-racist, you become the work. You will get it wrong, you will have inevitable hidden spots when you thought you knew better and it might smart a little and knock your confidence but bounce back, de-centre, shake it off and get back to work. Interrupting racism, or anything that is perceived to be subversive takes an extraordinary amount of courage. And so does curiosity. Because what would happen if we approached things that challenge us with curiosity instead of disengagement, blame and defensiveness?

Be courageous. I dare you. 

The Good Ally by Nova Reid is out now, published by HQ

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