“Privilege is not about what you’ve gone through, but what you haven’t had to go through” – Janaya Khan.
So here it is, here I am, doing absolutely not enough but something. Holding myself accountable. Making sure I won’t do what I always do – get all hyped up on the injustice of the moment, sign the thing, donate the money, do the social media stuff and then…?
And then what exactly do you do, Holly? Do you change your lifestyle, boycott brands, call out friends or family even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it’s ridiculed? Do you toil silently, relentlessly, send letters, Tweets to the powers that be, use your networks and platforms to agitate for something, share your privilege and access with a voice that has more to say?
Or do you relax a little? Nothing so grandiose as a pat on the back but do you succumb to a definite feeling of gratification, a small synapse of smugness in knowing I have taken action, I have done something; I am not a bad person?
Ahh, there we have it. The thing we are all so desperate to prove: that I am good.
I am not the person in a history book. Not the person – A person. One of the nameless, faceless number – always enormous, always the majority – who just stood back and did nothing. Who were complicit in their knowing – not everything but enough to know their inaction was as bad as ignorance. It has always been my biggest fear to become one of them – the bystanders.
I don’t know how many times I sat in my Leaving Cert history class, genuinely perplexed and wondering – how did they let that HAPPEN? World War Two. Colonialism the world over. The orchestration of civil wars when colonialism ended. Recessions. Slavery. Genocide. The Magdalene Launderies.
Studying the Holocaust, it wasn’t Hitler’s evil that concerned me – his motives and the machinations used to achieve them were, much like Trump, childishly comprehensible. I was far more concerned about the hundreds of thousands – the millions – of people who stood back and didn’t do anything. Before they knew fear, before they were worried about protecting their families, before the war. I was far more terrified by the people who were aware something was wrong and did nothing. Who reported their neighbours knowing it meant near-certain death and torture; who first distanced themselves from Jewish friends and then found themselves touting Nazi propaganda in the name of nationalism. I was – and continue to be – far more terrified of these everyday, average, normal people, just like you and me, who saw something inherently wrong and were too – what? preoccupied? Busy? Indifferent? Scared? Confused? to do anything.
THAT to me was the real evil. The apathy and inaction of the masses. Looking around at the world now – looking at myself – I still think that remains the unconquerable and unmentionable darkness of our society. Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, they don’t scare me. No. I am scared of the people who flagrantly or stealthily support them, who are the petrol to their fires, berocca to their still waters. And then I am scared by the people like me. Those who are only indirectly affected by their policies, rhetoric, and inherent prejudices. Those who are quick to state their disgust, disdain, disapproval in armchaired incantations and yet, except for the repetition of a few appropriated phrases plucked from a podcast or op-ed, do little to advocate for change.
In short, I am scared of me. Because the question I always asked myself in history class was the unanswerable hypothetical – who would I have been? Would I have been one of the passive masses? Or would I have been an agitator, a stout and uncompromising rebel? The question used to bring me one of comfort – I would OBVIOUSLY be a Gryffindor, an activist – because I never believed I would be confronted with the real-life presentation of this hypothetical.
And yet, here we are. For about the twentieth time.
“Privilege is not about what you’ve gone through, but what you haven’t had to go through.”
SO, here’s my weigh in. This is my weekly dose of accountability where I will outline what I am doing to be better. As a citizen of this planet, as an ally, as a white, able-bodied woman with some form of platform. This is not performative, this is not an opportunity for me to virtue signal, jump on a bandwagon, even begin to imagine I am close to doing enough. This is not about gratification or condemnation. This is my personal challenge, this is my solution to make sure I stay learning, listening and then advocating for change. To me, the problem has always been the same: there are SO MANY glaring injustices in this world, where do I even begin to start? I try to divide up my heart and then feel completely depleted, or I try to focus on one only to be consumed with guilt at my neglect of the others. And so, I often end up exhausted, overwhelmed and inactive. The focus of this weigh in will steady me against this.
I hope you will join me in this. I know we don’t need another white-created, dominated, and controlled space for learning or discussion but I’m creating this anyway because the truth is I don’t know what else to do. We all know there is – there is always going to be – more to learn. I’m here to talk, I’m here to be challenged, I’m here to make mistakes. I’m here to admit – something I struggle with – THAT I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.
Here’s how I’m trying to show up for the climate, for the BIPOC community, and for other marginalised voices this week:
- I HAVEN’T DONATED YET:
I know. This might seem like the OPPOSITE of showing up. I have seen a billion posts, reposts, stories, videos telling me to donate. I have had a hundred valid, urgent, desperately-needing-funding-links fly across my screen, clambering for my help. I have money to give and thumbs willing and able to click-through a few windows to give it – why haven’t I donated yet? Because it is reactionary. I haven’t had the time yet to sift through each link frantically shared and ensure I am accountable for the money I am giving. If I enter into the snowstorm of blanket donations right now, I know what will happen. I will do so automatically, mechanically, and thus forget to whom or what I gave money to. More than this, it will make me feel better and it will prevent me from continuing this journey of discomfort I am trying to work through. Don’t get me wrong, donating is important and urgent but right now, it feels to me like putting a bandaid on my guilt and covering up my shame with a trigger-happy splurge that only acts to demonstrate my privilege more. By not giving yet, I am forcing myself down a road of questioning that will mean that, in the longterm, I will donate frequently and whole-heartedly. I don’t have all my information yet and, seeing as ignorance has gotten us into this mess and behaviour driven by gratification has only made it worse, I’m going to refuse both for a little while longer.
Instead of donating, I’ve done something I should have done a long time ago…..
- AJA BARBER AND FREE LABOUR
Being a writer who puts a lot of effort into giving the world free content (admittedly that nobody asked for) for which I pay in time, energy, and also a little but of my human soul and privacy, I am hyper aware of the dangerous world of Instagram where we have allowed ourselves to believe that creators should provide us with free, instantly accessible and constantly accountable content. THIS IS NOT OK.
One of the things that angered me most about white people and those generally in positions of privilege taking over Blackout Tuesday with their performative solidarity was the fact that they were using the free labour and resources of people of colour to promote their own allyship. I too, am guilty of this.
Not only are we asking people of colour and black people to live in a world where they are openly discriminated against, racially abused, harassed, targeted and killed, we also then expect them to undertake FREE EMOTIONAL LABOUR to educate us – US the over-educated yet ignorant buffoons – on their experience. We not only take their jobs, their lives, their health, their privacy, their voices, their rights, we also take their stories. We ask them to prove the existence of racism to us, and then we expect them to teach us how to overcome it. It is galling and revolting.
I watched several stories from Irish people of colour (Loah’s was a particualr standout) who all began their video with the same premise: “I didn’t want to come on here BUT people were messaging me; I didn’t want to speak on this BUT I saw people asking if racism existed in Ireland” – we asked them to. They felt that, in this moment of complete trauma, this very triggering and upsetting experience, they then had to perform for the suddenly-attentive masses, justifying the claims being made by reliving and retelling their own experiences of racism. They had to speak, not just on behalf of themselves, but on behalf of an entire community. We’re asking them to be spokespeople, representatives, voices to guide and lead us from the darkness WE HAVE CREATED.
I was surprised nobody else was appalled by this.
So, my weigh in this week is about rectifying that. Because I have been guilty of this too. I follow accounts that help diversify my news sources, provide me with invaluable information and materials to become not a better ally but a better human and yet, when these incredible individuals who give so much of themselves personally and professionally, asked for support through a Patreon or online course, I failed to deliver.
So I have subscribed to Aja Barber’s Patreon. Aja is an incredible, no-nonsense sustainable fashion writer and activist. I have often shared her posts and actively consumed her material on Instagram. Recognising how wrong this was of me, and trying to rectify it by paying her for her work is my first step to non-optical allyship.
- NOVA REID AND MORE FREE LABOUR
In a similar vein, Nova Reid is a Tedx speaker, writer, anti-racism campaigner, and a woman who has been patiently teaching women like me about their racism with a kindness and insightfulness that honestly astounds me. Again, she is someone I have followed and promoted on my platforms – I even featured her in my piece on Channelling Greta Thunberg – and yet, while I devoured her wisdom, I didn’t repay it. I have donated €25 to her PayPal account and, while I can’t currently afford her online course, I plan to continue to give through the PayPal option until I’m in a position to do so.
- INSTAGRAM LIVES
I’m not a fan. Therefore, Instagram lives feel more like true allyship because they’re something of a punishment for me. Today, I listened to Aja Barber (I wish I could stress how powerful this woman is) in conversation with Céline Semaan, the founder of the Slow Factory Foundation. The IGTV of the conversation is here:
I also listened to some (not all, due to that annoying thing that is a job) of the conversation between founder of GURLS TALK, Adwoa Aboah and Janaya Khan. You can find it here and dear God, Janaya’s articulation, ability to break down the complex into the simple and their sheer depth of lived knowledge is something we all can learn from.
- AMPLIFY MELANATED VOICES
I will be following #amplifymelanatedvoices all week and sharing when appropriate. This has been set up by Alishia McCullough and Jessica Wilson and is a challenge to eradicate white analysis and allow black voices to reclaim their stories and narratives, as well as showcasing black creators, artists, businesses and entrepreneurs.
I am listening to the audiobook Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating by Christy Harrison. Holly, you’re supposed to be talking about anti-racism, why are you bringing diet culture into this? And, isn’t diet culture oriented around the rich and privileged who can afford to buy into its fads anyway? Good questions. Except this book IS about race because, in showing the origins of diet culture, it equally highlights the systemic racial prejudice that informed how we view, judge, and value the human body. Our whole conception of what our bodies “should” look like remains based on Darwinian principles of basic discrimination. Ahh, colonialism, you again.
Despite our modern era that is supposed to be over Atkins, corsets, size zero models and laxatives, the frames, shapes, figures, features we continue to value (cultural appropriation of lip-fillers, bum-fillers and all of the other weird plastic surgery I don’t know about excluded) is that of a Northern European in the 1800s. Diet culture stems from colonialist beliefs and, because our bodies are symbols of social status and still the currency with which we value ourselves and others, then it stands that diet culture is perpetuating unchecked racism.
CLIMATE CRISIS WEIGH IN:
As you’ll have noticed, a lot of the above content is correlated to climate action because, unsurprisingly, any form of social justice is intrinsically linked to the environment. Nevertheless, seeing as I have convinced myself that, because I’m sequestered at home, even though I’m still eating, drinking, creating waste and consuming energy, my carbon footprint is minimal and my climate anxiety therefore irrelevant, I’m still including this weigh in. I have become a little jaded and lost focus on why I’ve gone to such lengths to reform my diet and lifestyle to mitigate my effect on the planet. Most notable, living at home with my parents where limited shops are open and I am no longer solely reliant on my scavenging skills for food, I have relaxed my attempts at planet-friendly eating. Plant-based and plastic-free, local and organic, seasonal and unpackaged – I am falling short in every way and ashamed of myself. This weekly weigh-in is my opportunity to rectify the waste and wanton gluttony I’ve felt myself slipping into. Here’s what I did today:
- Swapped out the indulgence of Glenisk’s Greek style yoghurt (can we just have a moment for its CREAMINESS) for the slightly less indulgent Alpro soya. Back to reality, oh, there goes dairy!
- Needed to go to the bank on my lunch break and, despite being limited with time, resisted the laziness of driving and instead ran there and back. I’m not used to having a car at my disposal and usually cycle or walk everywhere but living at home where you are slightly too-far from everything, I have become queen of unnecessary journeys. This run, while small, is proof I can do it. I will do more. Tomorrow, I will bike.
- Found slightly rotting broccoli in the fridge and repurposed it for lunch. One less kilo of food waste to worry about.
Ok, this is far too long and still feels like not enough but for now, it’s a start. If you’ve read, thank you. If you’d like to join me on this, find me on Instagram at @earnest_ethereal and let’s share this learning together.