Despite being a person of colour I’m fortunate to say I never personally experienced racism in my life (And if I did, I clearly wasn’t aware of it). That’s probably why I had such a hard time understanding systemic racism. I knew it was a problem, but never on this magnitude. It was then I realized that my ignorance was part of the problem. I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.
When it comes to discussing difficult subjects or political issues, I think many of us have the same problem. We choose not to pay attention to what’s going on. We choose to focus only on things that occur within our little bubble. We choose not to take the time to form our own opinions and educate ourselves. Honestly, it’s a privilege to not have to concern yourself with having a political opinion.
The word ignorant is used as an adjective to describe someone who is unaware. In other words, someone who is not woke (you guys deserve better, I know). I used to think that meaning well and caring for the people around me was enough. I thought that politics and global news weren’t that important because I felt so far removed from it. I wasn’t actively trying to be ignorant to everything going on, but I definitely wasn’t trying to learn and educate myself, which in turn made me ignorant. With the unjust murder of George Floyd, I was forced to uncover and wrestle with racial issues I hadn’t taken the time to consider before. When it comes to wrestling with systemic issues, I think everyone goes through the same four stages of thought. Let me walk you through them.
This is essentially the stage where you come to learn that you haven’t really been thinking enough about something or that you didn’t really take the time to contemplate certain ideas through. For me, this stage occurred at two in the morning while my roommate, Nick, and I were having tea and listening to jazz. I was sitting on the couch and telling him about my dreams and plans about how I would one day try to change the world (yes, I know it sounds cliche). Our conversation segued into how I felt regarding the late George Floyd and the prevalence of systemic racism. When I went to give an answer, I found that I had nothing to really say other than racism was really bad. My conversation with Nick ended with him saying that anyone who cares about doing good and being a virtuous person should take the time to look into and have at least some sort of well-articulated opinion of all issues, even if they don’t have any personal experience with them.
He was right. I only really cared about forming opinions on scientific issues and finding solutions with regards to biology and chemistry questions. There was a whole world of systemic and political issues that I knew nothing about. I guess I had more things to think about this summer than I originally thought.
Figuring Out What You Should Be Doing
After any realization, people have a moment where they ask themselves a series of simple but hard to answer questions. What now? What should I do? Where should I start? In the case of recent events, I was trying to figure out what I should be doing to be anti-racist and how I could show support to the black community. Whenever I start questioning myself or when I want to figure something out, Instagram always seems to come to my aid. There’s a lot of information out there and sometimes seeing a short simple post is a great way to get started. Here’s one that I found particularly helpful.
This image does a really good job demonstrating to people how to actively get involved. However, I think it’s missing two key things. The idea of learning and unlearning. It’s hard to really give your full support to a cause when you don’t know much about it. Start by talking to others, asking your friends and family the difficult questions. Diversify the circles in which you operate. Use Google and dive into the history of issues you see. Let go of the biases you once thought true. I personally didn’t know racism was still so prevalent due to my upbringing. I had to unlearn a few beliefs. I had to ensure that I was learning and listening with a fresh open mind.
Feeling Like You Can’t Make A Difference
I’m not going to lie. This is a pretty depressing stage to go through. It’s when you realize an issue is so massive you feel like nothing you do matters. You ask yourself all sorts of questions. Is it my place to advocate for this issue? Why should I care? What’s the point? There’s already a lot of people showing their support, what I say or do wouldn’t make a difference. To get out of this stage requires two things. Asking yourself why you care and understanding the power of a collective voice.
The answer to “why do I care” will show in the things you do. Some will sign petitions, and others will read dense literature on the topic. The idea is that all of us are trying to do what we can because whatever we choose to do — no matter how big or small — will help to make the difference we’re aiming to see in the world. At the end of the day, just by getting involved, you become an advocate for a better tomorrow.
When it comes to understanding the power of a collective voice, just look at any movement in history. There’s a message that people come together to collectively say, and every extra voice adds to the power of that message. Martin Luther King and Gandhi wouldn't have been able to make a difference if they didn’t have the support of the collective voices of the people. You may not be the next MLK, but you can at least lend your voice by doing something. Literally, doing anything will push the issue forward. Every awkward conversation you have with your peer group and every post you make on social media, doesn’t go unnoticed. After all, people are more willing to listen when information comes from a peer.
Continuous Questioning and Learning
Congratulations! You realized there were things you were unaware of and you started taking steps towards a brighter tomorrow. Here’s the thing with systemic racism and prejudice….actually, here’s the thing with any issue or problem. It requires you to always be questioning what’s going on. It requires you to always be learning. Doing something just once, doesn’t make you part of the solution. It just makes you a person who doesn’t want to feel left out. Repeatedly do things you believe in. Make it a habit. Make it a part of your personality.
When it comes to uncovering and working through your unconscious ignorance, understand that there’s a lot of things that you might not be aware of and that the world is bigger than just your inner circle of friends and your education. After you understand that, start by doing something. By doing anything. Your voice and your thoughts are more important than you think. Right now, is your chance to make a difference. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to take it. Thanks for reading, and I’ll talk to you guys next week.
Im Farshad. I'm a curious PhD candidate in biomedical engineering at the University of Toronto. At the moment, I spend most of my time engineering DNA nanotechnologies 🧬, and researching how I can improve personalized medicine approaches. I also spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, and how I can be the best version of myself. This website hosts a collection of my over caffeinated thoughts regarding my life and the world, as well as my notes on the various books I’ve read.