When I noticed on the feed of an Instagram profile of a fashion label of a German influencer that had been doing some performative anti-racism (read: black square) that there was no black model on the feed, I was blocked from the profile and the comment was deleted. If companies want to deal with racism, they must not only do so until it becomes uncomfortable.
Racism is painful. But most of all, it is a white people's responsibility, and a process that has to be gone through completely to change anything. Otherwise, at best you scratch the surface and wrap a complex issue in candyfloss from a privileged position. There's little to be trusted.
Racism is real – Why we need to listen now
The sun stands, like every day, in full splendor in the sky over Mexico. It is the season when houses heat up. Next to me on the desk a fan is running at full speed. If you moisten your skin before turning on the fan, your body cools down and the heat is easier to bear. In the summer, we are encouraged over the radio to avoid stagnant water in the patio to prevent dengue fever. "Another world", I often hear when I talk about it.
Some things are different in Mexico than everything you know from everyday life in Germany. It is sometimes difficult for me to explain them. It's the little things - when hiking I take care not to step on the piles of leaves, because poisonous snakes hide in them. At the campfire you might hear the rustle of the steps of a puma or a jaguar.
Racism is as if different worlds collide. It is as if a person says that you have to watch out for jaguars, whereupon another person claims that there are no jaguars at all. Just because there are no jaguars in one world does not mean that they do not exist in general. It's the same with racism - just because a part of the population doesn't feel racism it doesn't mean that racism doesn't exist. That is why it is so important to listen.
#Blackouttuesday, Social Media Trend & White Fragility
Tuesday, June 2, 2020. That day will make history. It started in the music industry and quickly spread around the world. Millions of black squares were posted on social media to commemorate George Floyd (and many other black people whose deaths were caused by racist police violence) to make a statement against racism.
But how much of this was actually a statement, and how much was a trend? How much of it was raw, unfiltered racism, and how much of it was "candyfloss racism"?
My initial joy about the black squares quickly turned into skepticism. Many of these were signed with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. It made it clear that many had jumped on the train without knowing beforehand where the journey would actually go.
Even more, they complained about it whenever it was pointed out. I received messages from white people saying I had been doing public shaming when I had publicly asked under their post to refrain from using the hashtag #blacklivesmatter because it could block important information for the movement of black squares.
To treat racism like a trend is racist. To be able to choose when it is appropriate for marketing figures to make a statement of solidarity is a privilege. It is, above all, a headless and irresponsible way of dealing with it, which proves the opposite of solidarity.
Suddenly, companies and influencers that had never made a statement on the subject before, showed off a book about racism because time and followers demanded it. But as soon as critical comments were made, they fell into a defiant defensive attitude.
White fragility at its best. Tupoka Ogette found, once again, the right words:
«Dear white people. Ask honestly. And more importantly: really listen. Without defense, without relativizing, without getting angry when you hear something that makes you uncomfortable. Digest what you hear. Reflect. And then: keep listening.» (translated into english)
A white dialogue & "Your learning, not mine"
Occasionally the moment on social media threatened to become another white moment. Countless posts pointed out what you could do to reflect your own racism. Many of them hurt to read.
"It should be called All Lives Matter" was a phrase that was heard a lot. Numerous explanations followed as to why it could not be called "All Lives Matter".
It amazed me that it was still necessary to explain what was part of everyday life for some. At the same time a feeling of melancholy spread. What an incredible privilege, I thought, that some people - many, it seemed - heard all these things for the first time. That they could study it objectively without ever having felt it.
Amanda Seales, comedian and actress from the USA, put it in a video:
«Stop asking me, because I'm not going to give you a list of sources on the subject," she said, "Now it's your turn to find out what you should already know. I ask myself - why is all this new to you?»
The fact that nothing about racism has been taught at school is a fact that must change. However, it is far from being an excuse to go on your own in search of information. Unlike at school, in real life there will be neither grades nor rewards for this. There would simply be homework that was long overdue.
Once again it had been proven that white companies and brands like to get everything under their nails so quickly. They portrayed themselves as the solidarity heroes who once shared a post on the subject of solidarity and racism. But what really followed the post?
As Lalya F. Saad put it, "The revolution will not be appropriated by companies, brands and leaders who have silenced black voices over the years, only to now, publish a black square and proclaim #BlackLivesMatter.
Nobody talks about the pain
In downtown Aguascalientes, Mexico, there are two street stalls where handicrafts are offered by people who belong to an indigenous population group. They wear traditional clothing and jewellery.
When I see an Indian costume in a German supermarket at carnival time, I feel disgust and deep sadness. It hurts to watch such an appropriation. Addressing this in public has earned me many angry comments. The less angry ones did not feel better. "Totally exaggerated" was said, and also "This is ridiculous."
Recently, I participated in a video conference of a network based in Germany. There were quite a few racist comments. Tears came to my eyes in front of a webcam. I knew that I could not address it because nobody would have understood it. Without further ado I closed my laptop before I let the tears flow.
That is racism. It hurts. It hurts. It tears the soul apart and absorbs all hope and confidence.
"How can it be?", I often wondered, that some people just don't feel it?
That they can live so easily? That they can decide so easily, that they can say so easily that it is not so? That it's so easy for them to say it's over the top?
To deal with it. Admitting mistakes. And apologize.
I've made mistakes too. I too have put words in my mouth that I would not say so today.
When I gave a lecture at a university in a rural area in southern Mexico, something happened to me that I never thought possible. I talked about how there was no excuse to create and share your own projects, because nowadays you could use your smartphone for social media, visual content, image editing and even podcasts. When a professor subsequently asked the day before how many of the students owned a smartphone, only a quarter of the hands went up.
Nothing I had learned in classrooms and libraries had prepared me for this moment. There it was again, the pain. The revulsion at what I had just done. And the colonial structures right in front of me, right on and under my skin. The privileges had escaped through my mouth. Deep revulsion I felt, knowing that I had just learned something I would never forget.
I could have asked in advance, and so I could have adjusted my previous day without making hurtful statements from the position of a privileged person. Often white people are not even aware of how many racist and neo-colonial structures are in their words and deeds. Recognizing racism and opposing racist structures is a process that never ends. It is not done by posting a black square on the Instagram profile. This is just the beginning.
Racism and empathy
Racism is like learning a language. Just as one does not learn a dictionary by heart for a few days to learn Spanish, racism is not something that one studies.
Racism must never go past or in front of you. Racism must pass through you. It is something that you feel and let get to you. Experienced. And even if it is "only" based on the shared words and experiences of others.
So often people talk about empathy. And yet it is not shown. Now it is important not to speak for once. Now it is time to really put yourself in other people's shoes, to accept their gaze, to accept their pain.
Actively support companies of black people. To actively question which colonial structures are supported by one's own consumer behaviour. Actively reading books that describe a different world view.
If companies want to speak out against racism, it is not enough to mention it once on social media. Then this company has to rethink and question its public image as well as all its own structures. Then, beyond the candy floss, it must become bitter and uncomfortable - without falling into a defensive attitude or ignoring the unpleasant questions.
It is not about doing everything right immediately. It's about showing willingness to listen, to learn, to broaden your horizons, and to make stories other than those usually portrayed heard. Only then can something change in the long term.
In other words – it is not enough to read about jaguars on paper, you have to learn to recognize them.
Ariane Sofía Vera-Fluixá, singer-songwriter and author with German-Argentinean roots, studied English literature and international relations in Scotland (University of Aberdeen) and Ireland (Trinity College Dublin). She won the 2017 Welcome To Europe Songcontest with her single Tolerance, spoke at several TEDx conferences and sang in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Since November 2018 she is living in Aguascalientes, Mexico. There she initiated the Fridays For Future and founded an initiative for conscious and fair coffee consumption. In Mexico, cottonfloss is often part of the cityscape, but she prefers mangoes, which she can pick directly from the tree.
Instagram & Facebook: @arianeveramusic