It is Not Enough to be Non-racist

 

In the last week, as these events have unfolded, I’ve been going through a range of emotions including feelings of anger, distress, sadness, and at times, helplessness. Aside from taking action, I’ve found myself often letting thoughts race through my mind for long periods of time. They often weigh me down with angst and stress, but I’ve begun to find ease in just voicing them. With the support and platform provided to me here by Scholars of Finance as a black member of the organization, I’m able to further do that. One of these thoughts has been tied with the increased circulation of the Angela Davis quote: “It is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” This powerful and truly poignant quote is extremely relevant to the moment we are in, but I’ve begun to inexplicably see negative sentiments from white people arising towards the quote, questioning it and seeing it as almost “too pressured”, that’s it “unnecessary” to be making such distinction almost as if it’s petty in the wider scope of the movement. It’s pained me to see and read such reactions to the quote and expression, and to see that some people aren’t understanding the interpretation or meaning behind it.

In voicing my thoughts I want to shed some of my own light and personal perspective on the quote. In channeling my experience, I want to show there is entire validity to that expression, and for people to truly understand why it’s meaning is important within this movement.

I want you to put yourself in my shoes. You have a young niece living on the east coast. Your sister and her family are expecting a second child due this year. That’s two close, immediate young relatives who you wish the best and would do anything for. Whether it’s for them to have the best opportunity in life, be treated fairly, be able to live their lives without fear, go about their lives doing the things that everyone should be able to do without any worry, judgment, or prejudice against them; that’s what I want you to imagine. For someone that was of your family, looked like you, that was of not just your blood but of your ethnicity and you just wanted what was fair for them, but that the world around you just isn’t a place where that is possible. You have a friend aware of the situation you face, that they are aware that you are fighting for someone who is of your family, who you care deeply about, who you want to see treated the same as everyone else, just as you wish you were, but you want to fight for them. I want you to imagine that you ask your friend, “where do you stand on this topic?” 

Of course, you would hope that people would stand on your side where they are with you, they support you, they are there willing to fight alongside you for something as evidently important as this, for something as basic and fundamental as this, in terms of treatment, in terms of how one should be able to justly and equally live their life. That is the true ally.

On the other side of the scale of responses, there is the response of someone who explicitly doesn’t believe that. They believe they shouldn’t fight for you, they explicitly reject your cause, they hold firm that you are wrong, they are on the complete, evident opposite end. That is the obvious bigot, the racist, the oppressor. Hopefully, I don’t need to say too much to shed light on that. We’re aware of what that looks like, especially when expressed in an overt manner.

I then want you to imagine with this same scenario, same instance, you approach a friend and they say “I understand your cause, I understand where you’re coming from, I hate to see it but I’m not going to actively help you, I’m not willing to actively be there for you, I’m not willing to actively do something to help you, in ensuring that your family member, that your younger relative, that someone close to you, that someone who looks like you is treated the same way, is able to live a fair life, is treated in a manner that isn’t oppressive and unjust, is able to go about their life equally as everyone should.” I want you to imagine that a friend or someone you approached or was aware of your situation and took this neutral stance, that they weren’t showing they would be there with you fighting, actively pushing your cause on your side. They’re not saying they’re against you (oh no they wouldn’t say they’re against you), they say they’re not racist, but at the same time they are just going to stay where they are, enabled to do so by the position of their privilege (even if ignorantly unbeknownst to them) and wish you well, but they will not actively support you.

I want you to imagine that you’re in this situation and that it’s your family member, that it’s someone who’s life is at a constant risk just because of the way they look, the way you both look, and a friend or someone you know read a message you’d sent out, has seen the plight, the injustice, the cause, and the situation you yourself, or your family, or someone close to you, or someone who looks like you faces as I’ve described, and yet they’re not ready to actively step forward and actively fight with you for the position you’ve been subjected to. They may be “happy” with the motive of your cause, but they’re not ready to actively champion it with you.


Do you not see how in this situation you’d feel betrayed, upset, angry. You’d feel that their silence, their reluctance to act is just as good to you and to the fight for your cause, as someone who IS the oppressor on the other end of the divide. That is what Angela Davis means when she says “it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” It is not enough to just say that you observe the injustice and you don’t support it. You must actively fight against it, you must actively be there to support those suffering the injustice. 

Once again imagine that is was a cause a close to home as your family, yourself, your future descendants, your children, your brothers, your sisters, your nieces, your nephews, your people that were in this position and being treated in such a way, and you saw that someone, a friend wasn’t there to support you, that they weren’t there to stand up for your cause with you, to fight alongside you, to actively be out there making a change, making a difference. You would not feel that it’s okay in any regard for them to sit there in silent acceptance, agreeing with your cause only in name. This is what it feels like to be in my shoes. This situation I face and the stance I see so many resided to. That neutral reaction is what in this day and age it means to be “non-racist” instead of being “anti-racist”, and that is not good enough.

You need to be actively against the oppression and police brutality that black people have been facing, against racism that still is prevalent in the lives of so many black people both in the United States and further afield in the Black Lives Matter movement.

A few weeks ago before George Floyd was brutally murdered, I was watching the black comedian Michael Che’s stand-up special on Netflix where he addresses the phrase“Black Lives Matter” itself. He points to how the phrase to some still seems controversial. “Matters.” I repeat “matters.” That it is not an understood aspect of our society that the life of a black person is equal, that we should be treated the same as others, that Black Lives matter and have always mattered. This is where we are at and people seemingly still struggle to openly get behind it, but that is where we as black people are left: marching, protesting and calling for our voices to be heard, and we will continue to do so until the actions and world we see around us reflect that Black Lives do indeed MATTER. As we continue in this movement, please realize non-black people that there is no middle ground. Non-racism is not good enough. People must take action and be actively anti-racist.

Ayomide Soleye

Author Ayomide Soleye

More posts by Ayomide Soleye

Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • Ayo, thank you for your powerful call to people of privilege (like myself) to take an active stance against the injustices black men and women face in our country today. It’s an honor to be an active participant in the cause alongside you as an ally. Thank you for your leadership during this time.

  • Ola O Ojo says:

    Ayomide

    How very insightful your detailed explanation of Angela Davis’ “it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.”
    But what is even more cogent and meaningful is that by this careful elucidation you have taken your own pill of ‘Action, neutrality is not an option!!’ and called all of us, members of the only race that exists – ‘the human race’ – to action in fighting this cancerworm of racism. Thank you

  • Nurasyl Shokeyev says:

    Ayo,

    Well-written and moving! Thank you!

    • Teresa Jegede says:

      Ayomide, truly “it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” Angela Davis. Thank you for your very brilliant explanation of this statement and your insight as well. Don’t let it bother you so much though as the Laws of creation are perfect. The best we can be is ‘anti-racism ‘ and send love and help with our thoughts and actions that all around us come to recognize the whys.

      • Clara Osenie says:

        Beautiful thoughts, beautifully expressed; well done Ayomide. May the death of George Floyd be the dawn of a new beginning in race relations around the world: Amen!

  • Ifeoma Dike says:

    Ayomide, thank you for this powerful and insightul article. It is ennobling and motivative to hear the views of young people like youself. I applaud your leadership and stance in times of crisis.

  • Lara Lawal says:

    Ayomide,
    Very proud of you. Your deep insight of life , human experiences and race at this troubled time in our world of today. It resonates with me and I hope that the world will awake and rise up to a true human race soon.
    Thank you for this beautiful writing .. it calls deep to every well meaning human being to love thy neighbour as thyself

  • Kudos Ayomide! It is well written and views the matter from various angles to depict / elucidate the subject. Well articulated!
    In the hope that those sitting on the fence will finally build up the courage to take a stance!
    A sensitive topic that is often swept under the carpet!
    Rest assured you are not alone on your clear views of the subject!

  • Wale Akinwande says:

    Ayo,
    Very well said and thought provoking.

  • Jennifer Miles says:

    Please publish this on. Neutral does not count. Neutral allowed the holocaust to happen. One has to be anti racism or you are the problem.

  • Nick Nunayon says:

    Well done Ayo. Very thoughtful. Sitting on fence does not achieve anything in life.

  • Nick Nunayon says:

    Well done Ayo. Very thoughtful.

  • Yomi Aiyepola. says:

    Ayo,
    A very nice Publication and a good talk. Truth is bitter. You have said it all.

  • Michael Prest says:

    “Don’t believe the hype, it’s a sequel” – Public Enemy

    Ayo,

    You are in many ways a Son to me. The PE quote comes from that seminal 1988 song from their seminal album. Don’t believe and don’t get caught up in the hype. To disrupt is to force real change. To agitate in the way I see today is to grant others the right to continue to control the narrative of history and then ‘gift’ you an inch. An inch? When you know with the immense talents you all have, that even a mile may not be enough.

    I want your generation to join the dots. Galvanise those incredible talents that lie in all of you and you Join enough dots between you and like pixels you’ll form a vibrant indelible picture that’ll shine SO bright. It will not be ignored.

    What are these dots? Each of you must be a disrupter. You must compete. You must excel. You must use the levers, rules, tools of the game and rise to the top. Yes, you’ll face obstacles, you’ll face that drip-drip ignorance that has been sewn into them fabric of current society. Yet like anything sewn it can and will be unpicked, yarn by yarn. Why McDonalds as opposed to Burger King? Because there are so many more McD’s. YOU rise, you succeed, and you’ll define. Enough of your generation focus on rising and you’ll define. Rise in industry, rise in business, rise in all sports, rise in medicine, rise in academia, rise in all the arts, rise in social media, rise in religion. Rise, rise, rise and don’t be embarrassed or deterred to rise. Rise so that you SHINE so bright, too bright. Like that pixel mentioned earlier, you’ll populate everyone’s mind’s eye. Even the most ignorant. Even the Derek Chauvin’s of this world!

    Black Lives Matter? It’s not in debate! They’ve always mattered! It’s not a bumper sticker or a social media #tag of the moment. It’s not hype, to be feverishly tweeted or worn on 100% cotton t-shirts. So don’t believe the hype. Don’t condense it into kind gestures where others kneel before you or by the tearing down of statues of men and women long gone. You rise and you rubbish their short lived historical legacy. You rise and by definition you disprove any philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior and you finally and permanently, discredit it!

    You don’t want, you don’t need yet another gesture. Do you? You don’t want an inch, when I know ALL of you have within you miles and miles and miles. You are all too talented!

    So Ayo don’t allow history to define or profile you. You can’t change the past. What you and your generation must do is to define and disrupt in order to meaningfully control the narrative of your incredible futures.

    I’m so excited and enthralled for all of you. Bright, seriously bright, young, talented things. Brimming with a talent this world has not seen. All of you, please join the dots, please take your rightful place. You know how to excel, you know how to succeed. You are doing it now. I’ve seen all of you do it all your lives. Learn from history and your own history but don’t allow history to grant others an apology to define you.

    In the next 10 years you will be the next Sundar Pichai or Robert F Smith or Tidjane or Sergei Brin or Elon Musk or Satya , the next Uncle Michael. I think you get me?

    You and your generation must be that generation of people of colour who create that better alternative. Let that desire to disrupt come from the annoyance and anger you feel now. Yet please don’t let anger and the anger of the past, gift others the right to define you or to tell YOU that Black Lives Can Matter.

  • Ireti Kingibe says:

    Ayomide,
    I am so proud that you have grown into this insightful young man. I agree with you completely, not being racist is not enough, you have to stand against racism for it to matter and make a difference. Your provoking piece, has made me give a second look to my fence sitting friends!!

  • Farine Clarke says:

    Dear Ayo,
    Your insightful and impassioned words made me pause for thought. Silence is not breaking the law but tacit acceptance of the status quo because it does not directly affect one, is what keeps so many who are not -racist, but at the same time reluctant to be openly anti-racist, comfortably silent. Of course it’s as easy to say one is not racist as it is to say one is not prejudiced or bigoted. Nobody wants those labels. It is not so easy to stand up and openly state that what you see is wrong, unfair, unacceptable and indeed uncivilised and must change. As has been said already, history is full of examples where people have failed to speak out against prejudice, to the detriment of all mankind. If only those people had felt ‘pressured’ to do so our world today would be far better for it. By placing everyone in the same shoes to experience this ingrained unfairness you have succinctly demonstrated why there is such a powerful difference between being non- racist and being anti-racist. You’re right- we do all have a voice to use. Very well done on using yours so effectively. I think your friends will be extremely proud to stand next you.

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