How to do anti-racist work as an ally: Nova Reid at Kindred

Nova Reid

It’s been one month since we welcomed author and activist Nova Reid to Kindred for an insightful discussion on how to do anti-racist work as an ally. Here, we reflect on the key takeaways and learnings from the event
“We just cannot move forward in any sustainable way if you can’t accept that, if we live in a racist society, we’re going to have racist programming,” says TEDx speaker and author Nova Reid to a packed-out hall.

Nova is speaking from the Kindred stage, where over the course of the evening she will share insights and practical advice on how allies — people who stand against racial injustices that they themselves do not experience — can be actively anti-racist.

Racism isn’t something just done by men in white, pointy hoods, Nova reminds us. It’s something baked into the fabric of our society that lives in our attitudes and worldviews; our assumptions and snap reactions. To unlearn it, we first need to look inwards and accept this.

Recognising racism

Racism can be invisible to those who don’t experience it. This isn’t an accident — it’s exactly how systems of racial discrimination are designed. Those socialised as white are taught to maintain these systems of oppression without thought or question, and so for them, this status quo comes to feel normal. That’s why being called out can feel personal.

When people start their anti-racist work, they are usually defensive, says Nova. They are too busy defending their ego to learn how they can reduce the harm that people of ethnic minorities experience.

“It’s about more than ego,” she explains. “It’s [about]: how do I be of service, how do I move through that anyway and serve something that is greater than me?”

Ego also feeds into the fear of causing offense, which can hold a lot of people back from doing anti-racist work. “The fear is going to be there, but do it anyway,” says Nova. If you make a mistake, apologise and accept responsibility, and learn not to do it again.

“It’s letting go of the fact that if you are apologising, you are a bad person. It’s not, it’s about accepting responsibility for causing harm,” she continues. “If you’re feeling defensive then it’s okay to name that…[you could say], ‘I’m finding it hard to hear you. Can we come back to this in an hour when I’ve had time to process?’.”

Processing shame, centring healing

Anti-racist work is hard. It forces us to confront ourselves and the racism inherent inside us: how would we react if we witnessed racial discrimination at work or if we heard a friend say something racist?

Here, it’s natural for some difficult emotions to well up: shame, defensiveness, fear. “Shame is a human condition. It’s very normal but it’s an emotion that’s not really socially acceptable,” Nova says. “You need to sit with it. Hold attention, hold discomfort.”

Work through what you’re feeling and take responsibility for it — it’s not people of ethnic minorities’ job to soothe and assure you that you’re not racist, she adds.

We need to get acquainted with our shame and process it before we can start healing. This is long, intentional and confronting work, but we should see it as a journey. “It’s not about getting to the end or finishing the course,” says Nova. “It’s a life’s work and we should be fine with that.”

Holding ourselves accountable

It’s not enough to absorb anti-racist information — we must all hold each other accountable and call each other out when we mess up. We must accept that we will have hidden spots as we move through a world that’s designed for whiteness and should be open to receiving feedback.

Freezing up or feeling defensive when being called out are a part of the process. Instead, we should recognise that naming something for what it is liberating and can help us to move forward, says Nova. “It’s better to hear, ‘What you just said was racist,’ than to try and be defensive.”

Holding ourselves accountable is lifelong work. Nova recommends forming an accountability group with your peers, where you call each other out and provide space and support for changing your beliefs and behaviours. Journaling can be really useful, too — shame can be very confusing and writing can help us to process it.

It’s important not to conflate our own responsibility with the idea that people of ethnic minorities need “saving”. “We’ve been revolting, rescuing ourselves and rising up, in spite of systemic oppression, for centuries,” Nova wrote in The Guardian in September of this year. “What we really need white people to do is consciously, consistently and intentionally unlearn racism.”

This journey looks different for everyone, but involves listening and learning, reflecting and challenging. It means being intentional, says Nova — about the words you use, how you spend your money, and how actively you seek to learn about experiences that are different to your own. “There is always something you can be doing that is intentional.”
Nova Reid spoke at Kindred on October 5th, 2021. Visit our events page to see our upcoming talks, workshops, and more
Featured image credit: Ro photography

Monica Karpinski

Monica Karpinski

Monica Karpinski works with Kindred on digital and content strategy, including brand storytelling.

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