This story begins with a black woman in London, an essential worker, a mother, a wife, a friend, a sister…
She’s one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have died of Covid-19.
If it weren’t for this new disease, she would likely still be alive.
And possibly, if she wasn’t a black woman, she may also still be alive. She had underlying health concerns and so should never have been working the frontline, nor should she have been out on the concourse that day. But nobody paid attention to that, and nobody listened to her.
Now she is dead.
Racism is conditioning based on fear, ignorance and the unknown. It is insidious and often invisible. Those who would never think of themselves as racist often vehemently deny that it could be lurking within their unconscious.
But it is.
If you had found yourself lost at Victoria station there would have been no one better for you to meet than Belly. The symbol that Belly has become: a mother, dead at 47, leaving behind an 11-year-old daughter. A frontline worker assaulted while doing her job. A black woman whose death went uninvestigated until a global anti-racism campaign forced the British authorities to take note. A petition calling for Justice for Belly has been signed by 2 million people and counting. “It’s murder, plain and simple,” writes one signatory.”The Guardian.
Racism is the conditioning that filter the way we perceive reality and the way we perceive other people – even if we never say a ‘racist’ comment. It’s likely why Belly’s death wasn’t investigated until a campaign made a lot of noise.
Racism is the conditioning that means some people are valued more than others, and therefore treated differently.
Compare Brock Turner’s sentence for rape of an unconscious woman with Corey Batey’s. Turner got six months (and only served three) because jail would have ‘a severe impact on him’. Batey got 15 – 25 YEARS. The difference between those two men? Race.
Surely jail would also have ‘a severe impact’ on Batey? Why wasn’t that a consideration when he was sentenced? Is it because American prisons are 40% Black, even though black people are less than 14% of the population? Is it ok for a young black man to go to prison, because it’s expected? It is ok, because he’ll feel more at ‘home’?
Closer to home, there’s all kinds of stats which show that Māori have worse outcomes on multiple indicators, including health, justice and education.
Racism suggests it’s because there’s something wrong with Māori – it’s their fault because they’re lazy criminals who live on KFC. So untrue.
This idea ignores all the underlying factors, historical and present which have created the conditions which lead to these outcomes. It doesn’t see truth. It doesn’t see reality.
If you look closely at the New Zealand justice system you’ll soon realise Māori aren’t treated the same as everyone else. As Ms Fox told me: “Māori are three times as likely to be incarcerated for the same crime as non-Māori, and you’re three times as likely to be incarcerated for longer periods for the same crime as non-Māori.”NewsHub
So do the same crime, and receive a different sentence. Because why? Conditioning. All the beliefs and ideas running in the minds of the people handing out the sentences related to that person’s race.
You could argue that Māori are choosing to commit crimes at a higher rate than Pākehā, but again, this ignores the underlying conditions that often lead to crime. And it doesn’t account for similar crimes and different sentence length.
The high number of Māori in prison can be directly linked to the endemic poverty within Māori society, but where does this poverty come from? Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox told Newshub that inter-generational poverty can be directly linked to the displacement of Maori during the land wars of the 1860s. “Māori have experienced poverty since colonisation. Legislation forced Māori into poverty in order to acquire land,” she said. “So the taking of land from Māori can be directly linked to the poverty that is creating today’s high prison rate.”Newshub
That article, Māori Prison Rates at Record Levels, detailed the nature of the land grab also known as the New Zealand wars, and the longterm impact of that on a people’s well-being.
Remember too, the Wars were part of an over-all policy of ‘assimilation’ which degraded all aspects of being Māori.
After the war, the Native Schools Act of 1867 made it illegal to teach Māori in their native language. One Member of Parliament debated: “The time has come to decide whether to exterminate the natives, or to civilise them. But if we are to civilise them we have to do so in a language that is more conducive to human thought.” This law stayed in placed until 1969.Newshub
That right there – racism and conditioning. That member of parliament had no concept of Māori people or their culture, or worldview as having the same value as English people. There’s an assumption of inherent superiority.
This causes suffering. Not just for Māori people, but for all of Aotearoa.
Nobody benefits when a culture is degraded, ridiculed and attacked in this manner. It takes generations to repair the damage of this, and when the dominant culture is still largely in denial of their role, it becomes even more difficult.
What’s this got to do with Belly? The Londoner who died of Covid-19 in early April?
Or Brock Turner, the young man who served three months for rape, or Corey Batey, who got 15 – 25 years for a similar crime?
Everything. Because it’s got to do with you, and me and the conditioning we carry. Because it’s in us too, even if you don’t consider yourself racist.
You will likely be carrying ideas and beliefs, whether conscious or unconscious, that says ‘Black people are like this’, or ‘Māori are like this’, or ‘Indian people are like this.’ These assumptions and ideas may be explicit, or they may be buried and invisible. But they are there. And if you start to watch yourself in action, you may begin to notice the biases show up in your behaviour.
Recognise that unconscious racism shows up in three particular forms: white privilege, unconscious bias, and apathy. And recognise that white supremacy isn’t just an extremist thing of Nazis and the KKK. It’s the SYSTEM we live in. And if you’re white… it’s likely in you too. It’s just likely invisible to you, because, white privilege.
“White supremacy is a system of structural and societal racism which privileges white people over everyone else, regardless of the presence or absence of racial hatred. White racial advantages occur at both a collective and an individual level.”The Conscious Kid
Those collective and individual racial advantages? That’s what we see showing up in the statistics here in New Zealand. That’s how Pākehā have gained over Māori.
Imagine if English had been banned in schools and Pākehā had been granted four seats in Parliament. And now, notice how that’s probably impossible for you to even imagine… yet somehow that was totally acceptable for that to happen to Māori. Hello White Supremacy.
Now, if you are Pākehā, and you’re still with me, notice if you’re feeling defensive.
And question that. What’s that about? What do you have to defend? Why is it difficult to be curious about the idea that we live in a society founded on white supremacy? Why is that threatening to you?
Because recognising what is going on is always going to be the first step to doing something about it. Why should dismantling white supremacy or decolonisation fall on the shoulders of those who have suffered most? Surely those of us who have gained the most should be doing the heavy lifting on this?
Layla Saad, who wrote Me and White Supremacy says:
White privilege is a part of white supremacy and upholds white supremacy. This isn’t about generalizing or stereotyping white people as being somehow deficient or defunct. This is about seeing how you were born into a system that automatically gave you these powers and these privileges.‘Me And White Supremacy’ Helps You Do The Work Of Dismantling Racism
So, if you’re Pākehā, start there. See if you can understand and acknowledge that you were born into a a system that automatically privileges you. That what happened to Belly is less like to happen to you in the same circumstances. That you would likely receive a shorter sentence, if any, for a similar crime to a Māori person. That most of your outcomes are likely to be higher, or better, just because of the colour of your skin.
Ponder that. Sit with it. Contemplate it. Use your practice for THIS. Because the spiritual path is about liberating ourselves from all conditioning, INCLUDING our collective conditioning, and the conditioning that may have privileged us. You can not become a more awake and aware individual without recognising the truth of the system and structures in which you live. The two go hand in hand together. (Unless you’re spiritually bypassing.)
And, in awakening to the truth of the construct we inhabit – that of white supremacy – it’s more likely that you can awaken in your heart compassion for those trampled on by this construct. That compassion may then catalyse you into action, with whatever crosses your path.
Which is going to decreases suffering for all human beings. How about that then?
I’m going to close with this IG post with a quote from Scott Woods. Read this. Contemplate this. Understand this. And then do your work.