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Seeing the other side of the cup

A word from James Symons, CEO at IWS Global - PC Locs / LocknCharge:

While I haven’t been silent on the issue that Black Lives Matter, I have recently been challenged to use whatever means I have available to be more vocal. To the person that challenged me… I say a sincere “thank you”!

I want to share, and make known, why I attended the Black Lives Matter rally in Perth, Australia on Monday the 1st June, and why I will continue to advocate for the rights of people on the receiving end of systemic racism, both in the US, and here in my home country of Australia.

Before the recent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, myself and a group of close friends of mine began reading a book written by African American academic and activist, Dr Drew G. I. Hart, called Trouble I’ve Seen. While I recommend that every white person I know should read this book, I want to share a story that Hart references in his book that beautifully articulates why it is now time for me to deal with the racial biases I have unknowingly carried as a white, middle-aged male living in Australia.

Drew speaks about a meeting he had with a white suburban pastor in his neighbourhood in Philadelphia. The pastor contacted Drew to not only get to know him, but more specifically, so that they could dialogue across the “racial divide”. Here is how Drew describes the conversation once they began discussing the matter at hand as they sat across from each other at McDonalds:

“Drew,” the Pastor said, “This cup has writing on my side of the cup and a logo on yours.” He paused. “But I can’t see what is on your side of the cup,” he continued. “Likewise, you can’t see what is on my side of the cup... Because I can’t see what is on your side of the cup, I need you to share with me your perspective so I can see things from your standpoint, likewise, you need me to share my point of view so that you can understand the world from my vantage point”

As I read this, I thought to myself, “that totally makes sense”. However, as I read on, I was deeply challenged by Drew’s very gracious, yet articulate response to the Pastor (and me as the reader).

Drew states that this is not how things actually work. He explained that he already knew what was on the pastor’s side of the cup. Hart writes:

This is because I have learned Eurocentric history written from a white perspective. I have read white literature and poetry. I have learned about white musicians and artists. I have had mostly white teachers and professors through every stage of my educational process. I have read lots of white authors and have heard white intellectuals give lectures on a variety of topics. I have been inundated by white-dominated and controlled television and media. I have lived in a mostly white suburban community, and I have lived on a predominately white Christian campus. The truth of the matter is that I wouldn’t have been on track to a PhD without becoming intimately familiar with the various ways that white people think. My so-called success means that I have had to know what it takes to meet white standards, whether they are formal or informal.

After explaining why he already knew what was on the pastor’s side of the cup, Drew noted that in contrast to himself, the pastor most likely could go through his entire life without needing to know black literature, black intellectual thought, black wisdom, black art and music, or black history. That is, he could choose to never engage with, or be changed by, the range and beauty of the black community. Nor would he be penalized for it. That option of white exclusivity would not affect his livelihood or means of providing for his family. No one would question his qualifications if he didn’t know how to navigate black communities and cultures or understand the daily realities of most black people in America.

Immersion in, and understanding of, the black community has never been routinely expected or necessary for employees, politicians, scholars, doctors, teachers, or pastors.

So, it is now with a degree of embarrassment and shame that I acknowledge that I have not actively endeavoured to truly understand what is on the “other side of the cup”. When it comes to the oldest living cultures in the world that continue to exist in the place I have grown up, how do I answer the same questions? How much Aboriginal literature have I read? How many Noongar words do I speak? How much do I understand of Aboriginal intellectual thought? How familiar am I with Aboriginal wisdom? How much Aboriginal art and music do I regularly appreciate? How much Aboriginal history do I know? How aware am I of the genocides that happened within an hour from where I live?

This is why I attended the Black Lives Matter rally… to listen, learn and understand... but I can’t stop there. This is why I will seek to learn from those on the receiving end of systemic racism within my company, within my church and within my community. I will listen to their stories, read their literature, learn their culture, understand their pain and concerns, and seek to love them as myself. Then I will join them in seeking to transform systems that say their lives don't matter.

Today I choose to listen and learn. Australian Aboriginal people have faced genocide, discrimination and devastating loss since colonisation more than 230 years ago.

Today, I say over and over that “BLACK LIVES MATTER”. It is now time for us to truly listen and understand what is on the “other side of the cup”.

Image courtesy of Peacock Visuals - Perth Black Lives Matter rally, June 2nd 2020.

All quotes and references from Dr Drew Hart originate from his book, Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, Herald Press, 2016

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