When we’re trying to have conversations about race and racism we have to remember that not everyone is ready for this change, and that's fine. They're not the ones we want to talk to. They're in the fast lane going the wrong way; we want to talk to the ones in the slow lane, since they're the ones closer to the next exit so are more able to get off at the next junction!
Let me explain in more detail...
I often like to think of the ‘road to racial equality’ as a motorway.
There are two sides. One side is headed towards equality, the other side is headed towards a divided society.
One side is fueled by racism, the other side is fueled by anti-racism. Simple right?
Each side has three lanes.
In the 'slow' lane are the people who are quietly headed towards their destination, but know where they're headed and are happy to be seen going that way, too.
In the 'fast' lane are the people who are super passionate about getting to their destination, want to get there as soon as possible, and will do whatever is necessary to get there.
The middle lane is your ‘inbetweeners’, the fairly outspoken but not too extreme-ists.
Just like on a real motorway, the lane you’re in can vary depending on how you’re feeling at a particular time, you don’t just have to pick a lane and stick to it! Likewise, you might find yourself changing sides every so often. That’s not the end of the world, it just means you’re not really getting anywhere because you’re covering ground you’ve already covered!
The important thing to remember, is that the side of the motorway that you’re on changes depending on the things you say and do.
It is okay if previously you have said or done something that is racist. Sure it’s embarrassing to admit, but we’ve probably all been in the slow lane going in that direction at one time in our lives (since the ‘white is better than black’ narrative has been bubbling away in the background ever since we were born!). However your place on the motorway is directed by the things you say and do from now.
There are some people who are ‘not racist’ and might SAY they’re against racism, but haven’t made any real attempt to demonstrate this - they haven’t signed any petitions, or shared any anti-racist content to help the movement, but they may not have specifically shared any racist content either. So where do those people fit?
Well, in my mind they’re driving round a roundabout above the motorway. You know when you take an exit and there’s a roundabout where you can either go straight down the slope and continue the same way you were going, or you can go round the roundabout and go back the way you came? That’s what I see them as doing. They’re not actually going anywhere, but they’re not ready to be seen in their cars heading the way they want to go either.
Ultimately, they’re either undecided, or they’re embarrassed about being seen on one side or the other. It doesn’t mean that they’re not influencing what’s going on below them though.
Imagine if everything you said or posted on social media ‘popped up’ as a road sign on both sides of the road? Say for example you post or say something anti-racist, and everyone sees that; for the anti-racist side, they’re encouraged and supported by that, they’re reminded of their destination and they might ‘step on the gas’ and feel renewed in their efforts. They might just see it as confirmation that they’re going the right way. They might even go ‘up’ a lane.
Now let’s imagine that that same anti-racist road sign has also popped up on the other side of the motorway, for the racists to see.
It would be distracting, right? And it would either spur them on to their destination of inequality, or for some people, especially the slow laners, it might make them reconsider what they’re doing on the wrong side of the road. It gives them a bit more information about why we need to move towards equality, and why we can’t stay where we were before. It might be that they just didn’t realise where they were headed. Well that’s fine, there’s another exit coming up and it’s not too late for them to turn around!
The other way to look at it is the power of numbers. The crowd mentality. If you were walking alone and saw everyone else going the opposite way, you’d probably wonder why. If it was just a handful of people you might continue on your way, but as you see more and more people going the other way you might question your choice - are you doing the right thing? You might slow down (move from the middle lane to the slow lane), and eventually you might turn around.
And I know this phrase has become a bit of a cliche, but that’s why I personally always say ‘it’s not enough to NOT be racist, you have to be ANTI-racist’. So throw out your road signs, decide which direction you want to be moving in, and do something about it!