Progress will not happen until white people become unsettled: Exploring the centring of whiteness in the fight for racial equality

Claire Gardiner (@claireg98) is a fourth year Sociology and Philosophy student at Newcastle University. In the final blog of our Black Lives Matter series, Claire writes about how important it is to de-centre one’s own ‘whiteness’ in order to become truly anti-racist.

We white people have grown used to most spaces being tailored to our needs and feelings. The positive portrayal of white people in the media, the spotlighting of the white perspective in colonial history and the disproportionately high representation of white people in many schools and workplaces are just a few of the multiple ways this happens. By default, social structures focus on white people’s comfort and, as a result, we are not required to confront how we benefit from people of colour’s discomfort. Thus, it is not surprising that even during the large-scale ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement we have seen a centring of white voices and sentiments.

Obvious examples of this are seen in white people’s self-victimisation when we are called out for racism. For example, at the beginning of June, Ivanka Trump was supposed to give a commencement speech for Wichita State University Tech. Given the timing of the Black Lives Matter protests and the Trump administration’s militant and controversial response, the university decided that it would be insensitive to present Ivanka as a role model.

Ivanka responded on Twitter, claiming to be a target of “cancel culture and viewpoint discrimination”. She implied that the university was censoring which viewpoints were presented to its students and, subsequently, claimed it was an illiberal attack on her freedom of speech. By centring herself as the victim, she created a form of equivalence, while diminishing her privilege and diverting attention away from why her speech was cancelled in the first place. Post-racial narratives and narratives of racial equivalence are mobilised to assert that white people are now the victims of structural oppression, in order to re-centre whiteness and deny racism.

White privilege also manifests in performative displays of anti-racism online. Performative allyship is when someone in a position of privilege shows support for a marginalised group, but for superficial purposes. Whether it is to feel good or prove that you are a ‘good’ ally, these motives centre on whiteness and the feelings of already privileged groups (see Rashida Campbell-Allen’s blog in this series). Performative acts tend to be unhelpful, and can be actively harmful, because they draw attention away from marginalised groups.

For example, (white) social media influencer Kris Schatzel was spotted having a photoshoot at a Black Lives Matter protest for Instagram (above). Of course, we do not know what anti-racism work people do behind the camera, and in an age of social media, it is understandable to want to engage in public displays of anti-racism. Nonetheless, we need to evaluate whether our posts are helpful, or whether we just want a pat on the back. Allyship is a sustained commitment to dismantling racist structures and institutions and requires effort even when no one is watching.

The centring of whiteness is less apparent in the example of calling out racism online. Calling out racism, and taking action against people who represent morally compromised views, is necessary to educate and hold people accountable for their racist expression. Yet it is sometimes confused with call-out culture (or ‘cancel culture’), the more aggressive method of public shaming and excluding the person as well as condemning their racist expressions. As a result, it can be scary to speak up and challenge ideas that we do not agree with. Nonetheless, we must get over this fear and accept the discomfort that comes with calling out racism and being called out ourselves.

Fear is an unproductive emotion which stifles thoughtful commentary about how to progress. For example, there is currently a debate among Newcastle students about renaming the Armstrong building. William Armstrong was complicit in the slave-trade, and some argue that someone with such a sinister history should not be celebrated. Others assert that we ought to keep the name while providing additional information about its history. These discussions are difficult, but are useful and necessary in establishing how Newcastle University will approach anti-racism moving forward. If we are too scared to express our views on such matters for fear of being called out or shamed, these nuanced and diverse discussions might not happen. However, we must not regard our own discomfort as more important than discussing and acting against racism.

Of course, our silence is usually not intended to cause harm or restrict progress. One might think that, instead of centring ourselves, we are being considerate and leaving space for others who know more. However, this is a failure to recognise our privilege in being able to speak out with fewer damaging stereotypes stacked against us than black people face. For example, white women’s testimonies are more likely to be taken seriously as they are not invalidated by the ‘angry black woman’ trope. Our silence can also lead to the expectation that black people must also take up the burden of anti-racism alone. It is, therefore, our responsibility to realise this privilege and use it to re-centre discussions around black lives and amplify black voices.

I want to highlight that all white people, including myself, are guilty of centring whiteness whether we are aware of it or not. Social structures are built on deeply-rooted white supremacy and racism. Dismantling these oppressive systems will not be easy. Sometimes, our opportunities to speak may be taken from us. This does not mean we are ‘victims’. Rather, it means we are sacrificing some of our privileges to leave space for black voices instead. And when we are given a space to speak, we need to be open to having difficult conversations that involve calling out others and being held accountable ourselves.

Finally, the most uncomfortable act of anti-racism: we need to reflect on how racism operates in ourselves and confront how our beliefs and actions contribute to the suffering of black people. Only when we stop centring on our feelings and start focussing on how we can improve and support the black community will notable change occur.

Reverse racism is not a thing.

Lucy Butcher (@lucyebutcher1) is a Newcastle Politics and Sociology graduate who, in the fifth blog of our Black Lives Matter series, takes on the idea of ‘reverse racism’.

Union Jack flag at Black Lives Matter protests in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire on th 13th May 2020
Black Lives Matter protests in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, 13th May 2020
Photo credit: Jack Raistrick Photography

In the UK, protests against George Floyd’s murder and a resurgence of support for the Black Lives Matter movement have sparked waves of education about the country’s historical and systemic racism. The public are learning of the UK’s repressive colonial past through, for example, the tearing down of a slave trader’s statue, which, in London, has led Mayor Sadiq Khan to set up a Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm and for local authorities across the country to review statues that arguably idolise slavery, colonialism, and racism in the UK. Recent petitions following George Floyd’s murder have highlighted the deep-rooted and inherently unequal systems in the UK including the ethnicity pay gap; the latter has since been debated in parliament. The protests have also pressured Boris Johnson into establishing a cross-governmental commission on ‘all aspects of inequality’ in the UK. Whilst each of these political motions are at risk of being only gestures, and not markers of systematic change, it is nevertheless worth acknowledging how the power of protest has put these agendas to the forefront. Racism is at least being discussed.

Yet, these recent Black Lives Matter protests have also been met with resentment across the country. Viewing this backlash on social media platforms within my local Northern working-class community of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, I have witnessed attempts to undermine the anti-racist movement by misunderstanding the concept of ‘white privilege’, through arguments that poorer white people have had a difficult life, are subject to ‘reverse racism’ or consider themselves to be a minority due to the ethnic makeup of the area. 

Dewsbury, my hometown, has a population with more South Asian people than the UK’s average. This fact is used to justify far-right racist beliefs such as segregation and the belief that majority Asian areas such as Saville Town are ‘no-go’ zones, which have led to hate crimes.  

Building on these existing prejudices, I have seen a flurry of comments from family and friends decrying that “All Lives Matter”, arguing that by focusing on Black lives, the movement is attacking white people and disregarding their hardships. This demonstrates a lack of understanding of the systemic racism that instigated the Black Lives Matter movement, which tries to bring attention to the way that Black people are constantly being treated like their lives matter less than their white counterparts’. The Black Lives Matter movement has never been about saying that some lives don’t matter, rather, that all lives can only matter when Black lives matter.

For example, these views disregard how the anti-racist movement is one that seeks class solidarities; the working class is not only white. The three words ‘white working class’ mean that working class ethnic minorities are excluded from the possibility of forming class solidarities. White people can still be discriminated against based on social class, age, gender, or sexual orientation, but having white skin means that we have more advantages in everyday life. People of colour are also more likely to be working class than not in the North of England, and have been part of working class communities since post-world war. To state that as a working-class individual you face more discrimination than people of colour is to state that you do not even consider them to be capable of being working class, a rhetoric that distracts politicians from finding solutions to help working class people of all races.

Further to this, the idea of ‘reverse racism’ simply does not make sense because there is no systemic privilege afforded to ethnic minorities. For instance, people of colour in England are disproportionately more likely to die from COVID-19, have worse housing conditions, find it more difficult to gain senior positions in workplaces including education, are more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs, are more likely to live in poverty, are underrepresented in literature or fashion, and even find it harder to get a good haircut.

Excerpt from a mixed-race individual on Twitter highlighting everyday racism they have experienced in West Yorkshire.

Some may argue that this doesn’t apply to working class areas within Northern England that have levels of poverty and deprivation (e.g. see above Facebook post). Yet in Northern England, deep racial and ethnic inequalities have been highlighted in the labour market, education, home ownership and employment. Even within West Yorkshire, within the last month, we have seen multiple reports of racism such as an assault by two white teenagers on a young black teenager in Holmfirth, racial abuse of an employee at a popular donut shop in Leeds, allegations of lack of due action and support for two young black girls who were racially abused at a Leeds school, and figures that show that West Yorkshire Police use force against black people three times more than white people.

Contrary to the suggestion that it is segregation that creates racial tension in Dewsbury, it is actually the rhetoric and criticism of anti-racism by white residents. It has justified extreme right-wing beliefs as seen in the regular far-right demos held in the area by the Yorkshire Patriots, Britain First and the English Defence League. This normalisation of racist ideas in the local area can have dangerous effects on the community. It contributed to the murder of local MP Jo Cox by Thomas Mair, whose neighbours believed that he “wouldn’t hurt a fly”.

If the people of Dewsbury, and the whole of the UK, really think that All Lives Matter they should stop spouting discriminatory ideas like ‘reverse racism’ and criticism of anti-racism protests, and try to listen to the experiences of their black and brown neighbours.

White Privilege and systemic silence: A case for education as the key to its dissolution

Siddy Nicholls (@siddynicholls) is a Newcastle Sociology and Philosophy graduate who, here, writes about the need to make in-depth discussion of racism compulsory in the British education system. Fourth in our ongoing series on Black Lives Matter.

White privilege. A phrase that until very recently, most white people either did not know, or were painfully reluctant to say. Unready to give in to the idea that, due to the colour of their skin, they are in a privileged position. Instead, white people have always been quick to assert that “No! We white people have struggles too! What do you mean we’re privileged?”

If we look back on our compulsory education, it becomes clear that this is something that goes unaddressed. We learn about social disadvantages and disparities largely in peripheral ways through news outlets, TV shows and films. The extent of most people’s knowledge of inequalities is limited to either what they experience or what they passively pick up through the media. But mainstream media very rarely draws attention to race issues or to whiteness and the privilege it brings, meaning that for people who do not experience racism, it can easily go unnoticed. Where attempts are made to bring attention to racism, they are often suppressed. One need only look at the government’s handling of their report on disparities in Covid-19 outcomes for ethnic minorities to see this. The impact of race is silenced and white privilege remains a reticent permeation in white people’s lives.

Systemic silence breeds white privilege, so exposing it is the first step in unraveling it. Until very recently, a critical understanding of white privilege had to be more actively sought out. Yet, with an influx of educational graphics about white privilege across social media and the increasing global awareness of brutal events like the murder of George Floyd, this covertness is hopefully at risk as it is brought into the open. This risk will only be actualised once racial issues become compulsory education, as this information is still largely avoidable. But why would a system teach about a concept that threatens its entire infrastructure? White people becoming aware of their own privilege allows its dismantlement to begin but this requires seismic change. It is intrinsic to white privilege that white people are unconscious of it or can easily deny that it places them at advantage, so undoing race and challenging white privilege poses a threat to the racist system that instilled it in the first place.

If it weren’t for my choice of degree programme and modules, this could easily have been an entirely new concept to me, as it is to many. Although racism has shaped my life, I had not reflected before on the fact that racism truly has no concrete or biological basis but is an entirely constructed reality underpinned by white supremacy. These kinds of discussions had not featured in my school education, in which experiences of racism in Britain did not feature. Following a seminar on my degree programme last year, where I first had an opportunity to discuss critical whiteness and white privilege, all I could think about was how menial the basis of racism is. This insanely unnecessary reliance on inferiority/superiority based simply on skin colour, where the smaller the evidence of blackness, the less disadvantage endured, and the more white privilege prevails.

As a generally white-passing mixed-race person, white privilege and racism have intersected throughout my personal encounters and identity. I have undoubtedly struggled with race-based insecurity. I have resented looking ‘different’ and have straightened the life out of my very curly hair. Yet I am also conscious that my lighter skin is something that places me at an advantage over black friends and family. Whilst my black father was victim of racial slurs, discriminated against in the everyday but also within institutions, I have been complimented for my ‘tanned’, ‘olive’ skin tone. When asked, “Where are you really from?”, it is his belonging that comes into question when my Dad asserts his Caribbean ethnicity. Yet when I disclose I am partly Caribbean I am met with compliments about my ‘exoticness’: “That’s so lucky! I wish I was exotic like you – you must tan so easily”, as though blackness becomes exoticised when diluted with the whiteness and privilege that comes with lighter skin. My mixed-race identity leaves me racialised, while I simultaneously benefit from white privilege. I recognise this and the critical problems with this evidence of race in my own experience, as well as in wider society.

I have seen videos of young boys looking for ‘the right mix’ when asked their opinions on mixed race girls.“I don’t look exotic. I wish I looked exotic”: words of a white YouTube creator taking an ancestry test wishing for just a bit of an ‘exotic’ ancestry. White people fetishizing or glamourising this idea of a little bit of blackness, but not too much. Not enough to the point where it could threaten the white privilege they have. This is the same white privilege and glamourisation in play with instances of cultural appropriation: appropriating the ‘desirable’ elements of black culture while avoiding the racism the community faces with a shield of white skin. This is severely problematic, a dimension of race and white privilege that needs more exposure to threaten its subsistence. Race is social, with whiteness and blackness constructed within systems and disseminated into society. Our task is therefore deconstruction, which relies on systemic changes. It is a lack of education around race that allow these instances of white privilege exertion to persist. My education is what made me recognise this, and necessitating such content nationally will encourage this recognition on an instrumentally larger scale.

There are countless more layers to white privilege than are mentioned here, all of which rely on a collective silencing. White privilege and the general lack of awareness of it is the product of a racist system. A consciousness of one’s privilege and how this relies on the oppression of ethnic minorities is what poses a threat to the system itself, which is why it is so vital to this movement. For this to occur, it is imperative that something in our education changes. Though an incredible tool, we should not be relying on Instagram graphics to educate us on the truths of our society, nor be relying on victims of racism to teach us about it. Already from social media, literature and tragic events like George Floyd’s murder and the deaths of black people in custody in the UK, white people are learning an instrumental amount about systemic and enduring racism. If this same energy and commitment to truth could be pushed to a national, compulsory level through the education system, this threat to society’s racist infrastructure becomes even stronger. Perhaps, and here’s hoping, this movement will draw these humanitarian issues of justice, generally exclusive to social science and humanity studies, into required education. White privilege will become common knowledge and in time become dismantled, along with the racist system that breeds it.

Time to ‘test and trace’ race?

Freddie Hall is a 3rd year Politics and Sociology student at Newcastle University. In the third blog of our Black Lives Matter series, he argues that our approach to tackling racism should mirror that of the ongoing effort to control COVID-19.

“There is a virus greater than COVID-19 and it’s called racism”. These were the words painted across one placard as protestors in the UK took to the streets, following the tragic killing of George Floyd. Professor Gary Younge, writing in the New Statesman, also highlights how it is systemic racism that has been the real killer of black people during the pandemic, citing inequalities in housing and employment as examples of such injustices. “Being black is a pre-existing condition”, he writes. These arguments, that Britain is in the midst of social crisis as well as a health crisis, do raise questions. If racism is a virus then shouldn’t we start treating it as such? More specifically, what can our anti-COVID-19 strategy bring to the fight against racism?

Key to the strategy to defeating COVID-19 is knowledge. Research allows us to understand the character of the virus – where it came from, how it is transmitted, what its symptoms are – and by establishing what it is we are up against, the government is able to take more informed action in order to tackle it. From the beginning of the pandemic, research from the scientific and medical community has been extensive, rigorous and has stopped at no lengths to uncover critical information about the virus. It is with this state of mind that we should approach the fight against racism in UK. We need to relentlessly ask ourselves uncomfortable questions about racism – where it comes from, how is it spread and at what levels it currently exists. Afua Hirsch, writing in the Guardian, argues that many “British people are ignorant about how racism works”, and there have been calls in recent weeks to address this ‘ignorance’ through the education system. One such call has come from Lavinya Stennett, founder of ‘The Black Curriculum’ campaign, who has questioned how racism is taught in schools. She argues that too often the “teaching of racism individualises it” and that more attention should be paid to how it operates on a structural level (Cranshaw, 2020). This is particularly prescient in a UK context, where racism exists in a less overt capacity but permeates all spheres of life.

A successful anti-COVID-19 strategy also relies on testing. Testing is seen as the crucial way of identifying the scale of the virus and thus enables us to gain the bigger picture. Also significant is how the numbers related to testing are presented by the government. They are updated every 24 hours and placed visibly in the public sphere, routinely read out in the daily Downing Street press conferences. The numbers have been hammered into us, ingrained in our memories. Could we recall how many black people were stopped and searched by the police last year? Through the establishment of the UK government’s ‘Ethnicity Facts and Figures’ website, there has been some effort to centralise figures on racial disparities. It was concerning, however, to discover that on the issue of overcrowded housing, the latest statistics to be published on the website were from the year 2016/17. This matters even more in the context of the current health crisis, with inequalities in housing widely seen as a significant part of why the black community has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. There are arguments that numbers are relatively unimportant when it comes to the fight against racism and that it is action that makes the real difference. This view is misplaced. Numbers focus minds. They quantify the threat we face and inject urgency to address it. The words of the World Heath Organisation feel fitting: “test, test, test”.

If testing is about gaining the bigger picture, then tracing is about getting a more refined view. Through tracing, the government is able to locate virus hotspots. This targeted approach can bring many benefits to fighting racism in UK. Evidence suggests that racism is particularly prevalent in certain areas of society, as revealed by inquiries like the McGregor-Smith Review. It found dramatic racial disparities in the workplace, such as in decision making structures, where just “6 % of the top management positions” are held by BME workers. Clearly this is an area that needs to be addressed and again, here we can see where the tracing system provides a useful template to adopt. Effective tracing relies on fast action in order to quickly bear down on virus hotspots. This decisiveness has been sorely missing when it comes to tackling racism. The British Medical Association this week criticised the government for removing recommendations from its report on the impact of coronavirus on BAME communities. Saying ‘lessons will be learnt’ is simply not enough. Defeating COVID-19 requires dramatic government intervention. The fight against racism should be no different.

Why a change to the black history taught in UK schools is long overdue

Kyla Scott (@__kylascott) is a third year Sociology undergraduate at Newcastle University. In the second of the Black Lives Matter blog series, she writes about the lack of black representation in the British school curriculum as well as the glossing over of the reality of the British Empire. She argues that as long as British history in schools continues to glorify the patriotic narrative of empire and Britain’s imperialist past, a nationalist and racist narrative will continue to shape British society.

In the three weeks since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in America, there has been a surge in existing calls to address the long-standing whitewashed and Eurocentric British education system. In particular, the current curriculum is criticised for failing to acknowledge the wider reality of the British empire and the UK’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and for not including positive black role models who are significant to British history. ‘The Black Curriculum’, an educational social enterprise which aims to address the lack of black history in the UK curriculum argues that the:

“Current History National Curriculum systematically omits the contribution of Black British history in favour of a dominant White, Eurocentric curriculum that fails to reflect our multi ethnic and broadly diverse society” (The Black Curriculum, 2020: 2).

Although the current British school curriculum does acknowledge the slave trade and currently covers a range of topics during Black History Month, these are not covered in great depth or detail, with the National Education Union adding this week:

 “We must improve the curriculum so that students learn about how Britain was founded on global histories. Students should learn about the achievements and roles of black Britons in every field of human endeavour” (National Education Union, 2020).

It is clear, even from my own educational experience, that the current teaching curriculum in schools does not go far enough to address the atrocities of the British empire.

The current conversations about statues across the country highlight how considerations about black history have previously been missed. For example, the pulling down of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol during the recent Black Lives Matter protests and the negative reactions to this has highlighted a deep lack of knowledge about slavery in the UK.

Bristol: Plinth of Edward Colston statue following the statue's removal during a BLM protest on 7th June, 2020
Bristol: Plinth of Edward Colston statue following the statue’s removal by protesters during a Black Lives Matter protest on 7th June, 2020.
Photo credit: Phil Riley, B24/7

There had already been calls for the statue to be removed as it was a celebration of an individual involved directly in the slave trade, but these went unheard. There have been protests against other statues across the country, included one of Winston Churchill in London, which was vandalised during the Black Lives Matter protests. These protests have been met by a defence for Churchill that resonates with the way that he is portrayed in the GCSE curriculum: a ‘hero’ who ended World War Two. This representation crucially omits his direct responsibility in the Bengal Famine and his controversial views on eugenics, which I know from personal experience are not taught on the current UK curriculum. Misconceptions about Churchill and wider British history are rooted in the history (mis)taught in UK schools. This is then reflected through the lack of awareness about how statues are seen by many as problematic. This was also seen locally in Newcastle when self-defined ‘statue defenders’ at ‘All Lives Matter’ protests congregated around Grey’s Monument in the city centre as they believed the Black Lives Matter protesters were aiming to deface the statue. The swift call to arms from the statue defenders clearly didn’t allow for enough time to research the subject of their defence as Earl Grey oversaw the Slavery abolition Act in 1833. Rather, the Black Lives Matter protesters were seeking the removal of statues of historical figures who were pro-slavery or racist.

Another broader implication of a lack of black history being taught in the UK curriculum means a large part of our heritage and personal family involvement in colonialism is omitted from history lessons. This is important as “to leave this history out denies the existence of a section of the British population giving an incomplete understanding of British society and its development” (Visram, 1994: 57). This can have a deep impact on the lives of black pupils as the history they are being taught does not relate to their own histories and how these are entwined with Britishness. When schools do teach black history, it is mostly done by placing black history within superficial discussions of slavery or the American Civil Rights changes during the 1960s, further distancing black pupils from their heritage and the role of Britain in the reproduction of racial formations. “The black curriculum seeks to teach black history beyond slavery. The students that we have taught have really benefited from seeing themselves in positive roles…[t]hat it wasn’t just slaves” (The Black Curriculum, 2020). In doing this, black pupils have the opportunity to develop a sense of belong to their past. It is also important for white pupils to critically engage in Britain’s history of treatment of black people in order to understand racism in the present. With this knowledge, children can then become more confident to call out racism when they see it.

How you can help

There are various petitions circulating online that are seeking for parliament to implement changes to the current UK curriculum (e.g. here and here). Alongside signing these, it is important that we all take an active role in educating ourselves on the topics missed from our own education through reading and engaging with a broader understanding of British history. Whilst educating ourselves, uncomfortable conversations with friends and families need to happen in order to use privilege to fight racism. 



Visram, R. (1994). British history: Whose history? Black perspectives on British History. Teaching History. London: Routledge. 

The Black Curriculum (2020). Black British history in the national curriculum report.  (31.02.2020)

National Education Union (2020). Black Lives Matter.

Dear white people, anti-racism is not a trend…

Rashida Campbell-Allen (@rashidacallen) is a 3rd year undergraduate combined honours student at Newcastle University. In this, the first in a two-week series of blogs from undergraduate students at Newcastle about Black Lives Matter and systemic racism, she reflects on social media and ‘performative’ activism.

The death of George Floyd is not a wake-up call. In fact, the same alarm has been echoing since 1619, but ignorance and privilege have hit the snooze button time and time again.

News of Floyd’s death spread like wildfire across the globe and as it did, I was overwhelmed with emotions, being a black woman myself. Anger, trauma, confusion and frustration. But also, a sense of excitement for the changes the uproar could provoke.

In a contemporary digital era, it is unsurprising that social media has become the arena within which most of our lives and interactions take place, especially in the midst of a national lockdown. Whilst social media can act as a useful source of information and a platform for communication, it also enables anonymity, detachment and performativity.

Anti-racism is neither a trend nor transient, because racism has been historically omnipresent and persistent. However, there is something about this particular occasion that feels different. Is it that everyone has more time to be on social media now, meaning more time to engage and pay attention to such incidents? Or was it that for the first time in my lifetime, white people were publicly waking up to self-reflect on their whiteness and listening not just to hear, but to understand, respect and raise black voices?

Spaces such as Instagram have become saturated with #blacklivesmatter content, from images, resources and petitions as well as brand and celebrity statements. While this exposure is welcomed, I cannot help but be sceptical of the effectiveness and longevity of these actions.

For example, there were numerous ‘chains’ being shared, where accounts were tagged, calling people to continue the chain and proclaim that they are not racist.

This self-indulgent proclamation and performative solidarity felt trivial and insulting, because who were these posts really helping? It seemed an easy way for white people to feel safe and assured that they are one of the ‘good’ ones. This showed how social media poses a risk to anti-racist efforts by encouraging performative behaviour instead of taking real action and interactional change. Having my timeline swamped with these posts spoke to the very way white people can use their privilege to selectively and comfortably (dis)engage with conversations about race.

Another example which really unsettled me was #blackouttuesday. Waking up on Tuesday 2 June, my heart felt heavy. Why did it appear like the world had closed its eyes and taken a break from the movement? As if white people were being granted some breathing time to digest everything. I then learned that it was rooted in activism and change. A way for the music industry to take a commercial break to avoid distraction and centre the focus on BLM. However, on Instagram, that intention was quickly warped.

Social media turned the black box into a superficial trend. My timeline was plastered with black squares, uploaded by people who had said nothing supportive in the days prior, and as if their activism existed within the four walls of this empty black space. To this I say no. Being non-racist does not make one anti-racist. It requires real recognition and mobilisation of privilege. Signing petitions, reading up on Black British history, provoking conversations amongst white friends and family members. Using your privilege to donate money if possible and so on. 

Whilst I am filled with pride and optimism that social media activism has provoked real change, as seen in recent passing of progressive laws in the US and reopening of cases in the UK, I am reluctant to see what the future landscape of anti-racism will look like. Will this be another phase of activism that will eventually sink back into the shadows? When another piece of news replaces the headlines, will the anti-racist work continue offline?

Institutional statements and engagements with these trends also demonstrated how social media can create opportunities for hypocrisy. Newcastle Student Union posted a black square with advice on how to be an ally and support the movement.  However, the university received backlash and calls to do more than join the trend, because of a previous lack of transparency and action to racism within the institution, in addition to the memorials of Martin Luther King Jr and Frederick Douglas being called “tokenistic gestures”. In response, the university emailed a much-awaited and welcome response to students which began to acknowledge the need to go beyond tokenism thus highlighting the impact black students and anti-racist allies can have. Hopefully, we will continue to be heard in the future so that this moment is not fleeting.

I want people to understand that true allyship and anti-racism is not a trend. Allyship and anti-racism is not a week-long performative act. Being anti-racist is a realisation that race is a universal matter – not just an issue for black people. It is lifelong commitment to self-reflection, action, education, awareness and listening to constructive criticism. Your black squares and hashtags are not enough. Your shock is not enough. In this case, actions need to speak louder than words.