Advocacy is great but on a broad scale, ACTION is how we make change
There is nothing wrong with advocacy - it’s a wonderful skill, and it is aimed at changing one person’s mind someone whose decision often has life changing outcomes for another.
But how useful is it in everyday life, beyond the courtroom, and beyond the soap box?
Campaigning and protesting has an important place – and I absolutely do and have made a stand with #blacklivesmatter and #pride to name but a couple of communities I support outside of my own (ie #stopmentalhealthstigma). My very work is advocacy based – I write, I teach, I podcast, I train – and maybe I might change one person’s mind and get them to look after themselves a little better. It’s why I try and ensure everything I do has a practical element – a call to action, something we can DO to make a difference. But while a change of mind – ie. say from moving what I do from “soft rubbish” to “OK, I won’t make fun of you, I’ll just ignore you” – is always welcomed, a change of behaviour is what is needed most.
Shouting is sometimes about being heard, not about doing “good”
It is Pride month, Climate Change and sustainability campaigns are widely known, and of course the Black Lives Matter movement is at the forefront, and what I see is much anger – one side shouting and another covering their ears and shouting back – like Brexit. Both (and in most arguments – every) side has a point. For example, I fully appreciate the voices which are trying to explain “Black Lives Matter" too (because they are, globally, atrociously undervalued), but I also hear the ones who are saying but surely “all lives matter”? Yes, I know, they don’t quite get it, but it is often a well meaning sentiment coming from people who would never consciously discriminate, who have likely actively fought for equality in their jobs or in their friendships in their way, and who do listen, hear and learn…but right now instead of listening and processing and taking time to reducate each other, everyone is an advicate and every opposing side simply seems to nod and raises their voice. Sometimes these two groups are fighting the same side, and with a little appreciation for semantics – as well as an understanding that you cannot hold people responsible for past atrocities especially when they have always done their best to rally the cry for minority groups – any groups any movements (whatever they may be), through alliance, may be made all the stronger. In any movement, as (rightly) angry as you are - don’t cut the nose to spite the face.
However, of course it’s easy to talk when you have not been undervalued, systemically, for years
I also appreciate however, that while I have my own demons which may relate to my race, under confidence is not one of them. But I also don’t have what I absolutely appreciate is systemic “white privilege” – because no matter how much I can “pass” (have you heard my RP?) or sit within that “model minority” I may never be selected over a Caucasian for a non specifically E/SE Asian role. But I have done ok so far. (In my experience, and I always credit the Chrissy B Show, and Pearson (my publishing house) and all the people who have given me all the opportunities I’ve had…right down to my 6th form English teacher who told me “It’s hard for me to cast you as Portia because she is written as a blonde” – and gave me the role anyway because I gave the best audition – I do believe I generally rise and fall on my ability outside race, gender, age and so on).
But I get that this is not the case for many within minority groups.
Minority communities have fewer role models on “mainstream” media - especially not ones who embrace their heritage....even fewer are written that way without stereotype or irony. Minorities have fewer people willing to give them a chance. Their own families are often living under a lifetime of oppression – made fun of perhaps for leaving their home country, and unaccepted by their host nation. They are exalted less – think about your role models? Maybe, like me, yours may include Obama or perhaps Oprah, but how many, if you are not of a different minority group are from a minority group? (You can argue, they are fewer in high positions – but isn’t that the problem!?) And with this, minorities may also have other minorities turning round with “Well at least I’m not you.” Ryan Murphy has his characters say it in “Pose” as they list all the categories of marginalization ending with the non-white transgender scene; and there is an excellent piece written in the Huffington Post about how Asians (in this case I use the term to refer to SE Asian, East Asian rather than S Asian) may have historically (through colonialism) been so beaten down into thinking – be the “Model minority”, which allowed them to succeed (at least to the top of the glass ceiling) within a “white world” - to recognize that even that may not be enough…as much as that "model minority" works the front line of healthcare amongst other fields, how fast did “coronavirus” become a racist slant? The message is there to minorities too, you are worthy of being your own hero.
How can you be “proud” when you’ve been deemed “worthless” for so long?
It’s the same problem a client with a history of abuse may have – how can you build up something that was never full formed?
Maybe THAT’s where we can start to take action?
Celebrate minority role models
Give opportunity according to talent
Stop jumping to stereotypical conclusions about others
…oh wait, isn’t that what we’ve been saying all along. Why isn’t it happening everywhere? I come back to the point. It’s easy to SAY, we NEED TO DO.
So, what CAN we do?
There IS a place for protests, there IS a place for campaigning, because when a voice is compelling enough, someone – maybe more – will have a change of mind (or heart) – and that is a wonderful thing, but the way I have always looked at my own campaigning (in my tiny world - for greater care of our mental health) - it’s lovely you agree with me – BUT NOW, what are you going to DO??
I am personally taking the time to educate myself more on Black History at the moment – I am reading the books being suggested, watching the videos, listening to the podcasts. I am reforming my opinions and I will certainly stand to support, but where I can make the real difference is in my own behaviours. I question my unconscious biases when I recognize them, or I’m called on them; I am sure to (as a theatre director) cast to support race (ie. we have never blackfaced nor yellowfaced in any productions) as well as casting “colourblind” (or as I like to call it “on talent”) when race is immaterial. As an employer, I also look to elevate whoever can do the job, irrespective of race – or age, gender, sexuality and so on for that matter too.
I'm also educating myself not just on the treatment of the communities of "Pose" (and understanding the discrimination that AIDS permeated in the 80s) but also I'm watching documentaries such as "Paris is Burning" and the inspiration behind the themes of the series. Perhaps I can write better through it, perhaps I will have a better understanding of future clients. Education always pays off.
But this is not the only area I’m referring to where actions make a greater difference than words – let's consider climate change. I can talk about it, I can use the hashtags, I am again educating myself – but it is not my place to be another Greta Thurnberg. Instead what I can do is I can include a chapter on sustainability in my next book, I can spend my money on a "living wall" rather than a new shed, as well as recycle, upcycle, behave sustainability and avoid waste in my daily practice.
That’s all a lot of us can do to effect any change – but we have to be prepared to start small.
Try the following:
1. Join the campaign but then lend your voice to those who truly educate
Use your strengths. As much as you believe, if you don’t have the followers, the gravitas nor the credentials, your voice can sometimes do more harm than good. (Even in this piece, I am trying to stay as generalized as possible, focusing on the power of action over words rather than campaign, as that is my field of expertise). But with social media as it is – and I fully appreciate the irony of writing this (but I’m a writer) – it is seeming to me that everyone wants to shout their opinion, and shout down another if they don’t agree or sometimes if they simply want a discussion. I do get that not only are you outraged that such unfairness is going on, and so we should be, but when you then feel unheard you’re refueled by anger.
What I would say here is if YOU can be the first person to stop and listen, maybe (and absolutely it won’t be all the time, some people simply shout for the sake of it) you might see that you actually haven an ally…and then reach out. There are a LOT of protestors and – while it pains me to say it – if your social media post is going to add little, try something new. Connect, join, DO.
In my weekly wellbeing newsletter I haven’t given my reading list of systemic racism material – I’ve shared the link to the people who’ve thought about it a little more. While I can talk about climate change, Greta Thunberg does it better, so I've quoted her in my book. While I wave the rainbow flag, I share my friends' or colleagues writing on their experiences rather than trying to paraphrase.
2. Put in the time and effort to learn about areas broader than your own community.
Remember, it’s very easy to stand for injustice when it is your community, it is much more effort when it is someone else’s – so as far as I’m concerned, in my own life, I am grateful when my friends are outraged on behalf of my community (my heritage is SE Asian). It is also very easy to be righteous in one area that pertains to your life which you may be more acutely aware of, and make exactly the same mistake in another because it’s not your community. (I had to ask one of my friends about the difference between the rainbow flag and the NHS rainbow, and what it meant if you were using the flag in relation to the NHS…I was ashamed in some ways that I had to ask, but my friend was extremely helpful and gave me a lot of links to read, and now I know, and I knew before I made a potential error). But on that – be aware we are all human – many people are not deliberately trying to offend…yes of course some absolutely are, but again – think broader than anger.
3. Remember that taking action doesn’t need to (and probably won’t) change the world all at once – but it will do SOMETHING
Of course it would be great if one voice could change the mind of the world – it could break down discrimination, marginalization, hatred…but not even Gandhi could manage that. So even if it’s not in your consciousness to want be that person who gets retweeted by the global population - which is sometimes why people make a stand - make active change where you have influence.
Call out people if they discriminate – but remember, it doesn’t have to be nasty, nor humiliating – in fact the more diplomatically, the more likely you are to effect a change of mind…and that is after all, what you want (isn’t it!?) A subtle private message to see if they acted in error is more likely to influence than having a go…the latter only results in defensiveness that neither party wants fundamentally. They might chastise you for not getting their “joke” and maybe they’ll even sulk about it for a while – I’ve been told “People like you probably just sit around and wait to be offended”…that’s defensiveness talking (hence, if you can, try taking it up privately first, but even then, you’ll not change the mind of some) - but I would still rather be the person who stood up for what I believed in than let it lie…and maybe, the person I raise it with might think twice next time.
If you are in a position of authority – look at your staff, your recruitment, your board, your promotions – what can you do to broaden opportunity? Oh, and i) stop using the “token” minority on all your brochures; an ii) a “listening event” is NOT ENOUGH. I say this with all the experience I have as a psychologist – listening is SEDUCTIVE. Listening can lead us just to talk rather than take action…and again, I get it, when you’ve not been heard your whole life, being listened to is amazing, but it’s a trap of our own making if we simply continue just to talk.
Parents, teachers – educate yourselves and your charges about acceptance and equality, as well as human atrocitities and broader history than our own community – whatever that may be and watch our own language, our jokes, our throwaway comments…and yes, maybe you can judge me for “pandering to political correctness” but since when does anyone’s ability to do most jobs rest on their race, gender, sexuality, age and so on – I don’t believe any discriminatory term ever needs to be used as a reason for anything.
Make allies of the people who have stood up outside their community to make a difference. Perhaps for every time you chastise a dissenter, thank a fighter on your side. We need to appreciate those who have stood by our side. I appreciate my husband – not in fact because he’s the “white saviour” who married the SE Asian, but actually because he’s the 19 year old who started dating the 32 year old…if it went (or goes) wrong, he’s sacrificed “the best years”…but yes, the mixed-race marriage could have been another thing too.
Ask “What can I do because it’s right?” instead of “what about me?” Another reason I talk about allies and how hard it can be to raise your head above the parapet for others is because gratitude may go further than we think. We may all harbour some pent up frustration from the “sins of our parents”.I don’t think I know a single person who would say (no matter how loving their home) that their parents truly understood (or heard) them.And this longing may go some way to explain why most of us feel a twinge of “what about me?” when another fight, or perhaps the same fight that someone else has posed “gets all the attention”.I do – I’ve been working to promote the mental health agenda for 6 years, and along come Harry and Oprah and they get all the attention, and instead of thinking – great – some muscle behind the cause, I think…So if you hear a voice on your side, thank them, that might even be the start of a powerful collaboration, and at the very least, you might have eased some of the inner child pain many of us feel somewhere. And if you think “but what about me?” – think also – what about (…and then learn to parent yourself in the way you need…please see my previous blog on self compassion.)
Finally, THINK before we judge others - we make snap judgments because as adults we have so much information to process daily that we can only spare around 3 – 7 seconds to form an opinion…and opinions when they are made quickly often lead to outrage rather than effective action. If we don’t have time to process, then avoid raising your voice, and if you raise your voice, make sure it’s had more than 3 – 7 seconds of thought…better still, let your actions speak louder and start to transform at least your corner of the world.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Learn more at www.draudreyt.com, or follow her on Twitter/IG: @draudreyt.
For her online wellbeing show full of resilience-based interventions ENERGY TOP UP , or her podcast "Retrain your Brain for Success"