A Call Out to the Allies

Submission to The Social Lens: A Social Work Action Blog by Bindi Bennett, Professor, Federation University, Australia.

For Aboriginal people, walking into a meeting that is heavily dominated by white settlers is intimidating and is usually a high-risk situation. To be honest, even if the meeting has people of colour attending, waging war against the colony and colonisation as a vessel for continued attempted genocide is dangerous to those at the heart of the battle. It is not if microaggressions occur, but when.

A good example is a meeting I recently attended. I had spent the morning challenging inequity within a major organisation created by Westernisation, Colonisation and White supremacy. I had ruffled white fragility. As a result of this, a white settler stated, “I am glad you aren’t my daughter.” This violent attack might be put down to a personality disagreement if not for my morning of discomforting discussions where the white person was witness to my ongoing fight for racial equality and social justice. The white settler had weaponised their white privilege against the minority-oppressed Aboriginal person in the room.

However, what disappointed me more than anything else was that my supposed allies not only witnessed this violence but they also took no action against it, or for me, or for Aboriginal peoples. This gave me great pause. After all, what is an ally if not to try to stop the bullet from landing in the very heart of marginalised peoples?

Microaggressions come quickly and can seem to be a brief throwaway comment. Often, microaggressions go unrecognised by bystanders because they may not realise how offensive they are, or they don’t know how to respond. However, microaggressions are deliberately debilitating and harmful to the victim. The person on the receiving end is likely to be experiencing a wave of emotions; holding the responsibility to respond thoughtfully and without triggering further trauma is both exhausting and harming to one’s mental health.

Microaggressions may seem small but compounded over time they can be just as harmful as more overt expressions of discrimination. They reinforce white privilege and undermine a culture of inclusion. Worse than this, microaggressions left unstopped can lead to increased outward racist actions that are very dangerous for Aboriginal people. An example of the dangerousness of racism is the recent monumental loss of Cassius Turvey, who died after being attacked while walking home after school. Between 2000 and 2022 at least 315 First Nations women in Australia have either gone missing or have been murdered or killed in suspicious circumstances. These incidences show that when left unchecked and unmanaged, racism causes our death.

The Call It Out report found that 26% of racism occurs in the workplace, with 25% of racism being ongoing in nature. This report also notes the profound impacts of racism and notes the importance of identifying it as impacting the ‘cultural fabric’ of Aboriginal communities.

An environment needs to be safe to disagree and to be focused on growth towards de-westernisation and re-Indigenisation. It is up to allies to assist with stopping micro assaults, micro insults and microinvalidations that occur at every meeting for Aboriginal peoples. Racism. It Stops With Me is a national campaign that provides tools and resources to give skills and strategies to take action against racism and to create change.

I Googled some ways to interrupt and intercept microaggressions (you are welcome allies) and they include: asking a clarifying question, often from curiosity. Name the event, for example, “I noticed that…” Encourage others to consider the impact of their words and actions. Own your own response: “When I heard you say X, I thought/felt Y.” Identify the microaggressions and request appropriate action: “I’d appreciate it if you would not…” These steps show your cultural responsiveness and allyship. Not sure if you are culturally responsive? Take Bennett and Bodkin-Andrews (2021) survey to find out more.

One reason we avoid robust conversations about race is that they can cause conflict, defensiveness, fragility and attack. Therefore, it is important for Allies to set expectations for a safe workplace environment. Intent does not supersede impact. Allies must start to try to prevent the macro effects of microaggressions and decrease their prevalence among their Aboriginal colleagues, friends and family members. Racism stops with you, especially if you are an Ally.

THE SOCIAL LENS: A SOCIAL WORK ACTION BLOG - The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the original author(s) and do not express the views of the UBC School of Social Work and/or the other contributors to the blog. The blog aims to uphold the School's values and mission.