Nova Reid
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My name is Nova, which means 'new'. I've also recently discovered it's the name of a superhero character from the '60s. I'm definitely trying to live up to my name, but I'll be honest with you: I used to hate my name as a child. I actually wanted to be called Laura. I wanted nothing more than to be normal, to fit in, and to belong. But growing up in leafy Hertfordshire in the '80s in England, that was never going to happen. I stood out like a sore thumb. The sleeves didn't help. I have a vivid memory of being about seven years old, similar to here, and I was walking to primary school. I noticed a young girl on the other side of the road with her mother. She must have been about five. And she pointed at me, and she said, 'Mummy, Mummy, why is that girl the same colour as poo-poo?' It was in that moment I realised I was black. It was in that moment I realised I was different. And it was that moment I realised my value as a human being somehow wasn't the same. And to my parents' devastation, it was from that moment I became obsessed with washing. See, I thought the reason that little girl likened me to excrement and the reason why I didn't look like the majority of people around me - in real life, on TV, in the books I was reading, the toys I was playing with - was because I was dirty. And as I grew older and I encountered more experiences, I realised something. I realised it wasn't the men in white vans shouting monkey chants at me that impacted me the most. It wasn't having England flags being continuously waved at me and being told to go back to my own country that impacted me the most. It was that moment. Why did that unexpected moment with that little girl, who, of course, knew no better, and her mother, who ushered her away from me like I was contagious, the one that stuck like glue? The one that wreaks the most havoc? I just want to play a clip. (Video) Anderson Cooper: And then, which was the ugly child? [CNN - Black Or White, Kids On Race] Researcher: So show me the smart child. Okay. Why is she the smart child? Girl: Because she looks like me. Researcher: Okay. Show me the mean child. Okay. Why is she the mean child? Child: Because she's way darker. Researcher: Okay. Nova Reid: Children start forming racial bias as young as three years old. And they are learning their social cues from us - from what we do or don't say and what we do or don't do. I just want to show you two headlines I saw earlier this year, 2019. [Babies being racially abused in UK] [Children whitening skin to avoid racial hate crime] These took me right back to being that seven-year-old, anxious little girl. We are repeating cycles and patterns of behaviour. If you are someone who cares about peace, justice, and equality for all and who don't want to see headlines like this or studies like that done on children anymore, then I invite you to get curious with me today. Today, I want to talk about microaggressions. In black and white, they are a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect or subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group, such as a racial or ethnic minority. A bit gobbledygook. They were first founded in 1970 by a Harvard academic and psychiatrist called Chester Pierce. They're relatively new for us in the mainstream, but, essentially, they're a form of everyday discrimination, a form of hidden racism, and they happen both consciously and subconsciously, often that tells us that we're misplaced in some way. But rather than me talk about them, I just want to show you some common examples. (Video) Narrator: Some people get bitten by mosquitoes a lot more than others. I mean, a lot more. Whether on a date - Mosquito 1: Your English is so good. Woman 1: Excuse me? N: Grocery shopping. M2: Everything happens for a reason. Man: I'm buying apples. N: Commuting to work. M3: When are you having a baby? N: Or just walking with your partner. W2: I couldn't even tell you were gay! N: (Sighs) Mosquitoes seem to pop up everywhere. NR: And some common racial microaggressions, which is what we're focusing on today. (Video) Woman 1: Your hair is like a sponge! Can I touch it? W2: You're pretty for a black girl. W3: Are your family cleaners? W4: Where are you from? W5: You don't speak like a black person. Man 1: Someone said to me to go back to China. M2: I'll be walking past a car, people will lock their car door, or people will, like, move their handbag onto the other side if I sit on public transport with them. M3: Just because I'm a brown guy on the Tube carrying two bags, you get the shifty looks. NR: You might even recognise a few of them in yourself because none of us are 'immune' from them. But in all seriousness, they seem quite harmless, right? Like genuine mistakes or chances to engage in conversation. Or perhaps people like me are being oversensitive and we take ourselves too seriously. The reality is research shows us regular exposure to racial microaggressions can cause more harm than overt acts of hate. Further research from neuroscientists, social psychologists show that people who receive regular racial stress - such as microaggressions - they can see the same brain pattern as seen in soldiers who'd served in war, experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. Aka - racial microaggressions show up in the bodies of black and brown people as trauma. They're no joke. What makes them so dangerous and so difficult to address is that, in isolation, they seem harmless. So we often just let them pass by, and we don't address them. But just think of it in terms of snowflakes. Over minutes, a few hours - quite harmless. The novelty is there. But over months, years, it can form a devastating avalanche. What makes microaggressions so difficult to tackle and, equally, so powerfully effective is one - we are unsophisticated in recognising them in ourselves and each other. Two - most people have a limited understanding of what racism is. We've been accustomed to only associating racism with a single overt act of intentional and conscious hate to one person by another based on the sole belief that one's race is more superior. And if we take that definition, the one we've been using since it was first coined in 1902, it means if it wasn't conscious or intentional, most people don't think it's racism, and therefore they think they are exempt from contributing to it, and therefore nothing changes. It just takes on a new format. [Black women are 5 x more likely to die in childbirth than white women] [MBRRACE Report] [Only 1% of children's books have BAME main characters - UK study] So, what if I were to get a bit mischievous and say that the most harmful form of racism in the West is a subtle kind of sneaky prejudice that sneaks up on us when we least expect it - in school playgrounds, around the dinner table at Christmastime or holiday seasons, and it definitely likes sneaking up at work. And that this type of sneaky, hidden, insidious prejudice can lead to things like systemic racism. And that it's not done in people that we've become accustomed with associating racism with - football hooligans, for example, [Football Hooligans portrayed in Green Street] or these people. [Klu Klux Klan Paraders] It often happens in these people. Well-meaning, kind-hearted, well-intentioned people who we generally love and respect - midwives, doctors, parents, friends, partners - every day, several times a day, without realising. Microaggressions have got nothing to do with being a good or bad person. They are a form of everyday discrimination that we have learned - an inevitable and unavoidable by-product of being born into and living in a country that legalised oppression, that financially benefited from oppression for hundreds and hundreds of years. As a result, we've been taught to suppress our prejudice - what was once normal is now not okay. And that suppressed prejudice sometimes comes out when we least expect it as a microaggression. We've been taught to make social assumptions about each other - about who is normal and who isn't, about who we should automatically trust and who we should automatically fear, [56 Black Men] about who is classically beautiful and who isn't. Musician Daryl Davis, he was responsible for single-handedly converting a grand wizard - so the leader of the KKK - and convincing him to hang up his robe. And he no longer lives by those ideologies, and the two of them are now good friends - a black man and a white man. He says, 'We're living in Space Age times with Stone Age minds.' And I wonder: unless we have consciously and intentionally chosen to unlearn what was once deemed as right or as normal, did our mindsets really change when laws did? I know this concept just turns everything upside down - 'I'm one of the good ones!' It can lead you to feeling like you're in a bit of an identity crisis, focusing on your intent or feeling like you're being accused or blamed. But there's no blame here in this conversation; it's about widening our understanding. It is entirely possible for us as human beings to cause harm with our unintentional actions. I think that's the case. Especially my seven-year-old self and that five-year-old little girl who, of course, knew no better. Let me reframe it for you. How many of you have had bumps in supermarket car parks or minor road traffic accidents? Yes? It is entirely possible for good people to accidentally crash into cars. But we don't absolve responsibility and drive off and say, 'Sorry, wasn't my fault,' and get on with our day - some people might, but I'm not talking about them. No. We stick around, we exchange details, and we seek to repair the damage, regardless of our intent. The same can be said for microaggressions. People generally think that it's the individual's responsibility, who's on the receiving end of racism, to solve it, to end it or for organisations like National Action or the KKK to just disappear and then racism will go. We've seen that's not the case. We're in 2019, and we're still having difficulties with racism. People who intentionally want to cause harm to another are in the minority. Well-intentioned people, kind-hearted, well-meaning, are in the powerful majority. People like you. I recently saw a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and it says if we care about the health and future of all our children, then we, collectively, need to take responsibility to tackle racism and to help and support those who are affected by it in whatever form it comes. Because healing is communal. So, what if I said you were part of the powerful solution? You could help stop contributing to these devastating stats and this devastating avalanche by doing just three things. One - education. Understand that racism exists beyond an overt act of intentional and conscious hate. Read up on it. Read up on systemic racism. Widen your network. Two - have courage. Seek out what your inherent biases are. What are your suppressed prejudices? Because they're there. If you're human, you have them. And if you don't know what they are, how can you help? Even Harvard has developed a test, an implicit bias test, for us to all get curious about this. And three - if you commit a microaggression, practise graciously receiving feedback. Be open to hearing about an experience that is different to your own even if you don't understand it. One - apologise. Two - listen. Three - say, 'I'm sorry, this isn't my experience. Tell me more so I can better understand.' Sociologist and author Robin DiAngelo was hosting a social justice workshop, as she regularly does, and she asked her participants, 'What would it be like to be able to give people, especially white people, feedback on their unaware and unavoidable racism and have it received, reflected, and work to change behaviour?' One participant, who was a black man, took a deep breath and sighed. And he said four words: 'It would be revolutionary.' Go out there and be revolutionary because you have the power to change the world. I'm Nova Reid. Thank you very much. (Applause)