Unlearning Normality


A hybrid personal documentation for understanding racism, seeing privilege and unlearning normality as whiteness.

Created as part of Visibility: Diversity and Design at the University of Applied Sciences Europe.
Unlearning Normality

A hybrid personal documentation of learnings through understanding racism, seeing privilege and unlearning normality for a white person.

Preface

Everybody already seems to be expressing everything, every day, everywhere. Whether that is with a picture on Instagram or an opinion in the nasty-land that is twitter. Then, with the death of George Floyd came the profound, unmistakable new wave urging us to really, and I mean really, drop everything and talk about racism and equality.

I'm not one to make noise, to express, to yell. Not in the past, not now. When and if people wanted to know what I think, they'd ask me. And only if I had something useful to say in return, I'd say something.


But "It's not enough to say I am not a racist; we must be anti-racist" and “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”, right? Everyone seemingly started to ask everyone else to say something and take a stance. That's when I realised, I had nothing to say. Not a single thing. Not because I was neutral, not because I was afraid, not because I can’t take a stance.
I’m starting to recognise that a lot of what I consider as ‘normal’ in my life needs to be unlearned. Normality is, in fact, a systemic construction designed to favour white people. Privilege has been fused into my life, my education, my job, my nationality, to such an extent that it’s become invisible. Without the fullest understanding of what is going on, what the problems are, how we got here, my ill-informed opinion, or whatever visual material I cough up is hardly going to matter. I realised that my opinions, my experiences, whatever I had to say at this point is unimportant and the least bit useful.

Instead, I promised myself to learn, to understand, to see and perhaps most importantly to unlearn as much as I can on racism, prejudice, equality, privilege, not so I can say something or tell someone something, but so I can change myself. For the better.  


This hybrid documentation serves as a personal space for me to gather new sources, organise my thoughts, reflect on my learnings, and observe change within myself. This page will continue to grow and change as I continue to learn. It is not intended to be another white voice on the internet, another megaphone powered preaching of what you should say, think or do, another designerly project meant to explore or investigate.

If you are reading this and you are not Jonas Vogt, I ask that you stay and read on, not so I can teach you something, just so you might be inspired to do the same- learn, and unlearn your normality.



Recent Events

A sequence of events following George Floyd’s death that led to the creation of this project:

25 May 2020
George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck while he was pinned to the floor. Bystanders waved their cellphones, cursed and pleaded for help, and still, for two minutes and 53 seconds after George Floyd had stopped protesting and became unresponsive, the officer continued to kneel. 1

26 May 2020
Minneapolis erupts in protest, four officers involved in the deadly arrest are fired.

1 June 2020
Anti-racism solidarity protests are held around the world, including the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada and Brazil. A private autopsy, obtained by Floyd's family, found that the 46-year-old died of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression by police.

5 June 2020
Vigils are held in several major cities for Taylor on what would have been her 27th birthday. Calls grow for the Louisville officers involved in Taylor's killing to be fired.

7 June 2020
Protesters target Confederate statues and symbols across the US south, with some being toppled by demonstrators and others being removed by cities or defenders of the monuments. Protesters in Bristol topple a statue of a 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston. 2



Going Down the Rabbit Hole



Prior Incidences

Black individuals dying at the hands of the police is not an isolated event, with the protests that have erupted after the death of George Floyd, I started to see more and more names of individuals who died due to police brutality and excessive force. At the same time, I was shocked by figures such as black people account for 13% of the US population, but 28% of all people killed by police are black, or that statistically a black person is 3 times as likely to be killed by police than a white person.

The list below is in no way expanse, but the fact that I could build a list at all worries me. 4

17 July 2014
Eric Garner died after he was wrestled to the ground by a New York police officer on suspicion of illegally selling cigarettes. While in a chokehold, he uttered the words "I can't breathe" 11 times.

9 August 2014
Michael Brown, 18, was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, who was responding to reports that Brown - who was not armed - had stolen a box of cigars. Brown was shot six times.

22 November 2014
Tamir Rice, 2, was shot dead in Cleveland, Ohio by a police officer after reports of a male who was "probably a juvenile" pointing a gun that was "probably fake" at passers-by. Police claimed that they told Rice to drop the weapon - but instead of dropping it he pointed it at police. The police confirmed that the gun was a toy after Rice had been shot dead.

6 July 2016
Philando Castile was pulled over by the police during a routine check and told them he was licensed to carry a weapon, and had one in his possession. He was shot as he was reaching for his licence, according to his girlfriend.

13 March 2020
Breonna Taylor, 26, was an emergency medical technician. She was shot eight times when the police raided her apartment executing a search warrant as part of a drugs raid. No drugs were found. Breonna Taylor's partner fired in self-defence because the police did not identify themselves, Louisville police returned fire after one officer was shot and wounded in the incident.




only














13th (clip)
Ava DuVernay
Netflix, 2016

But all lives matter!
Yes, only that is not what this conversation is about.

Black lives matter!
Sure. Actually, all lives matter!


That’s a conversation I’ve heard people have around me more than once, and it probably takes place every couple seconds on the internet. Specifically the comments section on Twitter or something.

I’ve even had that very thought myself:
“Why are we arguing over who matters? Isn’t it the whole point of equality for all lives to matter? All lives, regardless of skin-colour, gender, or whatever labeling system we’re going by today, matters”




Michael Che Matters
Michael Che
Netflix, 2016
We can't even agree on Black Lives Matter... Black lives Matter. Not matters more than you, just matters... We can't agree on that shit? What the fuck is less than matters? Black lives exist?


All lives matter. It sounds so justified, so impartial, so...right. What I didn’t realise at the time was how my thoughts weren’t as much a response to the problem as it is a deflection, a desire to not see inequality and injustice. We wave the flag of equality, turning a blind eye to the shit storm that’s been brewing for hundreds of years.

Of course all lives should matter, but at this time and place, under current circumstances (which is not so current in all honesty) the conversation is about black lives. Black people are being murdered for their skin colour, denied opportunities for their skin colour, being oppressed for their skin colour, insert horrible verb for their skin colour.

With the death of George Floyd and the latest wave of protests, I am unlearning the notion of ‘all lives matter’. I started to see it as what it really is: a distraction, a harmful diversion from what matters right here right now. As Michael Che puts it in his special, saying ‘All lives matter’ as if it’s some higher, more noble intrinsic truth is like when your wife asks you whether you love her, and you go ‘Baby, I love everybody! What are you talking about?’. 5

Perhaps when you try and deal with all problems, you end up failing to deal with any single problem. You just end up sweeping racism and racial injustice under the carpet of democracy and equality.

Seeing Whiteness

Forget the KKK, forget the Donald Trump, forget that one family member. They are a problem, but they are not my problem. To understand the powers at play, to see the world as it is where democracy, equality and freedom are not status quos but objectives, I first have to recognise that I have a lack of perspective on the idea of whiteness, and all that is associated with it. My normality is based on whiteness, my normality has made the lives of a black person anything but normal.
I’ve learned it in history class, how Columbus discovered new land, how Britain and other European powers colonised other lands, how spices and tea were traded around the world. How is it that we then forget that the life and the world as we know it depended on collecting new, alien and foreign things? The seemingly unlimited choices that define capitalism and consumerism is based on immigrants’ cultures, education, knowledge, heritage and arts? The idea of a normal day of my life has become expectations we fail to see the opposite side of it all. When we have taken all we can to build a life we want, what have the lives of those we’ve taken from become?

I find it hard to imagine, and that’s exactly the problem. Trevor Noah does this bit where he recalls a man he saw on TV, ranting about his hatred for Mexican immigrants, calling them the all too familiar names used by that someone in the Whitehouse, and then calling on his buddies because it’s apparently Taco Tuesday.

I know that is a comedic take on a serious issue, but the fact that something as obvious as Taco can become invisible or normal for that white man, imagine the millions of other things we take for granted. 

Here’s a monologue from his Netflix special that hits the nail just right:

If you hate immigrants, no immigrant food. No Mexican food, no Caribbean food, no Dominican food, no Asian food, nothing. Only potatoes. I’m not even saying flavored potatoes. Just plain potatoes, no spice. Because, no immigrants, no spice... I know there are some people right now who would be like, “Well, you know what Trevor? Take your immigrants, take your spice, and get the hell outta here.”
You say that now because you’ve never lived a life without spice. But don’t ever forget, a life without spice was so hard... that it made white people sail around the world to find it. This wasn’t regular sailing... These people lived at a time when they believed that if you went that way you would fall off the edge of the earth and die. And still, some man was eating some white lady’s cooking and was like, “I can’t do this shit anymore!”
Son of Patricia
Trevor Noah
Netflix, 2018

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