On racism and the urge to look away

08 Jul 2020

By Emily Ferguson

I’d like to tell you the first thing I experienced after George Floyd died while being arrested by a police officer in the United States on 25 May 2020.

I wish it was fury. I wish it was disgust. I wish it was grief.

But it was none of those things.

It was the urge to look away.


I am a white woman living in a predominantly white neighbourhood. I am part of a predominantly white church and work with predominantly white people.

By and large, my world is a bubble of whiteness. And, truth be told, that makes it comfortable.

Comfort by nature steers us away from that which might disrupt it.

And so, our bubbles blind us. In seeking to draw us deeper into itself, comfort pulls us away from anything confronting or disruptive. It puts stoppers in our ears and mutes in our mouths.

It stops our hearts from being broken by that which breaks the heart of God.

And so, it took me several weeks to engage with what happened to George Floyd and with the reality of racism in our own Australian society.


Then one day I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across a video that a white friend of mine had posted. It was of a televised monologue by an Aboriginal actor.

In the comments, two mutual friends of colour thanked our white friend for speaking up and shared their own soul-destroying, dehumanising experiences of racism – many of which had occurred in the presence of white people who were complicit by their silence.

That was enough. Not these two. Not my friends.

This was personal now.

I don’t know which came first: fury, disgust or grief. But all three came, with force and with tears, converging in a cry of injustice.

Friendship brought the issue far too close for me to be able to look away. Friendship opened my ears, my eyes and ultimately my heart to the issue of systemic racism in our world and society.


I’d be lying if I said engaging with this issue has become comfortable. It hasn’t. And it shouldn’t. It should remain heart-breaking and uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, then perhaps I’ve retreated into my bubble. And perhaps my heart has lost touch with the heart of God.

There is deep discomfort in both listening externally to the issues and to my friends’ stories as well as in listening internally to the state of my own heart and prejudices.

But I am committed to listening, fighting against the pull to look away, to move away, to remain complicit in comfort and silence and privilege.

I’m starting by educating myself on the history and current reality of racism, asking some people of colour in my circles about their experiences, and asking God to reveal what’s going on in my own heart.

What about you?

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