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Intent versus Impact: Why Breaking Down Echo-Chambers Must be the First Step in Anti-Racism

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

By Aisha Mahal

Image via Lucy & Yak and Valeria Mele

The past few months has seen a collective awakening among those who, until now, have been silent on racism (myself included). Many of us have gone from zero to one hundred on Instagram posts, the books we buy, signing petitions and donating. And whilst it is an improvement, it's not enough.

This is because the positive momentum we are trying to create is consistently counteracted by negative individuals who are promoting opposing views with just as much passion. One only needs to glance at the Daily Mail in the UK or Fox News in the US, or scroll through hate-filled Facebook comment sections, or experience an older family member sharing a post depicting Black Lives Matter protestors as ‘thugs’ and proclaiming that ‘All Lives Matter.’   Nothing we share on Instagram, to our young, mostly-liberal followers, will change this group's opinion.

So, how can we break these barriers and influence those who do not share our opinions or even our spaces?

The concept of 'intent versus impact' is very important in anti-racism work - from ally-ship to activism. Your 'intent' may be positive: you want to help to eradicate systemic racism. However, intent alone is not enough. In order to make a positive ‘impact’, you must take actions necessary to create meaningful change.

One crucial aspect of this is stepping out of your echo-chambers. The Cambridge Dictionary defines an echo-chamber as ‘a situation in which people only hear opinions of one type, or opinions that are similar to their own’. These can exist within schools and workplaces, on social media and in politics. Without breaking down the walls of our echo-chambers, all the things we share and learn will not translate into real world change. You will not create an impact (even if your intent is positive).

The post you shared to your Instagram story about how racism impacts healthcare - discuss it with your parents. The petition link you sent to your group chat - share it on Facebook so your grandparents see it. The book you have just read - send it to a friend and talk about what you learnt.

It is not enough to share things on Instagram, to go to a few protests or to discuss this all with your young, liberal friends. We need to be calling out racism and prejudice at work, at school, at the dinner table, and at family reunions. This will be uncomfortable, awkward and scary. However, anti-racism work is never going to be easy (and if it is easy, you’re probably not doing enough).

Posting on Instagram means nothing if you aren't willing to risk some short-term discomfort and practice what you preach.

Moreover, this is a job for white people and non-black people of color. Black folk have been putting themselves at risk for calling out racism for centuries. Now, it is our turn. We are not going to be at high risk of violence or consequences when we call out racism, however our black counterparts are. 

So, as the attention starts to drift away from the BLM movement on our social media and in the news, there is one thing we all need to remember: Positive intent does not always equal a positive outcome. Positive outcomes come about through action and risk. This requires stepping outside our comfort zones and being willing to break the walls of our echo-chambers.

It is time to face the hard reality  that nothing changes when you only speak to those who agree with you. We must get angry, stay angry and then use that anger to force yourself to have those difficult conversations.

I'd be a hypocrite to deny that I, myself, struggle with this. I have had conversations with people who disagree with me that have sent me into a spiral of anxiety and self-doubt. However, the next time it is difficult and painful, I will try to remember this (and I hope you do too): even beginning these difficult conversations and questioning racist views is better than allowing them to remain unquestioned. You may not 'win' the argument. You may not change their view in a visible way, but you will have tried. Hopefully you will have planted the tiniest seed in their head, therefore disrupting their echo chambers and making them question their views.  

Written by writer Aisha Mahal

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