ANNA CESCON: THE WOMAN WHO BECAME AN ALLY
By Olivia Otigbah
After global protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Anna Cescon wanted to do more to raise awareness for racial injustice, whilst encouraging long-term understanding between white and black communities.
One day, Engineer Anna Cescon, from Northern Italy, realised that, like most people, she had been living her life as normal - going to university, getting married and having children.
However, after the death of George Floyd in May, Anna felt that as a white woman she could do more outside of her own life to fight racism and highlight issues affecting the black population.
While expressing her concern to some old university friends, she began to notice that some of her white peers didn’t quite hold the same level of empathy towards the issues she cares about. They questioned her on why she cared so much about the struggles of black and ethnic people when, as a white woman, it isn't necessarily her problem.
The attitudes shown by Anna’s friends are one of the reasons why the Black Lives Matter movement has continued to grip global attention, months after the initial protests.
People are calling on their white counterparts to call out racist attitudes, confront systemic racism and recognise what is deemed as ‘white privilege’.
The fear of the unknown or not knowing enough is perhaps what deters people from stepping out of their comfort zone or invokes the notion of the ‘Bystander Effect’, in which people ignore troublesome situations to maintain a sense of comfortability.
Anna refused to be a bystander and as she began to question what she describes as her own ‘bias’, she decided to start Become an Ally, a series of webinars designed to educate white people on what it means to be black in today’s society.
White participants also have the opportunity to ask questions which they may be hesitant to approach in everyday conversations increasing a sense of cultural awareness and understanding between different races.
Anna said: “As soon as I started learning and started my journey in terms of actively listening to what black and BAME people have been saying for centuries I realised how much my behaviour and a part of me had some implicit bias. I’m not talking about being verbally violent or using the n-word but I realised that somehow that I was perpetrating colour blindness.
“I don’t think I’m the only one who has these kinds of behaviours and I think it’s common in white people who grew up in a society which perpetuates white supremacy. It’s not finding an excuse for our behaviour but being conscious of it.”
Although gaining traction in recent months, the term ‘white privilege’ isn’t a new theory. It was first referenced by sociologist and civil-rights activist, W.E.B Dubois in the 1930s, in his research and observation of racial inequality in the US.
Dubois described white privilege in his early works as a lack of education about black people and their culture.
As his work evolved, he believed that white people unconsciously hold onto their 'privilege' because of the social and economic benefits they gain from their skin colour.
The topic was later discussed by American activist, Peggy McIntosh in her 1988 book, ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’ and has again frequently come to light in recent months following the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Become an Ally webinars aim to highlight areas in participants lives where they may not have questioned this privilege and educate them on facts they hadn’t considered when discussing racism or racial inequality.
“I wanted to allow white people to have the opportunity to learn something new in a safe space. I wanted to pay the women for their knowledge, for their labour, their time and that’s why the webinar isn’t free for white people. The £15.00 is going entirely to the speaker,” Anna continued.
The first of many webinars began with actress Cynthia Gentle hosting “Why We All Need White Allies”, with future webinars hosted by anti-racism activists Victoria Alexander and Saorsa Treanor, discussing topics such as how to fight against white supremacy and how to talk to children about racism.
With more webinars over coming months, Anna hopes to utilise her platform to bring black and white communities together and close the gap of inequality for good.
“It’s a joint effort. If we aren’t willing to lose our privileges, then I think the time it would take to do this would be much longer. If we want the quickest resolution, then we have to work together.
“If we take out our privileges, then there’s still a lot of work to do but the gap is something more manageable,” Anna added.