Black Lives Matter.
Black Lives Matter.
I have been debating with myself as to whether I should post something on my blog about the current climate of our world. I have written, rewritten and scrapped this post so many times. Honestly, at first, I didn't know what I could contribute to the conversation. I'm seeing so much information- key information and resources being diffused over all of my social media platforms. I was inspired by my friend Jenai to actually publish something. A week ago I figuratively put pen to paper in the notes sections of my phone. It was 3:07 am. This was beginning of a series of sleepless nights, the weight of everything that is happening in the world had rendered me restless and I suppose a combination of anxiety, fear and an overriding feeling of anger was preventing me from falling asleep. Writing has always been an outlet for me- yet I'm struggling to get my words out, illustrating my points and articulating my anger and frustration in a 'palatable' way. This is mainly because I don't have the energy to fight bigots, racists and the ignorant. There will always be someone who will trivialise the BLM movement, asking 'devil's advocate' questions and challenge the movement and their aims. I am not here to start a debate, nor to inflate your ego; human rights is not a debatable topic- Black lives do matter- that is not debatable. I asked myself "If you write a blogpost, who are you writing for? Is it for you? Other POC?' Upon further reflection, I realised that I would be aiming this post at white people. BAME do not need to be told how to recognise and resist racism- we have either seen it or experienced it first hand ourselves. I have resisted sharing my feelings about the protests and the fight against racism because I felt frustrated, I didn't want the burden of educating people to fall on BIPOC(Black, Indigenous people of colour), as it so often does. Bluntly I didn't feel as though it was my job to teach and educate adults about systemic racism. I find it disheartening to see my peers, many of who have attended top universities and have secured high-class degrees to remain either completely silent on the matter or show their ignorance. I have found myself in a classroom, being the only person of colour in that space, being automatically nominated as the spokesperson for all Black people. I saw a truly shocking statistic the other day- at my university, Durham, I was one of 114 Black undergrad students. There are 10,721 white undergrads. This is from a university which claims that they have a diverse and multi-national student body. To Durham and to all universities- if you really are championing diversity, you must do better, be better and put in the work. There is no need that in 2020, Black students only make up 1.06% of your undergrad population.
'If you write a blogpost, who are you writing for? Is it for you? Other POC? It's really for White People'.
Over the past two weeks, social media has overwhelmed me. Overwhelmed is perhaps an understatement. It has emotionally and mentally burned me out. I find myself vacillating between days of sharing a plethora of information, signing petitions and donating to causes and other days I delete all of my apps. Undertaking the emotional labour of spreading information and effectively educating adults becomes too much. Social media is a distorted place- where we can escape from our realities- I know that I'm seeing a highlight reel of everyone's most exciting, highly edited realities. That's what I sign up for- the best parts. However, reality has permeated into our social media- which of course I cannot denounce but it is so important now, more than ever that we use our individual platforms to highlight what is happening, speak up and share information. Nevertheless, for Black people, seeing violent images of members of our community being brutally murdered, harassed, hearing that another Black person has been the victim of police brutality, targeted- even seeing the ignorant comments surrounding these issues is exhausting. It is traumatising. Hearing all lives matter as a response to Black Lives Matter, really trivialises our existence. No-one is saying all lives do not matter, of course they do- but we're focusing on bringing attention to Blak lives right now- not because they're more important but because they are systematically being oppressed and disproportionately targetted by law enforcement and in wider society. Repeatedly seeing our own people being demeaned, subjugated and assassinated can take its toll on your psyche. It is not normal. It should not become normalised. I have to admit when I heard about Breonna Taylor and Arnaud Arbery I was angry but not surprised. Years of hearing about police brutality in the U.S, seeing these cases become another hashtag had disgustingly been reduced to me as something that was to be expected. It isn't. I have to emphasise that this is not just an American problem, it is an international problem- and I am so disappointed and disheartened at times to see people, those who are deemed academically intelligent make baseless points and remarks, showcasing their ignorance and reinforcing the idea that racism is everyone's problem and it exists everywhere, even amongst the most academically gifted. You may have a degree, masters or PhD but a lot of these people lack real-world awareness and common sense. There is a lot of miseducation and lack of awareness of racism in my own country- I have seen people argue that Britain doesn't have race problem due to our multiculturalism. I have seen and heard the most absurd justifications for keeping statues which glorify racists. I have seen how the media distorts the truth. I have seen people share only half-truths, melding reality to suit them. The fact that we have a notoriously racist and bigoted Prime Minister who has no understanding/ connection to the real world, who time and time again has shown his blatant racism, he has come out and said that he doesn't believe that Britain is racist, is appalling to me. One the one hand, their ignorance is fuelled by the skewed and distorted history that we teach in our schools- there is a notable absence of information regarding 'how' we became 'Great' Britain. We have erased a narrative surrounding imperialism and colonisation- we are taught endlessly about the 'Golden Era' of Britain, the Tudors and our victories of the World Wars, however, we aren't taught about British colonies and the irreparable and long-lasting damages that Britain has done to countries in the Caribbean, India and Pakistan- an inordinate amount of countries. This 'non-racist' Britain which illegally deported hundreds of the Windrush generation, failed to thoroughly investigate the Grenfell tragedy which disproportionately affected BAME and elected an openly racist and bigoted Prime Minister. This country is founded upon hardships and contributions of immigrants and ethnic minorities, yet we are so eager to declare that we do not have 'race problem' like in the USA. There is a huge erasure of ethnic minorities in the discourse surrounding the World Wars- it was not just the contributions of white British soldiers who helped win the war. We don't highlight the contributions of Black British, Polish and Indian soldiers during Remembrance Day in the same way that we do White British soldiers. This divisive and racist rhetoric has been regurgitated time and time again throughout the years, more recently surrounding the discussion Brexit and immigration. The world's reaction to George Floyd's death is indicative of potential change on the horizon. On the one hand, I have seen friends, family and former colleagues, who I wouldn't have expected to speak out about racism, supporting the protests and even actively engaging in research, self-education. On the other hand, I have seen friends, former co-workers and classmates remain silent- whilst continuing to leech and profiteer from the 'desirable' parts of black culture. I have heard people say that they are scared of saying the wrong thing so they don't say anything at all. They fear being called out for making a mistake. But silence is complicity. To my white peers who aren't speaking out, who aren't educating themselves, you don't get to use me as a get out of jail free card. I am not your 'Black friend/neighbour/classmate' that excuses your silence. When you don't speak out against something that is indisputably wrong- you are on the wrong side, in the case of racism you are on the side of the oppressor. In order to learn, of course, people will make mistakes- silence is cowardice and a privilege.
Racism is everyone's problem and it exists everywhere.
Racism is a deeply complex and multilayered social problem- one that we cannot all agree on. In terms of racism, many people define it as discrimination based on the colour of your skin. This is an over-simplistic definition for a system of oppression which contains so many complexities. This definition leads people to argue 'What about reverse racism? POC can be racist to white people too'. Wrong. Of course, POC can discriminate and make comments about white people and other ethnic minorities based on their skin colour. There is no doubt about that- I have seen and heard it happen. However, this is not the same thing. Racism is a system which is upheld by white power, and ethnic minorities do not have the power to systemically enforce regulations and create a paradigm in which white people are demeaned and debased simply because of the colour of their skin. Globally, in almost every nation and country there has been some interference in politics in which whiteness is regarded as paramount and something to aspire to. Within ethnic communities, these falsehoods are the basis of colourism and discrimination within our own communities. What we can agree on is that it's not good enough not speaking up. Angela Davies said it is not enough to be non-racist, we need action and for people to be anti-racist.
I wanted to briefly talk about performative activism, which is what I fear that these events might be provoking. I'm seeing a lot about 'allyship' and how to become a 'good ally' towards the Black community. Whilst I see a lot of people making efforts to learn and educate themselves, diversifying their social media feeds and amplifying black voices, learning to dismantle a system that is so deeply engrained and learned is difficult and at times you are going to mess up. Myself included. I have told myself that it is not me who needs to be the primary focus of re-educating myself- as a young Black British woman my experiences have taught me a lot- however, I myself do make mistakes in my journey of understanding racism. Let's take the #blackouttuesday movement. I was complicit in sharing a black square, I posted a caption alongside which I felt encompassed my feelings at the time. However seeing a medley of Black squares on my feed only fuelled the notion that these actions, mine included were not really making a difference. I feel like a lot of people who participated, didn't understand the origins or intentions behind the day. It was a social media blackout- meaning it was a day to step away from Instagram, Twitter and Facebook- even Spotify and really take the time to digest and educate yourself. However as soon as a I saw the 'impact' of the black square- and different people's interpretations and reasonings for posting it, I realise that the meaning had been lost. Now I'm not saying that you need to post about every book that you've read- I don't need to know that you've read all of Toni Morrison's bibliography and read Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream Speech'. Yes, actions do speak louder than words but I really want people to think about the information that they are sharing- who are you sharing it for? And why are you sharing it? I don't want to sound contradictory because earlier I have praised people from sharing information about the protests and the BLM movement, what I am now questioning is people's inherent intentions. Did you post that Black square because you felt the pressure from your friends and family to not appear 'racist' on your social media channels? Have you actively used your voice to call out racism when you've seen it- in the comments of a YouTube video, Facebook post or when a POC is being harassed in public? Acknowledging that Black lives matter and sharing a black square is the bare minimum- and I would argue that it's pointless if you did it without real care, interest or regard for Black lives and active dismantling of racism. I have seen so many people share a black square- yet remain silent about the true issue at hand. This type of self-serving, performative activism is not welcome in this movement- we can do without it. This type of "activism" extends not only from old school friends and co-workers but on a larger scale- from corporations and companies who are cashing in on and capitalising the BLM movement to protect their brand, ie. ** L'Oreal** and their horrific treatment of Munroe Bergdorf.
Racism is a difficult thing to confront, a lot of non-POC are finding it uncomfortable to have these conversations with friends and family, yet take a moment to consider how it feels to be a BIPOC and experience it. I have had to check my own privilege- yes I am a Black woman but I have had a lot of support and yes privileges in my life (i.e. a supportive two-parent, financially stable household, grammar school and Russell Group educated, live in a suburban, safe area). I have also had to re-evaluate and examine my own experiences in times when I haven't spoken up for myself and called out casual racism. The fact that 'casual' racism exists is a problem within itself. I have seen white family members express apathy towards the BLM movement- what I say to you is that you can't have it both ways- you can't love my nanna's rice and peas, jerk chicken, love our music and your Black significant other but not stand up for a cause that affects your black family members. My family; myself, my cousins are not 'tolerable' versions of Black people. If you don't stand with Black people, you don't stand with us. Enough said. In academic spaces I am used to being the only or one of the few non-white faces, I come from majority white friendship groups and in wider society I have dealt with the micro-aggressions of being treated like a petting zoo when I wear my hair out natural, being repeatedly called the names of my other Black/mixed race female classmates, at both high school and university. People have assumed that my friend Jenai is my sister when really, despite looking dissimilar, different accents and having different surnames all we have in common is that our family heritage is Jamaican. I have seen myself police my own language, take care to not be 'too much' too outspoken and loud for fear or representing the caricatured 'ratchet, loud and aggressive Black girl'. In many ways I have conformed to these wider societal conventions- I have implicitly allowed these micro-aggressions to continue as I have gotten older and more educated- not necessarily from schooling perspective, but educated in real-life experiences- I have learned to use my voice to call things out. I still am tentative at times- perhaps which is why I have taken so long to put pen to paper (figuratively), but I can't become part of the problem and as emotionally exhausting this can be, I know that I have to speak up. My cousin Mya said something very poignant the other day- I told her I was feeling emotionally and mentally drained from seeing the violence ensuing at the protests. She told me that it is okay for me to take a step back and to breathe- that as a community even if one person needs a time out, it is important that we take the time to heal and recover- there will always be someone fighting our corner. Last weekend I was guilt-tripping myself for not attending the protests in Manchester, despite not attending because I'm visiting a vulnerable person in my family regularly. Now I know that one person cannot take this load- we will fight and overcome and dismantle it as a community, there are many channels and paths to take in order to fight against racism- all of which are powerful.
In terms of longevity, when I initially wrote this post I was sceptical as to whether so-called changes to society will be adopted. Yet in the past week, after seeing the toppling of the Colston statue and actions to defund police departments, I think I can allow myself to believe in a glimmer of hope. I pray that George Floyd's death does not become lost and forgotten, adding to the long list of names and hashtags, we have seen rioting and protesting before in America, six years in Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown Jr. We've seen it in the 90s, 80s, 70s, 60s, from the dawn of time. These images of police brutality are not new- I've been consuming a lot of media from the past, researching Black people and pan African identity in the past year, mainly for my university studies but also from a place of curiosity. Seeing images on the news of protesters being referred to as thugs and anarchists, being attacked by police are not new- it seems as is these images from documentaries can be transposed from the 60s or 70s, the difference now is that they are colourised and the police are more weaponised. I understand some Black people's concerns and doubts about this sudden burst of allyship and interest in the movement, I understand and respect your concerns. However, I am choosing to remain hopeful, I know that myself and the genuine people around me will always continue to speak out against racism and injustice- if you felt targeted or triggered by my words then perhaps you need to re-evaluate your stance and position in this movement. There's so much to say on this topic- more than I can encompass in one blogpost. Learning never stops- we are all in a position to educate, share and grow. With the internet at our fingertips, our generation the ones to follow have no excuse to remain ignorant. So I will end this post as I began, Black Lives Matter. No debate. No contest. Our lives matter.