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Black lives matter protest, is it enough to stop racism
If I hear one more white person say “Black Lives Matter” I think my head will explode. The slogan, powerful when first popularised by black people after the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 in the US, has now become so ubiquitous as to have lost almost all meaning. A way for people to endlessly repeat “I hate racism” while doing nothing to actually stop it. White people, I assume you don’t like the idea of other people being treated as inferior just because of the colour of their skin. But that’s such a basic sentiment that you shouldn’t be giving yourself a buzz from saying it.
When even Boris Johnson can say “Black Lives Matter” – the same Boris Johnson who talks of African piccaninnies, of “bank robber” burqa wearers, who leads a party riven by Islamophobia but refuses a proper investigation into it, and who was part of a government that deported black British citizens, and continues the injustice of the hostile environment to this day – well, you know the slogan’s cultural appropriation is complete. Even racists hate racism. That’s why they’re always looking for ways to excuse what they do. “It’s not my fault – black people are just a bit more criminal than white people.” “I’m not being racist – it’s just that a lot of Muslims are terrorists.” “I’d love to recruit a black person – it’s just that they’re not quite the right fit for this role.”
“It’s just that …” You won’t find this chanted in a city square by thousands of protesters, but these are probably the three most powerful words in the history of institutional racism. They’re the words people say in private – or don’t say – when they’re making the decisions that really matter. They are the words that determine whether someone gets that job, or that business contract, or that university place, or that rented room.
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Over the past few days I’ve wondered, why now? Why,after all we’ve known about police brutality against black people,are people only now saying, en masse, that enough is enough? I think there are two core reasons. First, given the lockdown, there’s not a lot else for young people to do. The anger is genuine, but the usual distractionsthat stop people from turning out have gone. It’s the first time in months that young people have been able to be part of a group activity. But the other factor is more fundamental: and that is, white guilt. While black people have raged about the shootings and asphyxiations, for most white people there’s always been a get-out.
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“It’s just that [those words again] … he was maybe being too aggressive … maybe the officers thought they were under threat … it was a spur-of-the-moment pull of the trigger.” It’s allowed white people to believe that, though the outcomes were all horrific, a white suspect in the same situation could have suffered the same fate. The George Floyd video crashed through that delusion. A subdued and incapacitated suspect; a knee pushed down on his neck as he pleaded for breath; passersby screaming for his life as it ebbed away; officer Derek Chauvin blithely ignoring it all, cocksure that he’d face no consequences for his actions; a fellow officer standing guard to prevent anyone coming to Floyd’s rescue. For almost nine minutes, many of them after he had passed out. Nine minutes. No white person could believe this could happen to them. That an officer of the law could be so callous, so unconcerned about the life of a white man. That’s why, this time, there have been unprecedented numbers of white peopledeclaring their allegiance to the antiracism cause. On the streets, even in the US, most protesters have been white.
Though many of these new activists will have only a superficial understanding of race issues, it has to be a positive thing that at last they’re starting to notice. This was nowhere more apparent than in Bristol this weekend. If it had been a black-only crowd,would the statue of notorious slavemaster Edward Colston really have been allowed to topple, let alone be dragged through the streets and dumped in the River Avon?
Many British people were upset at what they saw. And I have some sympathy: mob rule is generally a bad thing, and risks getting disastrously out of hand. But what a glorious moment. It’s an image that will last years in the memory, as the moment that people in one English city said the ritual humiliation of black lives was no longer acceptable. You can say “Black Lives Matter” a million times but it will change nothing. This action changed things.
When I saw Floyd’s life drain slowly away, I wondered why so little had changed since the Black Lives Matter movement swept across the US in 2014. Surely all US police officers should know they will be held accountable for any transgressions, especially when caught on camera? Chauvin clearly feared no repercussions.
There are 18,000 separate police forces in the US. In the UK there are 43. If we’re going to bring about change we need to find a way to get into them all, change them all, and make those changes stick. It won’t be by simply calling for more black police officers. That’s been tried before, and any change is glacially slow. It won’t be just by rooting out “bad apples”: a system that allows them in unchecked in the first place is already rotten to the core. It won’t simply be by giving all officers “diversity training”: a couple of weeks on the streets after completing such a course, and they’re back in the old routine, acting on the instincts and stereotypes.
On the day of the first major UK Black Lives Matter protest last Wednesday, the Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, was giving evidence to the London assembly. She was talking, coincidentally, about the disproportionate number of fines handed out to black people during the coronavirus lockdown – double the rate for white people.
This, she explained, was partly because more officers have been operating in high-crime areas. To which the response must be, what has the lockdown got to do with high-crime areas? It’s just another way in which black people (more likely to live in poorer areas, which are more likely to have higher crime rates) continue to be disproportionately targeted by the police. And then Dick added, as if trying to defend this: “We’ve said again and again, be sensitive, be careful. And I think [our officers] have been. But I have to be honest, I haven’t gone back to them to say, think about your unconscious bias.”
So there it is: we have officers disproportionately targeting black people, and nothing said to them in advance about being aware of the danger of racial stereotyping.
This is where leadership really counts: the day-to-day decisions, at the most senior levels, that affect thousands of lives. To make lasting change, we ultimately have to get off the streets and into the rooms where these decision-makers operate.
Barack Obama has set out an intelligent long-term plan – “How to make this moment the turning point for real change” – which involves working locally with US mayors, district attorneys and local police chiefs.
My sincere appreciation to @Read.Cash for the opportunity given, shout-out to @cybernetus , @lilsoftx @phavvy @Vanjinks @Jeffsmith @Blaisegeezy @Phronesis @mazee @KhaLee @Joewest24 @Didibee @Diana @Zizi @Chykextreme @Makiq @Kelvinajala @Dav-black1 @Israeldrumz @Jerry @vevo @Emmax101 @Juddy @HelloWorldd