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Black Lives Matter: Then, Now & Always

It’s time for all well-intentioned platitudes and recycled rhetoric to be converted into meaningful activism and root and branch reform, says local social worker and activist Wayne Reid.

black lives matter protest sign
Chris Henry (Unsplash)

The murder of George Floyd is the latest in a long line of atrocities and brutalities endured by the global Black community. This has a long history, longer than is often convenient for honest acknowledgement. Some commentators have referred to Floyd’s ‘death’, which is a dilution of what occurred; he was brutally murdered by a police officer and the world has seen the evidence.

The context to Floyd’s murder is emotive and cumulative: the Amy Cooper ‘race grenade’; endless examples of police brutality cases in the US and the UK; modern-day systems of oppression; and the historic and ongoing the suppression of the effects of slavery and colonialism in mainstream education.

These factors can accumulate to create an acute sense of anger, which can manifest in civil disorder and criminality. It has been evidenced that anarchic extremists are infiltrating protests to covertly fuel acts of looting and violence, which is then reported by the media in such way that discredit protesters. This detracts from the causal factors that have triggered the protests. And anyway, if we want to discuss looting, how about the longstanding looting of Africa’s natural resources?

Looting Africa

As a Black British male social worker, I write this article on Black Lives Matter wearing numerous ‘hats’, as this issue affects me deeply both personally and professionally. Clearly, my opinion cannot and should not be understood as representing all Black and ethnic minority people or practitioners. We are not a homogenous group. Those who follow me on Twitter, or who are on my mailing list, will have seen my campaign to educate, empower and equip Black and ethnic minority people – and importantly our allies – with critical information and resources.

During the furore surrounding Floyd’s murder, some individuals and organisations have recoiled at the suggestion they may be racist. ‘I’m not a racist!’ is the common response, the accusations seemingly worse than the facts.

Racism is not an absolute mindset, but a fluid one. There are degrees of racism. I imagine very few people reading this article would identify with extreme right-wing neo-Nazi racism, but many will have stereotypical views about certain ethnic groups which they project in everyday situations. There is a structural and lazy acceptance that ‘lower level’ prejudice and oppression are somehow separate, with the former being considered a less important issue. I believe if this changed it would engender a real decrease in overt, violent forms of race-related hate.

White supremacy model

In my view, the spectrums of white privilege and white supremacy are also broad, not absolute. The accompanying graphic describes my views well. There are a range of behaviours and oppressive systems that are considered socially acceptable, which we must address and redress to tackle racism effectively in all its ugly manifestations.

The statement ‘all lives matter’, for example, is covert racism, because it ignores the history and present circumstances of Black people across the globe. Physical colonisation and slavery may no longer be acceptable or legal, but colonisation and slavery of the mind has been the norm since their abolition. ‘Black lives matter’ applies then, now and always.

The misdemeanours of Dominic Cummings show us there are clear double standards, not just from a class perspective, but also through the lens of white privilege. I wonder how Raheem Sterling would have been portrayed if he was found flouting lockdown rules.

Terms like ‘commonwealth’, ‘hostile environment’ and ‘BAME’ need to be re-examined. BAME does not describe who I am. BAME is a clumsy, cluttered and incoherent acronym that is opportune for categorising people of colour as a homogenous group, when we quite clearly are not. Of course, I cannot speak for all people of colour. I understand that BAME can be operationally helpful when exploring the overarching effects of all things racist. But it misses so much nuance and subtlety that it can be seized on by those who wish to deny racism as a white problem. Routinely, I hear people comfortably stating that BAME people “can’t even agree amongst themselves”. This sloppy reductivism leads to the invention of terms like ‘Black on Black’ crime. I have not heard about ‘White on White’ crime – ever.

Some consider having a small minority of people from Black and ethnic minority groups who reach positions of power, including within the current Cabinet, to be progress in and of itself. I respectfully disagree, and I would actually go as far as to say it’s actually unhelpful in this case. A contingent of these people only seem to identify as being people of colour when it is politically expedient. Often they have championed policies that in fact would have previously disadvantaged their own families, which is pulling up the drawbridge and morally bankrupt. In some ways it’s worse than having a ‘conventional’ racist’ at the helm. To quote Malcolm X: “I have more respect for a [person] who lets me know where [they stand], even if [they are] wrong, than the one who comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.”

Politicians have form for allowing their personal ambitions to override ethics and morality and their denials can play beautifully into the hands of those who seek to maintain the existing order. As Black and ethnic minority representation is disproportionately very low, these people do not necessarily use their power for good and structural inequalities therefore remain largely unchallenged.

At this juncture in race relations, there has been much discussion about how white allies can be anti-racist and genuinely supportive to the cause. Of course, allies can be personal and/or professional. So what is really behind those awkward smiles and sugary sympathy?

Actions most definitely speak louder than words. It’s time for all well-intentioned platitudes and recycled rhetoric to be converted into meaningful activism and root and branch reform. This link provides allies with relevant resources on their journey.

‘One world, one race… the human race!’

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