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Black Lives Matter10 min read

After George Floyd was killed by a white police officer in Minnesota on 25 May, it sparked mass outrage and protests for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. It is a pivotal and tragic moment that has made us all reevaluate our accepted ‘normal’ and how we must change to combat systemic racism and our own biases.

 

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George Floyd’s lasts words “I can’t breathe” harrowingly mirror those of Eric Garner, 43, an unarmed black man killed by police as he was placed in a chokehold over the arrest for the alleged sale of untaxed cigarettes in 2014. No charges were pressed against the officer.

These are lynchings carried out by police officers. Black people are being brutally killed in America. Although we have seen the arrests of the officers responsible for George Floyd’s death, (one of them which has now reportedly been released on bail), there are thousands of more deaths which have not been brought to justice, shown by the media, or even discussed by people. To put it simply: this is not enough.

For many of us, our white privilege means we don’t have to be constantly reminded of the oppression and racism black people face. We are still ‘shocked’ and ‘can’t believe this is happening’ when we are told about these atrocities because we do not experience them ourselves. Our privilege makes us ignorant and blind, even if we believe we are ‘woke’ or aware of what is going on. I am ashamed that to realise I need to educate myself on the systemic racism that exists. It’s easy to think this is an American issue, but it’s also an issue for us Brits and the entire population on Earth. No one is exempt.

 

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In the USA last year, the police killed over 1,000 people. Black people make up 24% of those deaths, despite only being 13% of the population. This means they are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people.

Not only this, but there is practically no justice. Even the prosecutor for the George Floyd case, Mike Freeman, said this has been “by far the fastest that we’ve ever charged a police officer”, which speaks volumes of the amount of police brutality that hasn’t been addressed by America’s justice system. However, it’s not just police brutality that highlights racism – it’s in education, housing, healthcare, jobs, the prison system, environmental issues and so much more.

We cannot just stop at police brutality.

There is so much racism in everyday life which white people just accept as normal. We are so used to being represented and having faith in systems to do us justice and treat us fairly. So, if you’re educating yourself on police brutality, make sure to look into the existing racism in other systems and institutions. Expect to take your time, there’s a lot to cover.

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The US government reaction to protestors is disgusting, highlighting the reason why we need to protest in the first place. They have responded with immense brutalities, such as using tear gas on peaceful protestors. Why is that, when white people protested and claimed that their liberty was taken during a pandemic, they’re treated as people who are just fed up, even if they were armed. When there are protests for BLM (Black lives matter), on the other hand, they are described as thugs and rioters.

How come?  President Trump and the US media  (UK media is also guilty of this) are determined to demonize these protests, instead of paying attention to why people are reacting in the first place.

In her book, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, Reni Eddo-Lodge stated that when black people speak out about their experiences, white people tap into the “pre-subscribed racist tropes about angry black people”, as if demanding equal human rights is a threat to their safety. This is seen in the labelling and vilification of protests as violent and a form of thuggery. The government and police reactions are exactly why these protests need to continue. Clearly what has happened so far isn’t enough for them have their voices heard.

It’s so deeply ironic that this violence begun with the police suffocating a man to death, and it’s the police force that responded with more violence and brutality to suppress even peaceful protestors. The police are supposed to protect citizens from this kind of behaviour, not be a symbol of it.

 

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There is more concern worldwide about buildings and statues instead of looking at why people are reacting this way. Perhaps they have been pushed to the limit of what they can bear to get their voices heard. They fight only to be treated equally, which even now, is still being undermined and not listened to by those in power.

There were no curfews, no tear gas, and no force when there was a genuine threat posed by protestors. Or does Trump only perceive unarmed black people as threats? This disgusting double standard only highlights the systemic racism exists throughout America.

However, by living in the UK I realised we are not excluded from this problem. It is easy to just say ‘it’s worse in America’ and distance ourselves from it. We should not be ignorant or complacent to those British systems, institutions and policing which have been oppressing people of colour for hundreds of years. The system in Britain played a massive role in the slave trade, the financial legacy of which remains today. And yet we still celebrate many racists and contributors to the slave trade, as seen in the recent upheaval to take down statues of these figures. There is a massive gap in the education system about Britain’s racism, which to be honest, deserves and needs an article itself.

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So, what can we do? 

The question plastered all over social media as people look to make a change. The easiest thing we can do is signing petitions. Read into people’s stories who need justice, different organisations trying to bring matters to parliament or government attention. https://www.change.org/t/black-lives-matter-en-us is a popular place to start but be warned – donating to get petitions ‘on the agenda’ does not go to the people you are signing for. Research donating platforms independently instead and try to find black-owned organisations, charities or petition websites. Another great organisation to look at is Color of Change (https://colorofchange.org/). 

If you’re in the financial position to do so, donate! It’s a great way to support non-profit organisations to organise events, support groups and to provide financial help to others. Also, it’s important to note that in Britain, many petitions aren’t brought to parliament if they are not done on the https://petition.parliament.uk/ website, so make sure you sign petitions on there too. Dedicating a few minutes of your day to sign these, in the bigger picture, piles on the pressure to reopen cases and get authorities to consider enacting change.

 

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In an age of social media, it can be amazing for piling on the pressure to authorities, rallying public support, spreading messages, petitions and awareness. But it can also encourage a passive kind of activism that dominates politics these days. A post, story or hashtag on Instagram isn’t enough. Many people post these in a performative stance of empathy and activism, then switch off their phones and move on with their lives. 

Racist systems depend on us to be impassive to thrive, which is why we must encourage ourselves and others to be more active beyond social media. It’s more important to make changes in your offline lifestyle, not just your online one. 

Open the conversation with your peers and family and reflect on how you have contributed to racism before (because we all have whether you like it or not), from microaggressions to supporting companies that aren’t diverse or support people of colour. Speak out against ignorance and racist remarks.

Having done this with a few people, you may be surprised with some of the responses and reactions you get. It can be uncomfortable, but that’s why we need to have these conversations and educate each other. For too long we’ve let things slide, so if black people have had to face hundreds of years of oppression and mistreatment, then we can have uncomfortable conversations with people that need to be had.

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I’ve had a lot of white friends saying they’re scared or worried to have that conversation or to say the wrong thing, but this only contributes to the problem. We have to speak out, but also accept we are going to make mistakes. The main thing is educating ourselves, using our voices the best we can, and normalising changing our opinions as we receive more information.

You’ll be hearing the phrase ‘educate yourself’ a lot. So, what does this entail? Read (or listen to audiobooks). But from a range of sources – not just the mainstream media articles, but articles and books from a range of people and authors. Broaden your knowledge – it’s easy to do. There are many reading lists you can find online depending on what you want, especially on Instagram and Twitter.

 Also, if you’re buying books, try to look for black-owned bookstores to support their business, instead of Amazon. For example, Jacaranda Books, Sevenoaks bookshop, New Beacon Books and Pepukayi Books. All it takes is a google search to find more. Email your local MP, favourite brands, companies and workplaces about what they are doing to ensure they support Black Lives Matter continuously, not just as a trend, and ensure diversity.

 

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Make sure you listen to and amplify the voices and stories of black people. Being an activist is more than just an Instagram post, reading one book, having one conversation. It’s a lifetime commitment, not something to get a pat on the back for. Recognise it’s a privilege in itself to educate ourselves on racism instead of experiencing it, to pick and choose when we read articles and sign petitions and fight for equality.

I saw a quote online which I think is extremely important – this is not a black issue that white people should empathise with. It is our issue too – it is a human issue. 

There are so many people that need justice – Breonna Taylor, Elijah Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain – the list goes on for miles. We must do all we can to join the fight for the rest of our lives and create change because black lives always mattered – they mattered yesterday, they matter today, and they’ll matter tomorrow, even if it’s not a trending topic.

Further resources are below. 

Yasmin Jafar

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