09 Jun What Next After Black Lives Matter?
BLACK LIVES MATTER: WHAT NEXT AFTER THE PROTESTS?
George Floyd, a black man, was killed at the hands of police in Minneapolis, USA on 25 May 2020. Shortly after a video of his murder started circulating online, protests erupted and soon spread like wildfire to all 50 States. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, an international human rights organisation with origins within the African American community, led the protests. BLM campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people and it has millions of followers from all over the world.
Mr Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests reignited fiery debates about an all too familiar topic, police brutality against black people, and systemic racism in America and elsewhere.
Police Brutality and Systemic Racism
Mr Floyd’s murder happened not long after Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13. She was shot eight times by police while sleeping in her own home in Louisville. Just before that in February, Ahmaud Arbery was chased and shot to death by two white men. He was out jogging in a white neighbourhood in Glynn County, Georgia when he was set upon. These are just a few recent incidents that are exhaustingly similar to what has been happening repeatedly for many years. Someone commented that police brutality is not getting worse, it is only now just getting caught on tape more. Images of Mr Floyd taking his last breath while a white police officer’s knee was firmly pressed on his neck will haunt many for years to come. It was difficult to watch and the pain he must have felt in his last moments is unimaginable.
Incidents of the police killing unarmed black men over minor infractions have been happening since time immemorial. However, this may well have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Riots erupted, there was civil disobedience, the police and army were called in. In some instances, law enforcement made things worse with their heavy-handedness. Black people everywhere are hurting and America is deeply divided along racial lines. It does not help that the American president appears to have a penchant for fanning flames with his deliberately reckless rhetoric. Within a few days of the initial reactions in the US, Black Lives Matter and similar movements in other parts of the world had organised protests in their own countries. This was not only to show solidarity but to also confront systems and structures making life very difficult for minorities elsewhere. In the UK, thousands of people from all backgrounds converged in London and other parts of the country. Emotions were so high that in Bristol, protesters toppled the statue of Edward Colston to wild celebrations. Colston was a slave trader with strong ties to the city of Bristol. After many futile attempts over the years, his statue was finally pulled down and chucked in the harbour. This action has since sparked a fierce debate about other controversial monuments in the UK. This is an important, but separate conversation for another day.
The shocking death of George Floyd plunged the whole world into a moment of racial reckoning and soul searching. Murals went up in Syria, a South Korean boyband made a generous donation to BLM and some white people have been profusely apologising to black people for historical injustices. Allies have emerged from the most unlikely places and there is a genuine sense of a revolution taking place. Opportunistic politicians have been heard making promises and we have seen black and white celebrities and influencers using their platforms to denounce racism. We have also seen companies releasing statements about how much they stand with black people. There have been declarations of solidarity and expressions of willingness to make necessary changes to ensure fairness and equality in the workplace. Some white people are even acknowledging their privilege for once and vowing to listen to their black colleagues more going forwards. There have also been a few small victories with some contentious cases of police brutality being reopened and some cities and states making policy pronouncements about curbing police powers.
So Is Racism Over Now?
Based on the aforementioned, one would be forgiven for thinking that maybe the world is now ready to openly discuss the insidious and traumatic nature of systemic racism.
However, a random scan of the social media landscape and listening in to chatter in other places reveals some vehement arguments and mutterings to the contrary. Some white people feel that they are the victims in all this. One will hear objections based on ‘all lives matter’, ‘the race card’ or ‘slavery/colonialism happened a long time ago’ or ‘what about black on black crime’? Sadly, not everyone is persuaded that there is a race problem in America, the UK, France or Belgium, etc. Some people stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the existence of racism and sound more outraged about damage to property than the loss of human life. In the UK, some people in influential positions have even had the ‘caucacity’ to argue that their country is the ‘least racist’ and that any black person who does not like it is free to leave. Of course, those who have at some point been at the receiving end of British racism, or those with whom parents or grandparents have shared their experiences strongly disagree that Britain is NOT racist.
Brands such as Ben and Jerry’s and a few others put out compelling, meaningful, and carefully worded statements and honestly speaking, that was refreshing. Long time allies and civil rights advocates such as San Antonio Spurs basketball coach Gregg Popovich have been honest and blunt about exactly what the problem is. However, other people have come across as if they are just jumping on the bandwagon or have been forced to say something. Some corporates and other organisations released hollow statements that felt like copy and paste jobs merely done out of pressure. Even the UK prime minister‘s words of support have been received with scepticism. The reality is that, while many people have learned or are willing to learn from events of the last few weeks, many others are indifferent and are just waiting for things to die down so the world can return to default settings. In the meantime, they are happy to sing Kumbaya and awkwardly dance along to some Burna Boy just to be seen to be in support.
Do Black Lives Really Matter, What Next?
Got to admit, it has been mildly satisfying seeing people come together and the subject of race and equality making headlines on consecutive days. However, the big question remains. What is going to happen when things start slowing down and #blacklivesmatter is no longer the hot topic? Systemic racism is deeply embedded and it is going to take more than just a few days of spirited protests to completely root it out. So how can we all keep the momentum and make sure that George’s and many others’ deaths are not in vain?
This piece is dedicated to those seeking meaningful change but wondering how to go about it or what to do next after the protests.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Use the ballot to expel racists, vote for antiracist public officials, and hold them to account.
- Challenge senior leadership at the companies and organisations you work for to clarify and improve diversity and inclusion policies. Have honest conversations about what is really being done to attract and retain a diverse workforce. For managers, put structures in place to identify, nurture, and promote real talent regardless of ethnic background.
- Approach and engage local minority groups and organisations for their input when developing any projects that target them or their communities. Many have very good relationships with and understanding of BAME audiences but lack the necessary resources to implement programmes. Support them.
- Buy black and donate to black-led organisations such as The Africa Centre.
- Offer your time and skills to support black causes
- Don’t sweep things under the carpet. If you are mistreated speak up, if you see someone being mistreated speak up, and if you are in authority and a racial issue is reported to you, act!
- Hold yourself and those around you to a higher standard. If you have racist friends or family, confront them and do not be embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid to have those uncomfortable conversations.
- If you’re black, it’s OK to signpost white people to where they might be able to find help. However, don’t bear the burden of trying to teach them about racism. It’s not your responsibility and it will wear you down.
- If you are a white ally, thank you for your support. Please know that your efforts are appreciated and do not stop.
Black Lives Matter! Let it be more than just a trendy hashtag, the struggle continues!
Post Edit: As part of The Africa Centre’s long tradition of facilitating debate and discussion, we recorded the related talk on race, equality & social justice below several weeks ago. PS: This is a promo piece, the full hour-length project will be out soon:
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