Why Black Lives Matter
I don't know who this picture belongs to. If you do, let me know and I'm more than happy to credit fully.
I've set to writing this blog so many times in the last week before pressing delete. Not knowing where to start, or if I'm making sense, nor of wanting to appear insensitive. More importantly, I didn't want to add to the chorus of white voices that potentially mute the voices of those that truly matter. I don't know if I'm going to make sense, but here goes.
I like to think I'm 'aware' of BME issues, diversity and culture. For 10 years or so of my previous career, before focusing on writing full-time, I worked as a senior manager and as a lecturer in the field of health visiting / Public Health ~ managing teams that worked with vulnerable families and children in south east and east London. For those of you who may not know, these are areas that are population dense, deprived and multi-cultural. This is what I've learned from that experience.
My colleagues were predominately Black and often attended meetings and be the only non black person around the table, and that was ok by me. I doubt if I gave it a thought. I also enjoyed listening to their stories of their family lives and plans for the future. The generosity of sharing food. They showed me how to wear a sari ~ if only I could now find the photo! Quietly honouring their right to adhere to the rules of Ramadan and the celebration of EID. They raised knowing eyebrows when they heard that I commuted in from the (white) 'burbs, but seemed to forgive me anyway. I taught alongside black colleagues, each of us as scared as the other when we won the right to speak at our professional conference (knowing peers and colleagues from around the UK would be there). This was following an article we had published in a Journal. We were in high demand!
All through this they rarely spoke of race and racism. They rarely spoke of the challenges they faced that I could only imagine. Never spoke of why black and asian youths form gangs and bear (illegal) arms, though we all knew where the gang boundaries were, aligned by postcode. They prayed for their sons, and to a lesser extent their daughters, would not be groomed for such a purpose. We were all afraid of what we witnessed in the 2011 Riots, in London especially. But then again, I could leave it behind, couldn't I? Back to the countryside with no fear of a molotov cocktail thrown through my front room window.
So I patted myself on the back for apparently being inclusive, understanding and enlightened. I'm glad of the experience of working in culturally diverse areas, and I'm grateful for many career insights and support from my senior black colleagues. But, it's only now I realise just how tired they were of explaining of how they lives were different from their white colleagues. Yes, they were regarded as equal in the workplace, but that is until they took off their metaphorical work uniform. I would never experience the micro aggressions shown towards them on a regular basis. Or the downright ugliness on the Streets. The worry of whether their sons will make it home without being apprehended by the police for an offence real or imagined.
The last couple of weeks or so I've been reflecting on my time working in London. Memories of infrequent conversations and their shared recollections of hated phrases aimed at them (not by me), including:
"They're just like us really."
"We're colour blind, we don't notice their colour."
"We're all the same really."
Why do these phrases (and similar) matter? Because although the statements were intended to show a form of solidarity, the words and phrases are from the perspective of being white ~ the so called benchmark of what is normal and acceptable in society. By the fact that people had uttered those words demonstrated an inherent inequality, if not racism ~ the one thing they were trying to avoid.
What triggered this blog? The above amongst other things, and seeing postings on social media that said, 'All lives matter.' Well they do, but that is to wholly miss the point. Invariably the postings come from my white peers. Some to be passive - aggressive in their racist underpinnings, but mostly, dare I say it, out of ignorance. Whether you like it or not it comes from a position of white privilege. Hashtag, Black Lives Matter is not a new statement but is central to what is happening predominately in the US, but no less relevant to the UK. When Black Lives Matter is stated, they don't mean only black lives matter. It is stated to highlight the fact that racism is systemic and institutionalised. People are imprisoned or murdered simply because of the colour of their skin. By saying All Lives Matter is to be dismissive and to reduce the affect of inequality and brutality. It ignores the underlying problem that is racism.
Along with many other I posted a 'black square' on social media before realising that it's no longer enough to be a 'performative ally.' That is, to be superficial in showing sympathy and solidarity before going back to our own lives once more. We need to be seen to be an 'anti racist ally.' It's a tough call, we need to find the courage, and I certainly don't have all the answers. I need to educate myself further and most of all listen. We need to listen to their voices not ours. White voices have spoken enough, or maybe not enough. Be ready to step up to the plate when the time comes, as it will.
This is my reading starting point. I'm a few pages in and it's a tough read. Feeling really uncomfortable at having to revisit and confront our (UK) literally whitewashed history.