You’d have to have been living under a rock this last couple of weeks to not have been a part of the ongoing discussion in regards to racism and police brutality. The news from America has been disturbing, upsetting and damn right maddening. The entire media spin that has resulted has shown very clear racial divisions that many still refute exist. We are witness to a president who is in clear denial and showing a blatant disregard to the atrocity. His focus seemingly more on the civil unrest than the catalyst action that has led to it.
Trump’s behaviour further solidifies feelings of segregation and in turn highlights his unwillingness to show remorse, his focus being on his increasing anger towards the riots shows people that his care lies more with this, than the unfair and devastating treatment exacted from the police toward yet another black person. This disregard is in fact fuelling the riots and civil unrest. This unrest and disbelief has captured the world’s interest and on my own streets I see protests occurring in the wake of this. The solidarity that is occurring between people is uplifting, furthermore the conversations that people are having are enlightening.
While I don’t want to diminish anyone else’s actions or reaction to racism I have found that the conversations and debates have led me to question my sense of ‘self’ and my own country’s societal stance on race. We have all united in this shared indignation, we all seemingly acknowledge that American police are corrupt and that their government is perpetuating racist ideology, a clear message rings out across the world, America is divided. There is a certain amount of comfort taken that these atrocities are happening somewhere else, there is a comfort that we are not as bad as them. This notion is bullshit whilst the spotlight is currently on America the racial divisions in the UK are very much there. In 2011 there were riots on our streets that were not dissimilar to the ones in America following the shooting of Mark Duggan. Whilst the circumstances were different, the message was the same, the feeling of unrest was the same, the Tottenham riots were an act of rebellion that many have claimed was motivated by anger against brutal treatment by the police.
Civil unrest is not new, we know about the civil rights movement, and I think many are guilty of viewing this in a past tense like its is somehow complete and finished with, like the issues are resolved. This is clearly wrong, even today looking at something like UK Football we see it is plagued with racism and many players have reported having monkey noises chanted at them from individuals in the crowd, this behaviour is simply unacceptable and inexcusable. Whilst I find racism abhorrent, and would never partake in any kind of racist behaviour, what I have to acknowledge is the institutional racism that my society is founded on. This form of racism is expressed in the practice of our social and political institutions. The more I read the more of an understanding I gain from this. White privilege is a huge factor.
Many get defensive around conversation about white privilege, I am not above admitting that I have also reacted in the past without properly understanding the connotation. I have felt the need to defend, to explain that I understand, to explain that I am not like ‘that’, making the conversation about me. People now are getting defensive about #blacklivesmatter often responding with ‘but doesn’t all life matter?’ This shows a severe lack of understanding. I think with age and a lot of reading and listening I have come to the realisation that because of my whiteness I have been affected with certain privileges. This doesn’t diminish my own personal struggles, but the notion of white privilege has to be accepted without argument or offence, it is real. Being born white in this society accords me a white privilege because of the infrastructure that our society is built on. Once we can see this and stand alongside each other with acknowledgment of this then we can begin to change attitudes.
I think back to my education about racial segregation, especially in relation to the UK and I realise that I do not know enough. I didn’t know enough about the civlil rights movement in the UK, about the 1958 Notting Hill Riots, I could not tell you about Paul Stephenson who led a boycott of the Bristol Omnibus Company, or about the the trial of “The Mangrove Nine” protesting police harassment in 1970. I realise now I know snippets, I know edited events, watered down versions. Just learning about the early days of the Notting hill festival and how it got started makes me realise that I don’t know any where near enough about the black heritage of my home. Is this because I have an inherent superiority as a white person, or is it because history taught in schools does not cover these events enough? Is it a combination of the 2? I am embarrassed by this selective amnesia of events, I am ashamed I do not know more. I am a university graduate having studied English literature, during my years learning my reading definitely became more varied and discussions surrounding race more open, however, in hindsight it is not enough and I think I could have benefited from a more diverse historical analysis at an earlier stage of my education.
Seeing so many people from so many backgrounds reaching out in solidarity shows that many want change, it has highlighted my lack of education and understanding in race relations. So whilst I did not post a #blackouttuesday picture, I do not belittle the act, I understand the sentiment, however on reflection I chose not to do the same. I believe that knowledge, education and conversation is what will change attitudes and move immovable mountains and in turn change outdated beliefs. My Instagram silence will make little difference to anyone – I am not a famous influencer, my actions of not posting a picture or updating my Facebook status won’t make anybody else take notice and why should it? This is most definitely not about me. The best and most important thing I can do is learn, expand my knowledge and gather an understanding as to why things are this way. The next best thing I can do is write about it, like I am now. This is my expression, this is how I can share my beliefs, how I can share my solidarity. If each of us can search inside of ourselves without defensiveness and without taking offence then perhaps change can happen. Martin Luther King once said that “a riot is the language of the unheard” are we listening? Are we truly hearing? Behind this heinous murder of George Floyd there is so much more to understand, there is so much that we need to accept before we can truly implement change. I for one am thirsty for that knowledge, hungry to understand more. I am listening.