Over the last few days, I have been prompted and cajoled by social media to speak up about the terrible death of George Floyd. And every time I have seen a post that says my silence, my not speaking up is part of the problem I recognise the truth of the matter but still do not know where to begin. Do I share a meme that says black lives matter, do I get angry at the world?
What is this resistance, where does it come from and what does it mean? Is my resistance part of the bigger problem?
My discomfort in pinging up a generic meme is that it doesn’t feel enough, and I fear there is a tidal wave of empty statements. The thing is, I have never questioned the fact that black lives matter. The image that I saw of what happened in Minneapolis made me sick to the stomach, not because George Floyd was a man of colour, but the look of utter pride, contempt, power and a sense of righteousness that the police officer conveyed, that made me sick to my stomach. How any human being can treat another like that and not be ashamed of their actions I will never know. The point is what I saw was the worst of humanity, I didn’t see the colour of his skin. And this is the problem.
I was brought up to essentially be ‘colour-blind’ when it comes to race. This in its essence is not a bad thing. I was lucky enough to grow up in an area of London that was blessed with a multitude of coloured skins, religions and cultures, so to base anything on skin colour was ridiculous and just didn’t happen. My friends had skin colours of many different tones, I was welcomed into homes and cultures so varied it was an amazing and beautiful existence. And as a child I was not aware of the challenges faced by these families. I saw us all as equal, with equal opportunity.
And this is where my discomfort comes in. I now know that this is simply not true, and although I hope that things in the UK are not as terrible as in the US the stark truth of my ignorant bliss makes me feel ashamed, and that shame is stopping me from talking as it feel false, it feels inauthentic. The examples of racism in the UK is blatantly clear to me if I just chose to open my eyes, I have lived through 2 of the biggest riots in London, in 1985 and 1995, in direct response to atrocities and injustices to both Cherry Groce and Wayne Douglas, yet still I sit in my white privilege and shake my head at the injustices of America. It may not be as common, or as public, but this shit happens in the UK, and if we do not start talking about it we are as much part of the problem as the institutionalised racism that we observe from a safe distance.
But here is the thing, as a child I was not supposed to understand any of this, as a young woman we were all still existing together, with the struggles of being young, but as I grow older and become more and more aware that I did have a different lived experience to my friends with different skin colour I should not be ashamed. I must not let shame, or the fear of being called out stop me from speaking out. We are different, and it is within that difference that beauty is created, but we must not dismiss or ignore the fact that white people do come from a place of privilege.
I will not be part of the problem, but I do not know what to do except speak my truth in the hope that it conveys my message clearly.
All lives matter. I truly wish we lived in a world where skin colour, religion, gender, race made no difference, but it does. So, I will not stand by in my colour-blind attitude and nullify the fight by saying all lives matter. I saw a quote from a lady today on Instagram that says it all;
“Yes, it is like all homes matter, but we rush to the aid of the house on fire”
Whilst racial discrimination still happens then I will shout black lives matter, whilst black men are being choked to death by white police officers I will fight that fire and shout black lives matter, whilst white men and women feel challenged by the notion that black lives matter as a statement of truth needs to be argued as “all lives matter” just because they are not racist, I will shout Black lives matter. because while there are still people who believe they are better than another just because of their skin colour then that balance still needs to be addressed. Black lives matter.
It is widely accepted that there is still sexual discrimination in the world, there is still inequality in pay and opportunity, and it still bothers me when talking to people about this, about feminism that it is challenged, denied, and nearly always by men, even the most considered man sometimes falls into the trap of denial simply because they don’t see it, because it makes them uncomfortable, because they are not sexist to admit that it still exists, yet I do not call them out on it if they stand up for women. I do not question any man who stands up for women’s rights, calls himself a feminist purely because he is not a woman. And it is this knowledge that has got my head out of my own arse on the matter of race. It does not matter that I am white, it does not matter that I am not a racist, it does not matter how many friends I have that are people of colour, black skin, brown skin, white skin, this problem exists. People of colour actually fear for their lives purely based on their skin colour, and this is unacceptable, and I will not let shame of ignorance stop me from shouting out black lives matter.
In the same way a man will never understand what it is like to have to think through their walk home from the train station avoiding unlit sections of road, the carrying of keys as a weapon, the fear of hearing footsteps behind them; I will never understand the fear of having the police called simply due to the colour of my skin. And in the same way that I don’t berate every man for not truly understanding what this existence is like, I do not call them out as sexist, I simply ask they are part of the solution, so I must not berate myself for not knowing how it must feel to fear the very people who are supposed to keep us safe. Black lives matter. I will be part of the solution.
I feel lost as to what I can do with the enormity of this problem. I listen to my inspiring friends, who every day live in a world where they know there are people out there who see them as less than yet they do not respond with hatred or venom, they instead become daily anarchists by succeeding, by working harder and longer and ultimately raising themselves far above the sort of person that would ever judge another by the colour of their skin. I listen without the need to justify myself, as a white person, I listen to their experience, I listen to how they feel, I weep with them, I celebrate with them.
The colour of our skin should not make any difference, but while it still does, while there are still men and women of colour being oppressed and killed, I will stand up and shout Black lives matter, because whilst the injustice and balance is there this cry must continue. And whenever I crawl back into my white person shame I will remind myself that I am a woman, a woman who has experienced the inequalities of my gender, I am a woman who has been at the hands of a violent man and I do not hate all men simply because they are of that opposite gender, I do not shame men because of what has happened therefore I can and I will shout Black lives matter, even from my place of white privilege, in fact because of my place of white priviege. Ask yourself if you do not shout it out, why not. You may be surprised, and you may well take action. Black lives matter.
I love you
I am sorry
Please forgive me