The British government took unprecedented measures in March 2020; locking down the entire United Kingdom which stopped us from leaving our homes, preventing the spread of a deadly pandemic. These measures, however, could not stop the wave of anger which moved throughout the world, as we once again witnessed a Black man being killed at the hands of the police in the United States.
It is now five months on since George Floyd’s murder, and five months on since people around the world took to the streets to protest. In many ways, it seems like a shift in discourse has taken place and the Overton window moved so that we now expect world leaders to at least say something about racism.
We all took part in Blackout Tuesday, which was supposed to encourage us all to take a break from social media and instead read the complete works of Angela Davis. What it actually involved was Instagram users performing ‘not being racist’ by letting their followers know they too were hopping on the blacked-out Instagram story bandwagon.
We shared lots of resources, marched in our local areas and listened to politicians – from Kier Starmer insisting he had no “truck” with the demand to defund the police, to Dominic Raab, who seemed confused and curious about the origins of ‘taking the knee’, as he pondered live on television whether it was something out of Game of Thrones.
So what has changed is that we are having a conversation about protests that took place under the banner Black Lives Matter. But that’s about it. The demands of Black Lives Matter, such as defunding the police and instead funding mental health support, youth services and educational establishments have been brushed under the rug. It is so easy for policymakers to have professional photos done of them taking the knee, but much harder for this gesture to actually mean anything in practice.
In Europe and the US, Black people have disproportionately contracted and been killed by Coronavirus. In the UK, Black people were more likely to be stopped and fined or arrested under the new Coronavirus laws. Donald Trump told fascists and white supremacists to “stand back and stand by”, supposedly in anticipation of Black people having the audacity to fight for their basic human rights again. Boris Johnson has recently said that we shouldn’t be ashamed of our colonial past. Black people have in the UK, on average, lower educational attainment than white people and other people of colour. Black people in the UK are still more likely to be stopped and searched. Black people are still less likely than people from all other ethnicities, apart from people from an Arab background, to own a home in the UK. Black people are 10-50% more likely to die from health issues than white people.
An Instagram blackout does nothing to change this. Neither does taking the knee. Yes, spreading awareness of the BLM movement is important, getting your less clued-up-on-race friends to read some Franz Fanon is great. Education changes attitudes and attitudes can have a significant, positive, impact on the lived reality and material conditions of Black people. Sadly, it isn’t enough. Those in power chose to dismiss and ignore the demands of the Black community and the glaringly obvious data which shows Black people do not have it as good in the UK as some people make out they do.
Black Lives Matter and the people that went to those marches around the world were not asking for profit-seeking companies to make emotional ad campaigns about racism. They weren’t asking for politicians to take the knee. We were asking for justice. We were asking the world to acknowledge that at the very least, Black lives matter, because the police and people in power clearly don’t think they do.
Black lives mattering means we are not arrested more than white people, we do not die more often than white people, and we are given the same opportunities to speak and be platformed as white people; the list goes on. We haven’t won the fight yet; we changed the discourse, we haven’t changed the situation. We stop when the Black community says we stop, which will be when we have won. Until then, we make the whole world realise that Black lives do, and always have, mattered.
Image credit: Ben Abrau – Fxsion Photography