As a Black British woman, anti-Black racism has been etched into my psyche since childhood.
At the age of five in primary school during a lunch break whilst playing with an ethnically mixed group of classmates, a White dinner lady charged over, grabbed me by the arm and said “Why don’t you go back to your own country?” I was dumbfounded by the question, as it made no sense to me…I mumbled the reply “but this is my country”, a response that was met with anger, as from the White dinner lady’s perspective, being Black meant I didn’t belong, even if I was born in London.
The hypervisibility of my blackness not only made my sense of belonging fragile, but created a hypersensitivity about racism and racial inequality, wherever it reared its ugly head. An attack on one Black person is a blow to us all. Every time I hear of another Black man dying at the hands of killer cops or gun-toting Whites, or of White people calling the cops on innocent Black people, my heart sinks. Racial discrimination and violence against Black people has become all too normalised. Not a day goes by without a tragic incident occurring somewhere in the world. The UK is not blameless, as many activists have pointed out – dozens of Black people have died in custody in the UK.
The global coronavirus pandemic painfully exposed global systemic racism resulting in Black bodies disproportionately manning the front line in hospitals, public transport and essential services in the UK and US, dying disproportionately after contracting covid-19 – as well as bearing the brunt of the millions of job losses in the US. This points to a dire need for systemic, purposeful change. Such disparities also call for an acknowledgement of White privilege, because that is the underlying cause.
The enslavement of people of African descent was built on our dehumanisation, on the global industrialisation of Black labour and the deaths of Black people being perceived not as human suffering but as financial losses. The fact that slave owners were compensated when slavery was finally abolished but slaves were not speaks to this dehumanisation and devaluing of Black lives that we see today manifesting in police violence against Black men, women and people of colour.
George Floyd’s death, coming in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic; coming in the wake of the murder of Ahmaud Armery and countless other Black men, has tipped the scales. We are tired of fearing for our brothers’ lives, of being dehumanised, killed with impunity; we are tired of the racial inequalities in health, education and employment and we are tired of the White privilege that nurtures and sustains anti-Black racism.
The global protests across the US and in the UK, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, Italy and Canada and the symbolic stand against anti-Black racism these protests represent, are justified. It is the normalisation of police violence and the White privilege that renders Black lives unequal and dispensable, that is unjustifiable. The necessary response is radical change- to the systems of policing, criminal justice, health and education.