Anti-Black racism & George Floyd Murder: radical change is the only solution

Anti-Black racism & George Floyd Murder: radical change is the only solution

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.

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.

Black British Academics offers solidarity to movements that advocate for radical change, collective, purposeful and non-violent activism.

Links

Justice for George Floyd PetitionLINK
George Floyd could not breathe. We must fight police violence until our last breath, 
Across America, police are responding to peaceful protests with violence, 

Race inequality and covid-19 – the uncomfortable truths

Race inequality and covid-19 – the uncomfortable truths

As at 6 April 2020, data from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) records over 1.2 million cases of covid-19 worldwide and nearly 70,000 deaths.

Almost every country is in lockdown, people are dying, mourning loved ones, fighting for their lives, livelihoods and survival. We are told that the virus does not discriminate but covid-19 is indelibly linked to race and racism.

From unwelcome migrants to fallen heroes

The issue of race is relevant both in terms of how covid-19 is tackled by governments and the narratives that shape public discourse and perceptions.

In terms of the latter, in the UK we watched closely as NHS workers were rightfully declared the country’s heroes for risking their lives in under-staffed and under-resourced hospitals without PPE.

Initially, photos of health workers that adorned the pages of newspapers and featured in TV news reports did not appear to be an accurate reflection of the demographic make-up of the NHS.

According to government data, as at March 2019, over 1.2 million people were employed by NHS Trusts and more than 20% are people of colour : Asian staff (10.0%), Black staff (6.1%), staff from the Other ethnic group (2.3%), staff with Mixed ethnicity (1.7%) and staff from the Chinese ethnic group (0.6%) – and 12% are non-British nationals.

While some of these dedicated professionals have lost their lives on the frontline, commentators have noted that politicians were singing a very different tune not too long ago that was hostile to migrant workers, this is despite serious staff shortages. It should not take a global pandemic to acknowledge the contributions people of colour have made to the NHS, nor the historical injustices that they have experienced, as NHS staff.

Race, poverty, inequality and mortality

The Covid-19 pandemic should not be viewed as race-neutral because survival and mortality rates are shaped by existing inequalities that are linked to race and racism in health provision in the UK, USA and elsewhere; housing, employment and the criminal justice system.

This means that covid-19 will both accentuate and accelerate social, cultural and economic inequalities that will be borne out by demographic data on mortality rates. In a short space of time the US has become the epicentre of the covid-19 pandemic with more than 337,000 cases as recorded by JHU. A live map published in NY Times show the highest number of cases and deaths occurring in New York.

However, some states have released demographic data which shows that African Americans are contracting covid-19 at alarmingly high rates in Michigan – where Black people make up 12% of the population but 40% of coronavirus deaths, Illinois, Milwaukee  and elsewhere.

An article in the Lancet published on 1 April notes that “COVID-19 policy responses have disproportionately affected people of colour and migrants— people who are over-represented in lower socioeconomic groups, have limited health-care access, or work in precarious jobs…

“Ethnic minority groups are also at greater risk because of comorbidities—for example, high rates of hypertension in Black populations and diabetes in south Asians… Acts of discrimination occur within social, political, and historical contexts. Political leaders have misappropriated the COVID-19 crisis to reinforce racial discrimination, doubling down, for example, on border policies and conflating public health restrictions with anti-migrant rhetoric. Matteo Salvini, former Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, wrongly linked COVID-19 to African asylum seekers, calling for border closures”.

Covid-19 serves as a painful reminder of racial inequity and the lower value placed on the lives of people of colour, who are often made scapegoats and targets of xenophobia,  like the current wave of anti-Asian racism, of concern to the United Nations.

Only last week, Jean-Paul Mira, the head of the intensive care unit at the Cochin hospital in Paris suggested that vaccines for the coronavirus should be tested on Africans: “should we not do this study in Africa where there are no masks, treatment or intensive care, a little bit like it’s done, by the way, for certain AIDS studies or with prostitutes?”

*On April 11, the Washington Post reported racism against people of African descent in Guanzgzhou China, where “Some Africans in the commercial hub have reported being evicted or discriminated against amid coronavirus fears. And a U.S. Embassy security alert on Saturday said that “police ordered bars and restaurants not to serve clients who appear to be of African origin,” and local officials have launched mandatory testing and self-quarantine for “anyone with ‘African contacts.’”

Covid-19 and the inequity it exposes serves as a reminder of why it continues to be of major significance to tackle racial inequality in higher education, as the ideologies, attitudes and behaviours that feed racism and discrimination “are channelled through and within higher education – [so] we hope that by tackling racial inequality in academia we also combat racial inequality in the wider society” (Gabriel and Tate, 2017:148).

As we mark 7 years since our inception, Black British Academics remains committed to the cause, and while we grapple with the challenges that covid-19 presents in our personal and professional lives, we are continuing our important work.

Gabriel, D., & Tate, S.A. (eds), (2017). Inside the Ivory Tower: Narratives of Women of Colour Surviving and Thriving in British Academia. London: Trentham Books.

*This article has been updated on 12th April 2020

Resources

Johns Hopkins University Covid-19 Live World Map

NY Times Covid-19 Live USA Map