Black Lives Matter.
Rachel Hains offers her thoughts on the recent protests in America, as well as the difficulties black people face here in the UK.
I’m tired. I’m angry. I’m heartbroken. As I sit here at my computer, I genuinely do not know if I have the words to describe the pain I feel right now. Over the last couple of days I’ve done a lot of thinking: About the situation in America; About what it means for us in the UK; And what it means for white people like myself.
Now is the time for change.
It’s true, I’ll never know the struggles of being black. From the moment I was born, I was granted a privilege I was not aware of. Trying to comprehend the full extent of it is like asking a ‘fish to notice water or a bird to notice air’ (Kendall). It’s everywhere. It’s a part of our every day lives. After all, what can you expect from a country where students are taught a sanitised version of History in schools? For instance, I’ll never forget when I was first learning about the slave trade in year 8 and I was told that America were really the ‘true’ culprits (whatever that means). That, they were worse than the UK. True, they abolished slavery later than we did, but that does not diminish the horrifying role our country played in that dark chapter of history. Ignoring or trying to minimise our accountability is not only dangerous, but also a theme Britain appears to have continued since then.
Just this week, the government refused to release a report detailing how BAME communities have been disproportionally affected by Covid-19. The report was called for by Matt Hancock and was due to be released earlier this week. However, when asked why the report was delayed, the media were told it was in light of the events in North America. There were fears it would increase racial tensions in Britain.
Is this a surprise? If the report confirms what has already been said by numerous experts, then people deserve to feel angry. They deserve to be outraged that their government has failed to provide for them and keep them safe during this pandemic.
Even now, I cannot comprehend the true extent of the pain and difficulties black individuals endure on a daily basis. However, what I do know is that it is the responsibility of people like me to utilise that privilege given to us. I am white. I am also a student journalist. I have a voice, unlike those crying out again and again ‘I can’t breathe’. Watching this week as a Black CNN reporter was arrested live on air, I went numb. I cried. Meanwhile, his white colleagues reportedly had no issues whilst reporting at the same time, just a short distance away. I have a responsibility to use said voice in whatever ways I can, just as any white person does. After all, as one person stated online this week ‘Why should Black People fix a problem they didn’t create?’
Now, I know some of you are sitting there sighing. Rolling your eyes. Thinking, ‘but won’t the leaders, the politicians and the governing bodies fix this?’. After all, that is their job. We were raised in a democracy and taught early on that officials exist to represent us. To advocate for the rights of people everywhere and the issues that matter to them. More than that, we were told that the system is perfect! That, there are organisations in place to prevent abuses of power from happening. The USA, for example, has a system of checks and balances so that institutions like the Supreme Court can block and challenges orders and decisions from the White House. However, this is all well and good until those systems break, and they ARE broken. They are broken and twisted beyond repair. As Harry Brod once wrote, ‘Privilege is not something I take and which therefore have the option of not taking. It is something that society gives me, and unless I change the institutions which give it to me, they will continue to give it […] however noble and equalitarian my intentions’. Brod’s right. We have no hope of moving forward until we examine said systems, deconstruct their outdated principles and rebuild them the way they should be.
It isn’t enough to ask for equality. We need justice. If that doesn’t make sense to you, then hopefully this comic will explain what that means.
People have been fighting and striving for this goal for centuries now. Yet, time and time again, it isn’t enough. ‘Be peaceful’ they said. So, people like NFL star Colin Kaepernick knelt in silent protest at the behaviour happening around them, only to be called disrespectful. Useless. ‘Get angry’ said others. So, people rioted. They took to the streets, only to be called ‘thugs’ and ‘vandals’. There’s apparently no way to protest and be heard by those who need to hear it.
One of those people (unsurprisingly) is Donald Trump. After all, the irony of the whole situation in America is baffling. For weeks, people have been reporting a lack of enforcement in America when it comes to making sure people stay at home to help combat the spread of Covid-19. However, in a matter of days, States have begun enforcing curfews to deter protestors – even calling in the National Guard to arrest those that break the rules. Furthermore, the police on TV nowadays look like Robo-cops, armed to the teeth with equipment that is in no way needed or necessary to handle students kneeling in a park. Yet, Health care professionals are being forced to wear bin bags due to a lack of PPE.
It is understandable to feel helpless and angry. I do. Sitting in my living room in England, I feel a world away from the protests happening across the Atlantic. However, it is more vital than ever to remember we cannot stay silent. To stay silent is to support those that seek to oppress others. We also need to remember that this isn’t an issue Britain is immune from. After all, I’m not sure how many people will remember Sean Rigg.
In 2008, 40 year-old Sean Rigg died at Brixton police station in London. He was black. He was pinned to the ground, in the midst of a mental health crisis, as officers piled on top of his body, subsequently crushing him under their weight. As one article explains: ‘Despite ongoing campaigning, the Rigg family have yet to see an officer convicted for his death’.
Obviously, the easiest ways we can help right now are to donate to organisations that are making a difference. For example:
(These include some links already listed by the SU and as well as several of my own recommendations). I know not everyone can afford to donate, especially now when many of us are struggling. So, you can make your voice heard another way:
It is also worth reading this article by Metro, regarding what to do if you witness Police Brutality.
We need to educate ourselves as well as others. These conversations are hard, but they have to be had. If you need help, then the SU released a great statement yesterday, in collaboration with both the African-Caribbean Society and the Women of Colour Collective. They say it better than I ever could. Please check it out if you haven’t already, as it details tonnes of ways to help protestors, speak out and educate yourself on this incredibly important topic.
After all, as the SU aptly pointed out ‘Universities, by nature of the institution, are complicit when it comes to racism, and we have a long way to go in ensuring that black students and staff (academic and faculty) are able to experience university safely, and in a way that best supports them and removes structural inequalities.’
It is up to students like myself, and organisations, such as Orbital, to hold the University accountable for their promises and behaviour. We also have to hold other students accountable too. Therefore, we at Orbital pledge that going forward, we will continue to use our voice to advocate for positive change and to raise issues that are important for our audience. After all, we have a proud history of Black and other POC editors and contibutors. We wouldn’t be what we are today without all their hardwork.
This is the time to act. This is the moment to decide what side of history you wish to be on. When our children and grandchildren look back on this moment, in years to come, I hope you’ll be proud of what you said and did.
The Official Publication of Students' Union Royal Holloway.