In a powerful thread on Twitter Lola-Rose Avery (on Twitter as @legally_lola) reflected on her experiences of racism growing up in England. I was immediately struck by how closely her experiences mirrored my own. The black experience of racism in England (and across the world) is truly universal, something that we have seen the more we speak up and interact with each other on social media.
Black, othered and silenced. The effect of racism in England
These times have been very triggering for black people across the world: memories from my first years in England as a 4 year old are resurfacing alongside more recent memories from university and Law School. If it wasn’t for the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement amplifying black voices, I would probably be still trying to live a life where I treat my blackness as a secret, something I keep to myself so that I don’t lose job opportunities or make people uncomfortable.
Racism in England has been ignored and hidden, until now
The reason that many of us Black British people feel a massive sense of release at the moment is because we’ve largely had to keep our experiences of racism secret or hidden because until now, any discussion of our experiences would be labelled as “racist” or we’d be told that people “don’t see colour”. That is a lie. The world does see colour and disproportionately kills and imprisons black people. It means our blackness is used as a way for people to treat us differently at every stage of our lives, in pretty much every context be it at work, when we use public transportation, when we go to a nightclub and so on.
Before now, black people haven’t been given the listening ear by the country when it comes to racism. We are constantly faced with people playing the ‘Devil’s advocate’ and trying to counter our own and very real lived experiences with their own: “I’m not racist, nobody where I live is racist” and remarks similar to that. In my view, that is a way of making white people feel more comfortable in light of the much more uncomfortable reality that they live in a world where being white affords them greater security and opportunity than if they were black.
A time to speak up about racism in England
However, the change in the times is palpable. Black people don’t need to clutch onto the Lammy Review or the MacPherson report to have evidential backing to prove our experiences of racism are real. Now our own words are enough because we have amplified our own voices. By refusing to allow the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others whose stories have reached all four corners of the earth to go in vain black people have created a true cultural reset.
This is a time more than ever to get these experiences of racism off your chest. Journal them, talk about them with friends, go on Twitter and make a thread if you are comfortable. Make an Instagram caption. Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to believe that you can’t speak out about your experiences. Some people may invalidate you but now more than ever is a time where black community is stronger than ever before irrespective of language, background, nationality or religion.
For black people, there is no right or wrong way to respond
When it comes to how black people should be responding to current events, I want to make clear there is no right or wrong way to respond to what is currently happening in the world if you’re black. When people say #blacklivesmatter remember that YOUR black life matters. I want to shout out friend DJ SAV (@savssounds on Instagram and Twitter) for her most recent mix ‘TAKING IT EASY’ which I have had on repeat to soothe my general stress levels as we process all of this.
How I am combating feeling helpless by moving with purpose and intention
In my case, as I said in my piece ‘George Floyd: Complacency over his death is not an option’ – my radical action is using law and digital media to educate and provide community. I have been hosting livestreams on the Legal Tea with B Instagram (@legalteawithb) which have been great and I loved having so many people asking questions, discussing the law and staying engaged.
Tonight (04/06/20) at 8pm UK, 3pm EST, 12pm PST I will be going live to discuss further updates in the case of George Floyd including additional charges brought and upgraded murder charges for the first officer charged.
I have another stream planned to discuss Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, two black people killed by the police and in a racially motivated attack by a former police officer and his son. Due to information coming out of Louisville, Kentucky of ANOTHER unarmed black man being killed by police, I will also cover the case of David McAtee. I briefly touched on Birmingham Police brutality currently under investigation and more will be said on that in due course.
This must be a watershed moment for racism in England
No matter what we do, it is paramount that these times are truly a watershed moment for how race is valued and approached in Britain and across the world. Being black used to be a secret shame – something we had to try and hide in plain sight. We had to stay firm through every demoralising experience, work and learn alongside people who dehumanised us constantly and passed it off as a “joke” or gaslighted us by saying it didn’t happen. I am determined to see it that those days are firmly behind us.