Black Lives Matter: why it’s relevant in the UK, and ten things you can do to become an ally
Foreword from #DiP: We have read, watched and seen in person the demonstrations happening over the last two weeks. Whilst we are not affiliated to the movement, we would like to share a powerful voice of #blacklivesmatter. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of Diversity in Pensions (not least as we are a relatively new organisation, and such views merit greater debate). In particular, we appreciated the actionable steps that individuals can take to start to become the change we need – many of which are relevant and applicable to the encouragement of a more diverse pensions industry. The personal stories were also moving, and we expect that many people in this network have experienced microaggressions (or worse). If you’d be willing to share your story (in confidence), we would love to listen – perhaps even share with the network one day.
The #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) movement was founded in 2013 following the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer in Florida, USA. The organisation has since grown, Black Lives Matter, Inc has gone global with chapters in cities across the US, UK, and Canada. Black people are dying at a disproportionate rate at the hands of police and white supremacist vigilantes. BLM’s main aim is to eradicate white supremacy, build local power, and also create safe spaces for Black people.
We are not saying that all lives don’t matter. But black lives need to matter equally before we can move forward
There is a lot of controversy as to why the movement is relevant in the UK, the answer is very simple: racism is rife here, too.
Workplaces, schools, and the football ground are the most common places where Black people are subjected to racism and it may not always be overt and blatant. Most racism experienced in the UK is covert and subtle – often leaving us bewildered and questioning whether we would be overreacting if we were to speak up. We fear losing our jobs, our friends, and being kicked off of sporting teams if we do decide to speak up. This can then lead to internalisation, which can lead to trauma. Psychologists have reported that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common amongst Black people who have been subjected to racism.
My first memory of experiencing racism, I was 9 or 10 years old, a boy had pushed past me in the playground. I shouted, “Hey! Watch where you’re going!” to which he responded, “Shut up, you’re just a n***** anyway.” I was taken aback by his response – I immediately told my teacher, and to my disbelief, she laughed. She laughed right in my face. Her words that followed were; “You know racism is always going to be a thing, so just get used to it.” I can positively say that her response hurt me more than the boy’s comment. Having grown up in South Africa post-Apartheid, I knew that there was no place for discrimination – I was not going to back down. I told another teacher who took the matter seriously; she wrote letters to my mother, to the boy’s mother, and made him formally apologise to me. Yet, I never received an apology from my teacher.
I was lucky in my experience, as it is not uncommon for Black students to be reprimanded for lashing out at racist bullies instead of the bullies being reprimanded themselves. One ex-student recalls being racially discriminated against by older students at secondary school for months, and teachers failing to intervene. Eventually, this transpired into a physical altercation and both students were sent to the headteacher. The bully was inconsolable at this point and the headteacher threatened the Black student by saying that the school could call the police because he had ‘assaulted’ the bully. Even though he had not initiated the confrontation, the Black student was then internally excluded, while the bully got off scot-free.
In workplaces, Black people mainly experience racism in the form of microaggressions: these appear harmless but carry a lot of weight. Microaggressions often take the form of backhanded compliments such as; “You’re pretty for a black girl,” implying that Black women generally are not beautiful. “You’re surprisingly well-spoken!” This encourages the belief that Black people are less intelligent. One question that most Black people receive is “No, but where are you really from?” Instead, if you are genuinely interested, ask what their heritage is. This is particularly frustrating as a lot of Black people were born and bred in the UK, especially the younger generation.
These are just a few examples, here are some more resources you can refer to:
· The University of Minnesota, examples of microaggressions and their message: https://www.sph.umn.edu/site/docs/hewg/microaggressions.pdf
· CNN Health, how to respond to microaggressions as an ally: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/06/05/health/racial-microaggressions-examples-responses-wellness/index.html
Football in the UK is notoriously racist. Football player Joey relates a story from when he was between 16 or 17 and a fight broke out on the pitch. At the time of the fight, Joey was not even in the vicinity, however, he was the one to be booked and sent off by the referee. His teammates attempted to contest the decision and accused the referee of being racist, but they were immediately shut down. As a result of this, Joey was suspended and could not play any matches, he had missed the majority of the season. Joey attempted to appeal the suspension, but this required him to travel to Wembley (London) from Peterborough (Cambridgeshire) for a hearing that he would then have had to pay a huge bill for. This is not an isolated incident, and situations of racism occur across all sports.
Another important institution to look to is the police force. As of March 2019, 125,286 officers were employed by police forces across England and Wales with their ethnicities known. A hefty 93.0% of those were White, while only 1.3% of officers were Black – meaning that the police force is much less diverse than the UK’s actual population.
Black people are eight (8) times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people. Police are five (5) times more likely to use force against Black people – in particular, police are eleven (11) times more likely to use firearms, eight (8) times more likely to use batons, and six (6) times more likely to use handcuffs on Black people. Under the Mental Health Act, police can formally detain a person if they appear mentally unwell or pose a threat to themselves or others – police are twice as likely to detain a Black person under the Act. Black people are also twice as likely to die in police custody than a White person.
If the use of force is lawful, proportionate, and necessary, the police are perfectly within their right to use their powers. However, the discrimination must come to an end – Black people deserve to feel protected, too.
Becoming an ally is singly the most important thing that you will do in this day and age. It is never too late to learn and educate. Remind yourself and others that it is perfectly okay to have a change of heart if you recognise that you may have been guilty for having racist tendencies. Accept this, take accountability, and continue to do better.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou
Here are 10 things you can do today as an ally:
Educate yourself on systemic and institutional racism. Read books like: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, White Fragility, How to Be an Antiracist. Watch documentaries, series, and films: 13th, When They See Us, Fruitvale Station. Listen to podcasts and TED Talks: #BlackLivesMatter, About Race, You’re Pretty for A…
2. Listen and Understand
Listen to Black experiences and understand that this occurs more commonly than you would’ve once thought. You may feel the urge to get defensive, but please resist – unlearning white supremacy is deeply personal work, it will shatter egos and belief systems.
3. Difficult Conversations
Have difficult conversations with Black people, your non-Black friends, family, and children. Racism is a topic everyone should talk about and actively educate others on. These conversations will get tiring quickly, but just think how tired we are of having them ourselves.
4. Speak Up
If you witness or hear anyone making a racist remark, whether it is directed to a Black person or not, speak up. Have the confidence to tell people that what they are saying or doing is wrong, try to educate them. You should always encourage others to do the same – do not give the racism room to breathe in your society.
5. Share Information
Sharing information to friends on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter not only opens a door for conversation, but also allows them to learn for themselves.
6. Sign Petitions
Signing petitions may seem useless, and you may think that they are a waste of time. However, only 100,000 signatures are needed for a petition to be taken to Parliament. It is not a waste of your time. The best part of signing petitions is that you can sign them from anywhere in the World for any cause. Do not forget to share these, too
Remember that your job is to amplify Black voices, not to be heard over them.
8. Write to your MPs
Get the attention of local MPs. Write letters or emails to them to encourage them to address racial issues in the UK. You can find who your local MP is here: https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP
Donate to causes aiding the movement or causes that focus on enriching the lives of the youth. You can donate to BLM and become a global member, or directly to BLM UK. Black Minds Matter was set up to provide free therapy sessions to Black youth who may be feeling triggered and/or overwhelmed with the constant exposure to trauma at this current time. Stop Hate UK was set up in 1995 in response to the unprovoked attack and murder of Stephen Lawrence. They have since set up a Stop Hate Line – a helpline for victims and witnesses of racism, and they also run awareness sessions in schools, educating young people about racism. Do not forget to share these links too!
10. Shop Black
Be conscious of where you are spending your money – if you can support Black business owners, please do. Check out https://www.ukblackowned.co.uk/ which offers a full directory of Black-owned businesses in the UK, or https://www.thestrategist.co.uk/article/black-owned-uk-businesses.html.
Use your privilege to speak for Black people’s basic human rights – you are needed now more than ever. Allow yourself to be educated, listen to Black people with an open mind and an open heart. Do not stand by, be on the right side of history.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”― Desmond Tutu
By Thanaa Charles