Solidarity over George Floyd’s death is one thing, but doing something about it would mean more
- Credit: PA
Rachel Moore feels uncomfortable jumping on the anti-racist bandwagon because many people think that’s all they need to do to stop racism
Knee-jerk reactions and lip service to a cause does not bring necessary radical change.
It’s been a week of armchair activism, people ‘coming together’ from their sofas on social media to voice solidarity with black people after the most hideous act in the US.
Anyone who has seen the horrendous footage of black American, George Floyd, gasping for breath as a white police officer kneels on his windpipe will rightly feel outraged.
Everyone insists they’re not racist; of course they do.
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This week’s knee-jerk reaction to voice disgust in a civilised world by taking to social media with #blacklivesmatter and circle profile photos with campaign logos to be part of the campaign of outrage is understandable.
It is a welcome and kind sentiment, but merely sentiment nonetheless. A futile gesture, like joining an organisation but never turning up, playing a part or trying to find out what it is all about.
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This jumping on the ‘I’m not racist’ bandwagon makes me feel deeply uncomfortable, uneasy and more than a bit annoyed. Because that’s where the commitment to change often stops.
It’s empty and temporary. If people really felt like this, life for black people in this country would be very different.
These people showing that oh-so-easy virtual solidarity by tapping their phone are still likely to be those holding their bags tight if two black young men walk towards them or expect the black person to be the villain. They might not even bat an eye lid to see police stop and search a black man driving a BMW, when they would be inquisitive if the same happened to a white guy.
We say the right things, but none of us who are not black cannot possibly comprehend what it is like to be black, in the US or in Britain, because anybody white has never faced the daily prejudice, discrimination, suspicion, barriers to opportunity, marginalisation by systems and the feeling of being constantly dehumanised by insidious racism.
While white people embraced the hashtags #blacklivvesmatter and #blackouttuesday, figures from the Metropolitan Police showed people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are more likely to be fined under coronavirus regulations than white people in London.
On the same day, we learned that people from ethnic minorities are up to twice as likely to die from coronavirus, without telling us why.
Are we outraged in the same way? Are we willing to devote time and energy to working for change?
Thirty years ago when Rodney King was beaten to death by Los Angeles police, we tutted that the subsequent rioting on the police officers’ acquittal never “makes anything better”. It didn’t, but nothing else did either.
Actor Will Smith said “racisim is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed”.
On Twitter at the weekend, a black man posted a film of how he was stopped and handcuffed on the way home from taking his dog for a walk after police officers followed him for 10 minutes because he had driven through a tunnel to the ‘other side’ where police didn’t assume he should be. He was driving a BMW, by the way.
This happens regularly; he was allowed to go on his way.
Among the stream of comments to his post, saying this happened to other black people as a matter of course, one man said it had happened to him and his brothers in their youth. They are now in their 50s and 60s and nothing has changed.
In Norfolk and Suffolk, diversity in our population is sparse.
People here still need to look up the term BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic).
But why’s that? Are we not welcoming enough? Are we here viewed as a racist area?
Two years ago, sitting at my son’s graduation, I was shocked by the lack of diversity in the congregation, in a society where 50 per cent of young people go to university, there was barely a black face.
I felt ashamed that, in that cathedral, at one of the top universities in the country, the equality of opportunity that has been talked about throughout my lifetime remained hot air.
Two years on, there are still only 204 black students at Durham University out of 17,000 students. That’s just over 1%. I felt sick.
Its commitment to gain 100 new black students over the next four years fails to recognise the issue, or the whole nation’s systems’ failure of so many people.
Lip service of diversity initiatives and summer schools are just as empty and meaningless lip service moves as posting on social media #blacklivesmatter unless there is real substantial effort to make the university, and towns, cities, schools and society, places where black people feel welcome.
And why would anyone be unwelcome anywhere because of the colour of their skin? It’s that simple?
If you showed your ‘solidarity’ this week, what will you be doing next to change the lives of the people next to you in the queue who happen to have a different skin colour to you but a wholly different treatment and life experience?