Who is that Black Lives Matter banner displayed in your window really for?

Is it enough to wave Black Lives Matter placards, asks Steven Downes Picture: Eloise Ray

Is it enough to wave Black Lives Matter placards, asks Steven Downes Picture: Eloise Ray - Credit: Archant

Do black lives matter to you? Do they really?

Protesters take a knee at the Black Lives Matter protest in Eaton Park, Norwich, on Sunday, June 7.

Protesters take a knee at the Black Lives Matter protest in Eaton Park, Norwich, on Sunday, June 7. Picture: Anush Rajagopal Ganesh - Credit: Archant

Do they matter enough for you to search your own soul, rather than to simply put a banner in your window?

There are certainly plenty of Black Lives Matter posters in the windows of houses in the largely white, middle-class area of Norwich that I call home.

I wonder who some of the banners are for: they could be to show solidarity with, and support for, black people when they walk past; they could be a way to offload some guilt; or (and this is the one that I fear may be the truth) it could be to show the neighbours how inclusive and “woke” you are.

If that’s not you, then ignore me.

I won’t carry a banner or display a slogan in the window of my home, though. It’s not because I don’t support the Black Lives Matter movement – I do. But right now I am far more a part of the problem than the solution.

I am white, very white – physically and in terms of my social networks. My legs are like a walking Dulux undercoat. Put on sunglasses if you see me wearing shorts – unless you want your retinas to burn.

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Whiter than white, you might say. But, like most people when it comes to racism, far from it.

I have 670 Facebook friends, of whom 26 are BAME. Of the 26, I have only connected with two in the last year or more.

In Norfolk, 96.5pc of the population is white. That’s a significant difference to the UK figure of 87pc.

I have one BAME colleague.

I can still remember the names of the three black pupils who attended my high school, which at that time had 720 youngsters on roll.

I also remember the nicknames we gave them. Of their time? Not at all.

The names and the attitudes were racist then and racist now.

Even as recently as 2003, I remember hearing a man in the Barclay Stand at Carrow Road hurling racist abuse at a black opposition player. Nobody stopped him: not the stewards, not the fans, not me.

Unlike many of my children’s generation, I still notice the colour of a person’s skin when I meet them for the first time. It’s hard to admit it, but 46 years in Norfolk has embedded in me the sense that ethnic diversity is almost a novelty here.

And yet we can still be so smug about how inclusive we are.

Here we sit, cocooned in our safe corner of Norfolk, certain that we are woke, politically correct and totally open-minded.

Nobody can be criticised for doing their best to live their life without prejudice. But for most white people in Norfolk, it hits a wall.

The wall is the absence of genuine ethnic diversity in the county (save for some parts of Norwich and the larger towns).

It means that we can try, but we cannot truly understand.

We can sympathise with black people when they are persecuted and harassed, but we cannot empathise – and that is the great divide.

There’s a huge difference between “I’m sorry that you were racially abused” and “I’m sorry that you were racially abused – I know how you feel because it has happened to me”.

If we examine ourselves with any honesty, many of us will have to admit that we harbour a degree of racism – overt or covert.

That is less of an accusation than it is a challenge.

It’s a challenge to us all to stop being complacent, saying things like “I’m not racist” or “Black Lives Matter” when our lives tell a different story.

To me, the powerful movement that has followed the death of George Floyd touches different people in different ways.

I don’t see it as a challenge to everybody to wave placards. To me, it is a long overdue challenge to think: to expose all of my thoughts, attitudes and prejudices to the light – and then begin to change.