Supporting Black Lives Matter in the UK
The brutal murder of George Floyd this May has sparked a fresh surge in global anti-racism campaigning, with race now pushed to the forefront of many people’s social and political agendas.
Floyd, a black, 46-year-old man, was murdered by a police officer on May 25th in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He died while the officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck, after repeatedly telling the officers that he couldn’t breathe. An inquest later listed ‘asphyxiation by compression of the neck’ to be his cause of death and ruled the act a homicide.
In response, the last few weeks have seen people around the world gathered in peaceful protest, with many leaving their homes for the first time amid national lockdown measures so that they can stand in solidarity with the revived Black Lives Matter movement. Many have attended as a mark of respect and commemoration for Floyd and the numerous other black victims of police brutality who have died or been severely injured at the hands of racist police officers in the US. As well as this though, those involved in engaging with the movement are also demanding an overhaul of the systematically racist structures that caused this – and similar – tragedies to happen.
While the spotlight has understandably been on forms of racism in America, anti-racism protests have also begun to spring up around Europe, with Floyd’s murder encouraging people to question the presence of overt and covert racism in their own countries.
Included in these countries is the UK. This weekend, tens of thousands gathered in Britain’s towns and cities, standing together to denounce racism in all its forms, and demand change is made to the legal and social structures that continue to support it.
As part of our #BlackLivesMatter series, ImmiNews has reached out to some of the of people around the UK who are involved in and standing with the movement, to collect media from events and protests they have attended around the country, find out what the BLM movement means to them, and listen to their experiences of racism – in all its forms – in Britain.
“Tears just streamed down my face”Uche Uwaezuoke, Croydon, London.
Uche Uwaezuoke is a lawyer, based in London. She specialises in immigration law and has been practicing as a senior lawyer for most of her adult life.
She speaks to me about the first time she saw the video of George Floyd’s death.
“Some people say they cannot believe that it’s the year 2020 and we are still having issues with racism,” she tells me. “But I cannot believe that people do not realise that Black and Brown people deal with racism throughout their lives.”
“When I saw the video of George Floyd being murdered by the Police Officer in the USA, I was horrified. Tears just streamed downed my face.”
“Less than human…”
“The fact that the officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The fact that the Officer heard bystanders begging him to stop, that he heard the cries of ‘I cannot breathe’ and George calling for his mother. And still he did not stop.”
“That even after George Floyd’s body went limp the Officer continued to kneel on his throat showing a complete disregard for the life of this Black Man.”
“And this is the problem”, she goes on to say. “Whether overt or covert racism, it is the opinion that some people have, that Black people are lesser than them.”
“The fact that the Police Officer knew he was on camera, the fact that he casually had his hand in his pocket throughout the ordeal, and the fact that not one of the other three officers stopped him, shows me that they considered George Floyd less than human.”
“This is not exclusive to the USA”
Uwaezuoke goes on to describe why the Black Lives Matter movement is just as important in the UK as it is on the other side of the Atlantic.
“These ideologies are not exclusive to the USA. They exist in the UK as well”.
Uwaezuoke tells me about her own experiences of racism in the UK, describing how she has been the victim of both overt and covert forms of racism and discrimination since she was a young child and all the way through to her adult years.
“I do not want to have to explain to my daughter about the ‘black tax’, about injustice and unfairness she may face just because of the colour of her skin,” she concludes. “I truly hope that this moment is not fleeting.”
“I vowed I’d protect my family”Andy Taiwo, Bradford.
Andy Taiwo is an Head of Digital based between Bradford, Leeds and Manchester.
He talks to me about his experiences growing up in Bradford, living as the only black family on a deprived council estate, and being forced to adapt to racism and racial tensions as a child and teen.
“The racism I received was blatant”, Taiwo remembers; “from my father’s car being smashed up and having racist graffiti written all over it, to my younger sister being pushed off her bike by men and racially abused. I’ve been called names and people have always seen me as a target.”
“I have always had to have a do or die mentality” he continues, telling me about how he spent his summers getting fitter, bigger and stronger in the gym, and went the extra mile at boxing sessions so that he would not be another victim.
He goes on to say: “I could have easily been another victim like Stephen Lawrence, but the anatomy of a racist is a cowardly person that lurks in the shadows, looking for defenceless people to inflict distress upon”.
“Through all the hurt and all the pain, when I die wake me up and I’d do it all again” he adds.
“Black Lives Matter has shone a torch on racism in all its forms”
“If you look at the history books, the black population has been enslaved, beaten, raped, lynched, murdered, and suppressed by many countries, and governments have benefited to the tune of trillions on the back of suppressing black people; slavery has been abolished but the system is designed to keep us in chains.”
“Black Lives Matter has shone a torch on this”.
That, Taiwo tells me, is what the protests mean to him.
“Racism is more deadly than the Coronavirus”Fallon Barton, Sheffield.
Fallon Barton is a Facilities Manager, based in Sheffield. She tells me about how worried she is that black members of her family will be subject to racist abuse or attacks and speaks to me about her own experiences of being on the receiving end of racism while on a family holiday with her father and brother as a young teen.
“We walked out of the hotel followed by a white teenager on the phone”, she remembers. “When we reached the end of the street, around 20 white men appeared, brandishing metal poles and bricks, and they attacked us shouting all the racist words you could imagine! One of the men spat in my face and called me a monkey.”
“Racism is more deadly than the coronavirus”, she concludes.
“It’s not enough to be simply non-racist anymore”
“These protests show that people of all skin colours are opening their eyes and noticing racism,” Barton goes on to say.
“You’re either anti-racist or racist, it’s simply not enough to be non-racist anymore. I am happy to see this is not Black Vs White, it’s Humanity Vs Racism.”
“I have two black nephews and I worry about how society will treat them because of the stigma around black boys and men. If we make enough noise, being treated differently because of your skin colour could be a thing of the past.”
In response to the revived movement, and the protests of last week and weekend, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come forward to say that he does not believe the UK is a racist country.
For those that are subject to ongoing racism, racial discrimination, and racial inequalities in the UK, this comment has left a particularly bitter taste; it shows a disregard for black experiences and the voices of communities who are coming forward to highlight them. And in many ways, it has perfectly demonstrated not only why people are protesting, but why it is necessary to continue to do so.
Not only are acts of overt racism still present and active in Britain (we need only look at the consistent rise in racially-motivated hate crime, or racist policing to see that) but the framework of UK law, legislation, and custom are still built on racist ideologies.
BAME communities continue to face disadvantages across almost every area of UK life; from education and employment to healthcare and the criminal justice system.
With the most powerful man in the country unwilling to listen to the people who experience these forms of racism on a daily basis, it seems it is up to the public to hear, stand, and make noise until he does.
Header image: London, 5.6.20, [Image: Isabel Infantes]