21 black people share their thoughts on the BLM protests, personal experiences with law enforcement, and how white people can help dismantle racism.
“I can’t breathe” were the infamous last words of unarmed George Floyd whilst police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, suffocating him for almost 9 minutes.
The racially motivated killing of Floyd tipped the world over the edge. On the 26th May, the day after Floyd was murdered, the first of many protests broke out in Minneapolis, USA. Despite the pandemic, masses fled to the streets with anger and urgency to make a final stand against racism and police brutality. Myself included.
Demonstrations took place in all 50 US states and 60 countries worldwide, making it the largest civil rights event in history. Almost 18 million signatures have been collected via Change.org, urging for the officers involved to be charged and for wider police reforms to be made. Even those who typically abstain from politics were seen sharing petition links on social media, imploring the public and governmental bodies to take action.
Reflecting on the impact of recent initiatives and collective action, the Justice for Floyd movement was undoubtedly successful. Not only have the officers involved in Floyd’s death been charged, but wider Police reforms have also been implemented throughout America. However, this particular case has been symptomatic of much more than long-overdue American police reforms.
Ultimately, the tragic loss of Floyd has forced the world to address the elephant in the room: the ceaseless cycle of institutional and structural racism. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has been pivotal in orchestrating collective action against these problems and spreading awareness of what you can do to help dismantle them.
For those unfamiliar with BLM, it is a social movement that was founded in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. The shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old black American called Trayvon Martin by police officer George Zimmerman acted as the catalyst for the movement’s creation.
The activists involved in the campaign confront cases and spread awareness of violence and systematic racism inflicted on members of the black community. Although BLM’s roots are in America since its inception BLM’s work and support network has expanded globally.
Despite the extensive work carried out by BLM activists, year after year innocent black people are subject to violence and systematic racism in America. Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philandro Castile, Botham Jean and Breanna Taylor, are just some of the names of black Americans who were killed by the police.
These individuals were murdered by the very people who are supposed to prevent murder and keep communities safe. As Critical Race Theory upholds, society failed them because of the colour of their skin. Unless adequate policy reforms are made and their killers do not face murder sentences, society will continue to fail them.
For those who have not come into contact with Critical Race Theory (CRT), it upholds that within American society, the law and societal institutions are inherently racist. Instead of being grounded in biology, Race is a societal construction created to propel the white population economically and politically. What this often results in is a consistent failing of black Americans and other ethnic minorities. This failure is evident in the death of George Floyd.
As an advocate of CRT, I believe that the majority of Western media outlets favour the opinion of the white man. This means that even when people of colour are welcomed to express themselves via the media; which is very rare, their voices are drowned out.
As we have seen with the British media, there is an overwhelming focus on the ‘thugs’ and violence at the BLM protests, rather than the thousands of peaceful black protestors. The portrayal of people of colour in such a way only perpetuates the issue of systematic racism and prejudices.
Whilst the BLM protests were in full swing in the UK, Madeleine McCann suddenly reappeared all over British tabloid papers. This epitomises what CRT theory states about societal institutions benefitting white people. Despite the world being in the midst of a human rights crisis, in the eyes of the British media, one white girl’s life seemingly took precedence.
Again we can see how these choices made by the media are reinforcing internalised ideas the public may already have of white supremacy. Although such choices of media outlets are not ‘overtly racist’, we must not underestimate how dangerous they can be.
The BlackoutTuesday trend that spread across Instagram on the 2nd of June also evoked great concern. Even though I appreciate the sentiment of showing solidarity and support for BLM, being silent is counterproductive. Black people have been silenced for centuries.
Instead, people should be spreading awareness, educating themselves, and discussing the issues. This is why I wanted to use my platform to hear from my black friends and acquaintances about their thoughts regarding recent events. I wanted to create a platform to ensure their lived experiences of racism are not overlooked or fade into the background of another social media trend.
Respectively, I have transcribed 4 questions and collected answers from 21 black people from the UK, US and Canada. I hope this article can give insight into how the current events are affecting members of the black community and how we as white people can help them through it.
What do the current protests in the US mean to you?
Can you tell me about an experience you have had with law enforcement that illuminated racial prejudice?
What do you want to see your own government do to address the issue of racism adequately?
What do you want white people to do to help dismantle racism?
I would like to thank everyone who was involved in this project. Thank you for taking the time to write to me and share your personal stories, even when they may have been difficult to tell.
When checking in with my black friends, they have expressed that the past few weeks have been very taxing mentally. Memories of being discriminated against have been forcibly upheaved and naturally, it has left members of the black community feeling overwhelmed.
Despite going through a very upsetting period, everyone who contributed to this article made sure they stood up and used their voice. Your collective strength through your pain is admirable and that courage is what will make real change happen. I am so proud to say I know you all.
It is also important to note, through this project alone I have learnt so much. Education was my main purpose when writing this. I could read all the books on race in the world and learn political theories. However, I believe personal anecdotes are the most important to hear. They reflect what is going on the ground level and how policy reform affects black people in their day-to-day lives.
People must remember the important roles that listening and reflection play when helping to dismantle racism. There are so many elements as a white person that I take for granted daily. I hope other white people will read this article, acknowledge their privilege, and feel inspired to join the fight against systematic racism.
In case you are wondering what you can do next, I would encourage you to find out more about the BLM movement and how you can help change black people’s lives for the better. It is not their duty to fight for something they never asked for in the first place.