Black Lives Matter: Empathy and Education can create a safe, fair and progressive society
Posted on 20th November 2020 at 16:35
The murder of George Floyd by Police officers in Minneapolis shines a light brighter than ever before on the Black Lives Matter campaign and people all over the world have joined together for equality.
It is encouraging to see those from all ethnic backgrounds align in solidarity over racial injustices, taking over city streets to demand desperately needed and long overdue change.
I was born in Zambia and came over to the UK in the 80s to train to be an architect. My wife came to live here shortly after that and we have two children and grandchildren, all born here. This is our home, we are a part of the local community and we love our lives in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
All Lives Matter
I aim this blog at the people who chant: ‘All Lives Matter’. It’s a phrase that has been thrown about over the last few weeks. A phrase that in itself is entrenched in prejudice because if all lives matter, then why is there such a huge divide on immigration issues? Would homophobia and transphobia still be in existence? Would people be sleeping on the streets? Would people be judged because of unemployment or where they live? ‘All Lives Matter’ is a response that makes it easy to deny that systemic racism is an issue.
Of course, all lives matter but if this is your response, you are actually dismissing the point of the Black Lives Matter movement and denying that racism is a problem that urgently needs addressing. On the whole, I feel that this denial is largely through a lack of empathy, education and ignorance rather than malicious racism.
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes
Can you imagine being a parent in America, living in fear that your child can be shot dead in the street just because of the colour of their skin? Having to educate your children on how to tread carefully should they encounter the Police? Black Americans are dying of Covid-19, three times the rate of their white counterparts due to disadvantages in terms of access to testing and medical treatment.
Black history in the land of opportunity
America is the land of opportunity, but certainly not for all. I am sure you are aware of black history, but I just want to reiterate this point to show that things haven’t changed as much for black people in the last 200 years since the abolition of slavery.
My ancestors were captured in Africa and taken against their will. Over a 200 year period, as many as 20 million people were packed into ships, travelling for up to 11 weeks in terrible conditions, many died in transit and were simply thrown overboard for the sharks to eat.
On arrival in the land of opportunity, these terrified human beings were enslaved, sold to wealthy land owners and made to work without pay in the harshest conditions, whilst education was withheld.
Throughout this period black people came up with so many mechanical inventions to make production processes easier and the credit and patents were claimed by their white masters.
In contrast, some Europeans were ‘invited’ to the USA to take up well-paid jobs and to purchase land at favourable terms. Their children were educated and these immigrants became industry leaders, receiving the best of everything.
When slavery was eventually abolished in 1833, black people got the worst jobs, poor education, if at all, and if they wanted to start a business or buy land, prices were inflated and the interest on loans was set especially high - everything geared to make it difficult at every stage in life.
Wind the clock forward and this discrimination is still rife. Overt in everyday life when no one is looking and covert where laws have been implemented. Assumptions and offences are magnified as opposed to those for white people.
Everywhere you look black people have a raw deal in the western world and this has spread to the Far East.
My family and I noticed that the EU Referendum gave others ‘licence’ to behave in a racist manner and tensions have heated up more so in the last 5 years than in the last 30. Social media has played its part in spreading misinformation and giving a soap-box to those with extremist views.
The pay-per-click culture encourages antagonistic commentary to generate traffic, but it has come at a cost and somehow tries to ‘normalise’ racism, even excuse it with the term ‘freedom of speech’ which, away from the internet becomes a guise for hate speech. For example, my daughter was racially abused by a stranger in a supermarket and by another, while walking with her children in the park all in the last couple of weeks - a frightening situation for her and bewildering to her young children.
To be treated differently because of the colour of our skin makes us feel angry so I completely understand the anger people are feeling in America, particularly when the powers that are there to supposedly protect them, can kill them for assumptions based purely on racial stereotypes.
When people yell for my children to go back to where they come from, they don’t realise they come from here, in Hull. My offspring were born here and if they were to go back to where I came from, that life would be completely alien to them. They are Black British and nothing can change that fact.
I don’t take overt racism personally. It’s unpleasant but it is not a personal attack, these people don’t know me or my children, they are just displaying their own ignorance and perhaps fear.
However, covert racism IS difficult to deal with - behaviours that go under the radar.
Work twice as hard to be on the same level
There is a saying that ‘a black person’ has to work twice as hard to be on the same level as a white person’. This is the reality for most black people and of course, there is also an equal pay issue.
When applying for jobs in the past, I often felt employers didn’t believe I was qualified when in fact I am was more qualified than some of my competitors. I had to be.
I am very happy to see so many people supporting the black lives movement. I really do think it will have a ground-breaking effect on the way we are treated but I believe it is not solely a movement for black people, it needs the support of all races to really make the changes needed to combat systemic racism. It’s encouraging to see that books on anti-racism are flying off the shelves, podcasts on black lives are topping the charts and documentaries on black history are trending on Netflix, because knowledge is key when addressing prejudices of any nature.
Through education and empathy, we can all work together to create a progressive society that is fair for all, one in which it is safe for our children.
This inspiring young woman, Kimberly Jones uses a game of Monopoly to describe how things are - give her a watch here:
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