It’s been a week since the murder of George Floyd in the United States which has sent shock waves across the world. But, what this incident has revealed most to me is that while racism in the police force is glaringly obvious, complicit racism in communities of nearly every race across the globe is just as putrid and transparent.
In the last week we have seen a storm start to brew both physically and virtually. People have taken to the streets to protest against police brutality in a country that refuses to hear the voice of the minority. Similarly, on social media, people all over the world have come forward in a display of solidarity to support protestors any way they could.
A disclaimer is important here: I’m not American nor am I Black. I’m Asian and I’ve lived in the United Kingdom almost my whole life. Racism has always been here, too, but people have elected to be oblivious to it. Their ignorance doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It just means that it is easier to ignore if you are not directly affected by it rather than attempting to destabilize the inherent racial structures that have existed in the West since the imperial and colonial period. Racism in the U.S., however, has always been more obvious than it is in the U.K., and with apparently a lot more violence.
Looking back through history, though, we can see that racism stems from Great Britain, and more specifically England. Much of this is rooted in the Transatlantic Slave Trade which began in the 16th century and lasted up until the 19th. Men, women, and children were taken from the African continent to the Americas. In fact, this trade was so prevalent that the Gulf of Guinea was named ‘the Slave coast’ for some time. To this day, cities that prospered on slave ports such as Bristol, Liverpool, London, and Lancaster still name streets after powerful slave traders. Their lack of accountability is very real and very clear. Take Lancaster, for example, which has a maritime museum full of artifacts, meanwhile its role as the fourth largest slave port in the U.K. is barely mentioned, if at all.
Even though slavery was outlawed in 1856, it bred a new, heinous, and often overlooked form of racism. So, yes, legally the Black community in the U.K. has equal freedoms, but reality is the complete opposite. It was not until the death of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 that the nation realized how deeply entrenched racism is. Stephen was waiting for a bus when he was approached by a group of white lads who stabbed him to death. It took 18 years and an independent inquiry into the police for his mother to get the justice she had been fighting for. Even now, in 2020, some of his killers have yet to be punished.
Still, the biggest issue in the U.K., to me, is that our racism isn’t as direct as it is in the States. Instead, microaggressions are used so that people know they aren’t welcome. This, coupled with an education that glorifies the British Empire and pretends that racism only took place centuries ago by evil people, means that Britain has effectively turned a blind eye to its deep-rooted racist issues. Like every state we have a political left and a political right, but this line has become blurred in recent years. On the right, you have the Conservative party, which is our current party in government. On the left, you have the Labour Party, the supposed party for the people. However, members of the Labour Party are nothing but complicit in racism. The last Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was a polarizing figure to say the least. Many of his policies were extremely far left and he challenged most of the centrist policies brought in by Tony Blair. As a result, during the 2019 election, many moderate voters refused to vote for the Labour Party and so, we lost key seats.
The consequence of this is our current racist Prime Minister who once referred to Black people as having ‘watermelon smiles’. He also wrote in a Far-right magazine, The Spectator, that the problem with the African continent isn’t that Britain was in charge, it’s that we aren’t anymore. Even now, on social media, members of the Labour Party are silent. But why? Because it does not work to their political advantage to speak out. It’s an issue that will never affect them nor will the Black community ever be the biggest donors to the Labour Party. So, racism is constantly disregarded as a non-issue.
It’s worth mentioning that, for the most part, when I say members I mean University students. I studied with a lot of these people, some were even my friends, and to say that I’m disappointed would be an understatement. I saw them turn out against ‘antisemitism’, bullying people who believed in Palestinian rights, and actively intimidated people to the point that they left the party. Was this same energy used for Black Lives Matter? Of course not. Passive activism is not enough and frankly, it’s pathetic. You might as well not say anything. These are also the same people who defended a white man who lost his job after an independent inquiry into his actions, yet when it comes to an oppressed community all they offer is tumbleweeds. Check your goddamn white privilege and hang your heads in shame. You aren’t anti-racists, you are opportunists. I wish I could ask them why. Why are Black lives less important than the other minority groups you favor? Is it because they support you politically? Because you are sleeping with a person of that race? Because you want to impress someone?
It makes me sick. We all see your lack of action and won’t forgive your hypocrisy. I’m not Black, and I don’t need to be to recognize that Black people deserve to be treated like human beings. If you put down your white privilege long enough you might be able to see it too.
When you call the police, you are safe. When you walk down the streets you will not be shot. When you are at a party you will not be sexualized for your skin tone. You are not the butt of the joke or of the soaring incarceration rates. You are the jailer, the politician, the University student who says ‘but slavery was so long ago’. You are the person who shares a hashtag once and then goes to sleep at night knowing that whatever happens you will be protected. Not everyone has that right. Check your privilege, stand up for and stand side by side with people who are oppressed. Sure, your privilege is not your fault, but use it for good instead of only promoting things that will help you.
#BlackLivesMatter #ICan’tBreathe #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd