There is a lot happening on our timelines and our news feeds at the moment and frankly if you haven’t noticed you are either following the wrong people or you are part of the problem. I am not trying to award brownie points to performative displays of allyship and I certainly don’t want to speak too soon but it feels like we have taken a baby step in the right direction. Slowly but surely it seems we are almost ready to have a real conversation, and maybe just maybe that conversation will not include any of the following; ‘snow flake’ ‘PC’ or ‘racially motivated’. A concept that until this past week felt near enough impossible. I just wish it didn’t take the death of yet another black person at the hands of the police. Because George Floyd was not a martyr dying for the cause. Neither was Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice or Alton Sterling to name a few.
As the list above would suggest, police brutality might be in the news but for us it is not new. This is not the the first time that I’ve had to check my news feed with caution. It is unfair that I have to employ coping strategies after scrolling through my timeline, that I have to take a cooling off period after every time I look at my phone. I feel I am owed some kind of compassionate leave. Don’t tell me I am overreacting. I am grieving for those past present and inevitably future who have lost their lives for being in exactly the right place i.e their front room, out jogging or in their car at the wrong time i.e 2020 where black lives still do not matter.
When we learned of the abuse endured by The Little Rock Nine (1957), the execution of 14 year old Emmett Till (1955) and the protesters met with fire hoses and police dogs in Birmingham Alabama (1963) I could’ve sworn we all said never again. Cut to 2035 and my children are sitting in a history class looking a photographs of Sandra Bland, watching the video of George Floyd’s murder and learning about Ahmaud Arberry’s fatal jog. Our actions and crucially the actions of gate keepers and politicians over the coming months will determine if anything will have changed or are we going to see another generation traumatised by police brutality.
The image that had me crying at work was of a young black man on his knees at a protest having milk poured on his face in a desperate attempt to stop the sting of tear gas. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the equally powerful yet infinitely less disturbing image associated with the Black Lives Matter movement – Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem at numerous NFL games. And I thought, had they only taken Kaepernick seriously this young man would not be on his knees in the street. How many times do black people literally have to get on their knees before we are treated with dignity, respect and basic human rights? Both men were protesting yet neither is acceptable. If its peaceful it’s deemed trivial, petty, facetious, unpatriotic. If it’s disruptive (I am reluctant to say violent) it’s dangerous, thuggish and according to President Trump, enough to warrant the intervention of The National Guard.
It is impossible for me to draw any kind of conclusion today because as it stands I have very few answers but I do know that if you are white and reading this I am asking you to diversify your reading lists. Start with online articles if you have to and then check out the amazingly talented Black British and African American authors at your disposal. Revisit your favourite songs from Stormzy, Dave, Lauryn Hill, Kendrick Lamar and really listen to what they’re saying. Finally, please know that the omnipresent powers that be have purposefully made you think that discussions of race are difficult and awkward. They do not have to be. But please be sensitive, it’s been a rough week.
Editors note: Leah has donated her fee for this article to The Stephen Lawrence trust.