Cover photo by Alicia Barrett

In the Summer of 2019, I submitted my dissertation on the Black Power Movement in America. I chose this topic initially to discover the incredible music of the time but then became fascinated in demystifying the Black Panther party. After seeing the exhibition, ‘Soul of a Nation, Art in the Age of Black Power’, I was entranced by the artwork of the time.

My dissertation examined how the values of ‘Unity, Assertion and Black is Beautiful’ were dominant themes in politics, art and music during the late 1960s and early 1970s USA. Police brutality and protest were constant issues that engulfed black communities and whilst music and art helped uplift these communities, the issues remained.

Fifty years later, racial violence is ongoing.

Protest in Pictures

By Alicia Barrett

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The often awkward, dismissed and divisive conversation of race has been reopened.

In May 2020, three cases of racial violence ignited a new conversation about racism.

Firstly, video footage circulated online of Ahmaud Arbery who, two months previously, was chased and gunned down by two white locals whilst jogging in his hometown of Atlanta. The killers claimed they were conducting a citizen’s arrest. Then, Breonna Taylor. She came to the media’s attention after the police wrongfully entered her house in Louisville, without a warrant, and fired twenty shots. Eight bullets struck and killed Breonna. The third case was that of George Floyd. On 25 May, Floyd was violently pinned down by a police officer’s knee on his neck for eight minutes as he pleaded “I can’t breathe” numerous times until he became non-responsive. Around an hour later he was pronounced dead in hospital. This incident sparked protests in Minnesota, rapidly spreading across America and then worldwide. The often awkward, dismissed and divisive conversation of race has been reopened with the world taking part as the video footage of Floyd’s death prompted millions of people to ask the question, “why?”.

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER

Today, Black Britons are subjected to both emphatic and concealed oppression.

The problem of race is not just restricted within the 50 states of the USA. It is a global issue that has been prevalent for hundreds of years that took eight minutes of filmed horror, in one American city, to set the world alight. It is an issue that many governments fail to acknowledge, let alone address.

So, what about the UK? I’ve often heard many statements such as, “we are not as bad as America”, “Racism is a lot better than what it used to be”, and my personal favourite: “Racism in the 21st century…?”. Irrespective of these statements, yes; of course racism exists in the UK.

Allow me to provide some context. This thing called ‘colonialism’ happened and for hundreds of years ‘Great’ Britain essentially stole land, resources and people (to put it pleasantly), while subjecting these people to British rule. During this time many countries in Africa, The Caribbean, and parts of South Asia and the Pacific were denied independence. Despite the dismantling of the British Empire 70 years ago, we are still living in a continuation of the racist ideology that enabled this to happen. Many British subjects from the colonies came to the ‘Motherland’ (Britain) in the 1950s to restore the scarce workforce after the war while being guaranteed citizenship. It is important to understand that these people, rightly, held a British passport, were educated under a British curriculum and saw Britain as their home. Yet, they were met with severe racism as they merged into British society, learning fast that the motherland wasn’t as Jane Austin wrote of. And now, two generations later, as integral members of British society, this government is still finding ways to erase our presence: just look to the Windrush scandal. Discrimination does not stop here. Today, Black Britons are subjected to both emphatic and concealed oppression.

Photo by Alicia Barrett

Discrimination occurs in all areas of British society. In crime and justice, for example, Black people are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched as of 2018/19. Over 30 years ago, under Thatcher’s Britain, race riots spread across the country in Brixton, (London), Toxteth, (Liverpool), and Hansworth (Birmingham). These were due in great part to tensions between black communities and the police inflating over targeted Stop and Search tactics. 

Nonetheless, a report into the riots concluded that ‘“Institutional racism” did not exist.  Flash forward to the present day and despite the report’s conclusion, consider these few examples (there are many more) that contradict the notion that the UK is anything other than institutionally racist:

Photo by Rachael Henning

In employment, 65 percent of all BAME participants reported racial harassment in the workplace.

In healthcare, BAME groups are more likely to have ill health and experience ill health earlier than white Britons. Many health variations are linked to poverty and wider social inequalities.

Most recently, 94 percent of Doctors who have died from Covid-19 are from BAME backgrounds, yet the report into why the disease is affecting the BAME population has been stalled.

In housing, BAME households wait longer for social housing and are often offered poorer quality houses and flats. The injustices that surround Grenfell tower are a testament to this statement: as of 2020, three years from the horrific event, the survivors have not been rehoused.

In education, Black boys are three times more likely to be permanently excluded from school and in higher education Black students are less likely to be accepted into Russell Group Universities. In 2016, almost 70 percent of professors in Britain were white males.  In addition, Black history and the British empire aren not part of the national curriculum.

Furthermore, consider the everyday micro-aggressions that black people suffer; “where are you really from?”, “I don’t date black women”, “you’re so articulate”, “you’re very aggressive.” These are but a few examples of the covert racial discourse that is viewed as socially acceptable.  I’m just scraping the surface here. What about the overtly racial language that is all too often chanted in places and events like football games?

Finally, the classic phrase – “go back to where you came from”. Funnily enough, as I’ve got older this has taken another meaning. I would love nothing more than to retreat to Jamaica via Africa or Ireland. Even more so since 2016, the year Britain campaigned to leave the EU, where the unforgiving racist discourse underpinned the leave campaign. As a consequence, statistics have shown how hate crime has doubled since. Therefore, I beg another to tell me, “Racism doesn’t exist in the UK”. As the hashtag says, the UK is not innocent.

All of the above provides an explanation to those people who were bizarrely perplexed that protests took place up and down this ‘Great’ Island of Britain in relation to American racial violence. It is because there is a shared pain and frustration within the Black diaspora following Floyd’s death. Too often conversations of race are met with animosity and denial. We are tired of how we’re treated globally and locally. Existing isn’t enough. We need to be heard, we need to be appreciated, and a change must come.

The Protest

I attended the protest in Sheffield on the 6 June 2020 when hundreds of people gathered to the Black Lives Matter event to stand against police brutality and systematic racism in UK and US’.  This my story from that day in words and pictures.

I’m more than ready to fight for our rights, are you?

I concluded my dissertation with the sentence: “African Americans are now aware of their power and beauty, and celebrate who they are and where they’ve come from. Whilst still asking, ‘where do we go from here?’”.  

I chose that ending because I spent months listening to Solange’s ‘Where Do We Go’ (from here) from her album ‘A Seat at The Table’. That song and question were in my conscious and subconscious for the majority of my time at University. During most modules on race I’d ponder what had changed and what had not, with the fascination of my own learning being met with the pain of our stagnation and cyclical oppression since liberation.

But stagnation is not inevitable. It is in each of our hands to make this the time when things really change rather than just a flashpoint or a footnote in history books. How? There are many ways to support this movement: stay informed, sign petitions, donate to charities, amplify Black voices, support Black owned businesses, speak up when hearing a racist comment, and acknowledge certain privileges.

So, where do we go from here? I believe education is paramount to see large scale change. Accurate historical education not only gives an understanding of the past but also assists conceptualising the present and understanding how societies are the shaped way they are.

If history is taught by an encompassing and all-inclusive lens, this could have a phenomenal impact on how people view themselves. Learning one’s personal history can root one’s identity and belonging and significantly impact how we view society. However, this is a generational change and it will not happen overnight – yet understanding is the first step in dismantling the current system.

This movement isn’t just about George Floyd; it isn’t just about police brutality. It’s about ending the oppression that the Black community are forced to endure.  This oppression is upheld by systemic, institutional and societal racism that meant George Floyd was able to be kneeled upon, that Grenfell Tower burnt so ferociously (despite complaints over the cladding for years), and where this country was able to wrongly deport British citizens back to Jamaica despite holding British passports.

My bandolier is armed through education and awareness of what’s going on. I’m more than ready to fight for our rights, are you?

Photo by David Francis

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