Like many others I have been incredibly moved by the events in the USA in the last few weeks and the outpouring world of grief and anger after the police murdered George Floyd.
The dehumanization which is at the root of all racism has been thoroughly exposed again, in a way where everyone who is human has had to say “ENOUGH, police murder is still murder!”
But, will all this anger lead to long-lasting change this time, or just mark another peak in the struggle for human rights, and then fizzle out?
The demonstrations, are incredibly moving and inspiring because at long last there seems to be an understanding that not only are black and ethnic people refusing to be seen as “OTHER” or “Not-Human” but people of all races are saying to dehumanize my friend, colleague, neighbor, fellow citizen is to dehumanize me.
When people look back at this moment, of course they will say, people needed to let off steam because they had been locked down due to Covid-19, that’s why people were so angry.
Covid-19 has been a great leveler, in that it did not discriminate between people of color, age, race or gender. However, the proportion of “key workers”, who were on the front line who were people of color, it has hit poorer, ethnic communities harder.
PROPOSALS FOR NEW LEGISLATION AFTER THE MURDER IN MINNEAPOLIS
As Senators in the U.S call for more legislation, I applaud them but we need more than legislation.
Long time activists, including Dr Bernice King, spoke about the Minneapolis murder and what needed to happen next, in the recent Inspirational and Informative TED Talks (June 5th, 2020). The depth of and breadth of the problem, in this case the inhuman murders and human rights violations by the police force across America, was clearly upsetting, and completely overwhelming. However, there were suggestions for ways forward. Dr Bernice King’s idea that we systematically channel collective anger and frustration to tackle racism in the specific parts of civil society we live in, in order to affect change seems the most proactive.
This murder, that happened in broad daylight, happened despite the efforts over several decades to “educate” the police.
IS DEFUNDING THE POLICE A POSSIBLE ANSWER?
Police forces in the States get over 44% of the federal budget in many states, and their strong unions make it almost impossible to fire “bad cops”.
If institutional racism is a virus that cannot be wiped out from the police form as an institution, maybe it needs to go?
There is no vaccine for racism, and the struggle against it is already many centuries long.
Despite the almost universal acceptance of the fact that “institutional” racism exists, I know firsthand that academic labels such as this one, haven’t much changed the real situation on the ground, here in England.
From firsthand experience I can say Institutional racism is endemic in academia, the arts and in most sectors of employment in the United Kingdom, where many national art institutions in England, like the National Theatre, still boast about the “one token non-white employee”, (that is not working in the canteen or part of the cleaning staff).
Anti-racist academics have been working “with” the police for many decades, and I don’t see any less discrimination in the legal system, or lower incidents of police brutality against ethnic communities in England. When reform is impossible what other option is there than to get rid?
Arts institutions and police bodies are both funded by our tax dollars, and what I think the US has finally woken up to is the fact that their “colored minorities” are not actually a minority any more.
People of color are finally at a number where they can say, very loudly, where their tax money goes, and they do not want it to fund racist institutions which condone murder. I don’t believe the majority of the white population want their money going to institutions where blatant murder and daily discrimination is deemed acceptable either.
THE CHALLENGES OF FIGHTING INSTITUTIONAL RACISM
There are some facts which cannot be ignored. (There are plenty of statistics that detail the omnipresence of racism).
The fact is that it is exhausting — this continual fight against racism, and how it is upheld by the silent majority.
The fact that “the white ones” in power are used to smoothing over the cracks with platitudes, tokens, and short-term initiatives and then just carrying on as usual.
The fact that racism has to wiped out at every level, private and public, of society.
The fact that it cannot be tolerated anytime, anywhere, and that requires
- More than acknowledgement — it requires funding
- More than quotas — but that is a start
- More than short-term “initiatives” — which act as sticking plasters but never heal the wound
And what is clear today, more than ever before, is the wound.
The wound that racism inflicts on everyone who has suffered is emotional, spiritual as well as, unfortunately in many cases, physical. (And yes, I know how that feels like).
RACISM IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
As British news commentators struggle to understand the depth and breath of the response to the George Floyd murder, (and yes, they are mostly white), it is clear that they have no idea of the depth and breadth of the wound’s racism inflicts on us.
Wounds need air to heal — and this time is, I think, a global time of “airing”. We need to grieve this murder, and every other murder that has happened in this way.
We need to grieve our own experiences of racism from police, at work, in the schoolroom, yes even the racist insults that are slung at us when we do our grocery shopping. We need to cry, scream and shout and — yes, we all want to breathe, and continue breathing.
But more than that
After we have expressed our anger, hurt, disappointment and outrage we will need a huge “collective” commitment to continued action.
One week of positive affirmation of black people, and their contributions to society, (as seen on Social Media) and their businesses is not enough.
Racism may have been invented several centuries ago to justify colonialism, and slavery, which, in still places continues. But racism is worse than the Covid-19 pandemic because it infects the mind, and has been passed down generation to generation.
But the fact is, there is no vaccine for racism
Racism is rooted in the mind. Worldwide protests have shone this very bright light on this murder, this time, so we can all see what is going on. Somehow, we must find a way, collectively, to continue shing the light on every murder, and every act of racism wherever it takes place.
WHAT WILL IT TAKE?
It will take more than protests, but protests push legislators and better legislation helps.
It will take more than prayers, but prayers can bring us together and keep us strong, (and public marches and demonstrations are a form of prayer).
It will take more than token donations to educational programmers, but children are the future and we have to start somewhere (and you have never done anything difficult in your life until you have tried to educate a racist child).
It takes a lifelong commitment to saying:
“No, I will not turn away”. I will speak out, stand up and take action against the dehumanization which is racism.”
I would also like to acknowledge today all the other acts of racism that go on every day, dehumanizing a person somewhere in the U.K. which is where I live.
However, like many other first-generation ethnic women I have been schooled by my family “to keep my head down and mouth shut.”
Not that I have ever followed that advice (!). We need to acknowledge, as we talk about racism being passed down from generation to generation, we must also talk about our “complicitness” with our racist oppressors which we display when “shut up and keep our heads down”.
I repeat there is no vaccine for racism, it can only be expunged, if we call it out wherever we see it.
This time, there may just be more of us than them.
Parm Kaur is a writer, artist, trainer and coach. She currently lives in England.