26 June 2020 - Post by:Rachel Reeves
It’s been difficult to know how to react, what to say and what to do in the wake of the horrific and unnecessary deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks less than three weeks apart. They’re certainly not the first we’ve experienced but we live in hope they are the last.
But who could fail to be moved by a defenceless, compliant man calling out for his mum in the last moments of his senseless killing? Harvey Weinstein’s actions were unintentionally the catalyst for the #metoo movement, so too has George Floyd’s death been an unexpected catalyst for a call to arms against racism and for the movement known as #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) to gain the global traction it has deserved since its inception in 2013.
Watching movies and reading about events such as the Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches in Alabama in 1965, you can be forgiven for wondering what has actually changed in the 55 years since Martin Luther King led Annie Lee Cooper and other peaceful protesters across the bridge in Selma in support of exercising their legal right to vote. I’m sure the families of George and Rayshard have asked themselves the same question.
However, just as we know that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, one thing is certain: the pace of change between 1965 and 2020 has gained a new momentum. Quite literally, the inexplicable content of the film footage of George Floyd, has caused as much outrage amongst Whites and non-Blacks as Blacks. Like a snowball collecting flakes of snow on its decent down a mountain, so too has the footage of Floyd’s death picked up white supporters on its journey around the globe in a matter of seconds. In the midst of a global pandemic, BLM has created its own contagion. Like Selma, where ironically the involvement of White and other non-Black support was eventually the catalyst for change, White and non-Black support for this cause will be the essential ingredient and much needed collaboration for change.
It has taken recent events to make me realise that despite my working-class upbringing, I am in fact both entitled and privileged and always have been, not because of the class I was born into but because of the colour of my skin. Along with many, I have felt a mixture of emotions in recent weeks. Anger, humility, guilt and shame to name a few. And I have an image of Lady Macbeth in my head, tortured by the stain of the murder in which she was complicit. I don’t want to be complicit in the recent killings or any discriminatory action directed at people of colour. No amount of washing can erase the stains of the past. The dismantling of statues and removal of TV programmes is symbolic, but only by taking personal and collective responsibility can we really effect and influence the necessary change for which we all need to be accountable.
I was raised in the 70s. The environment of the time was polluted with racism. Black history in schools was non-existent, as was the absence of Black role models in every walk of life. These are facts that I cannot change, but I can help ensure that my children have the reverse experience by celebrating the many (and yet still too few) Black role models in politics, science, law and commerce to name but a few. I can educate them personally in Black history and by speaking a language untainted by prejudice, inequality or difference in my own household.