Looking outside her own echo chamber, Candice Brathwaite explains why she's not shocked at all that no meaningful change has happened despite a year of global protests and ferocious activism
I am currently laying on the bedroom floor completely… well… overwhelmed. When I was approached to write this piece about how much, if anything has changed since the ‘rise’ of BLM last year, I egotistically thought I would have this written in minutes but that’s before I myself have had to think about how I can effect change without being reliant on ‘performative activism’ but more on that later.
As we approach a year since the murder of George Floyd went viral, I feel as if I can say without tremor or hesitation that from my perspective as a black British woman not much has changed at all. I am still positioned as ‘angry’ if I dare to stand up for myself or say I don’t like something. Black women are still four times more likely to die in childbirth or the post-partum period.
Black people are still four times more likely to be reported as missing in England and Wales. And despite making up only 14% of the population it’s been reported that black people represent one third of all COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital. What did Jay Z say? ‘Men lie, women lie, black squares lie but numbers don’t’, of course, I’ve remixed that a little.
Candice Brathwaite: ‘Racism cannot be outed with a one and done approach’
Because speaking of said square, therein lies a major issue. With us having being confined to our homes more than ever this last year (for very good reason, I shall add) we have become even more dependent upon social media. Part of the reason I believe, why George Floyd’s murder sparked universal outrage. I think I speak for most black folk when I say we’ve been trying to get our point across for centuries now. Only the stillness ushered in by global lockdowns meant that finally it wasn’t just us who had to sit up, listen, learn and hopefully take action. For many that action was simple:
1. Post a black square
2. Use the correct hashtags
3. Repost some ‘essential’ reading lists
4. Tag favourite black social media creators
It was a moment that seemed to demand a response, even if the allyship was then only performative, due to the lack of continued work or consistent education which would make for better real-life allyship. I’ve never sought to call anyone out or question why someone hasn’t used their platform to speak on any inequality, not just those pertaining to Black Lives.
Although, I do know what it means to be accused of not being an ally because I haven’t posted about the most recent war, conflict or murder. It’s a pressure that can feel all consuming and if you give in to it, in many ways that can dilute the responsibility of sourcing the correct educational material and the best way to support those affected by an atrocity of any regard.
So with that aside, all I can do to assess whether change really has come is look outside of my own echo chamber. What I have found is that most front-facing media outlets have of course had a knee-jerk reaction and have quickly tried to assemble the few black people they do have working within their realms and push them to the forefront. We have seen the British public yet again vote for the Conservatives. Even though Johnson’s rhetoric for Brexit did nothing to discourage the beliefs that Britain has become overpopulated with immigrants who are ‘taking our jobs’ and not contributing anything to society.
These beliefs reinforced the behaviour of the current Home Secretary Priti Patel, who showed more disgust for the Black Lives Matter protests than the unfair treatment of black people which lead them to protests in the first place. And most recently, the black British public had to endure gaslighting from ‘one of our own’, Dr Tony Sewell, the race commission head. He was behind the recent controversial government race report which found that ‘whilst the UK is not yet a post-racial country its success in removing race-based disparity in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy, should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries.’ I can tell you that many black British people who bear the brunt of racism are in deep disagreement.
Essentially I’m programmed to be a people pleaser, but when it comes to the idea of change, let alone the dream of living in a post-racial society, I will always be a pessimist. From where I stand, nothing has changed at all and whilst that, of course, doesn’t make me happy – it also doesn’t shock me.
The reality is that racism, no matter the country in which it resides, cannot be outed with a one and done approach. A black square, filling up your Amazon basket with essential ‘allyship’ reads and watching all of the ‘black documentaries’ cannot make up for other things. For me, the essentials of allyship that will really make a difference are:
1. Ensuring your friendship groups are diverse
2. Being committed to teaching your children not just about other races and cultures but how we can also support and lift them up
3. Speaking up if you believe a colleague is being ill treated or underpaid due to race
4. Speaking up when a family member makes a remark that isn’t just ‘ignorant’ but racist
It’s the above that really matters. And until it does, change will continue to be so infinitesimal, that we will hardly be able to see it at all.