'Fighting racism is about making a commitment to use our voices to campaign for long-term systematic change,' says Marie Claire's Editor in Chief, Andrea Thompson
In the weeks since the violent death of George Floyd, I’ve been asked many times to articulate my feelings around his brutal killing. My prevailing one is utter exhaustion. Why? Because that video underlines a bitter truth both painful and draining to acknowledge on an hourly basis: that racism is so very alive in 2020. Not just the sort of racism that can make a white man kill a black man in broad daylight while three of his colleagues look on, but the deep prejudice that creates a culture of silence and has allowed such episodes to go unchecked by the mainstream for so long.
It’s strange to think that for so many people, the past month has been the first time they’ve woken up to the idea that racism is such a problem today. If you’re not white, it’s something that has been a part of your life for as long as you can remember. Racism is systematic, engrained, and widespread and having to process the hourly news on this story as it unfolded over the past few weeks has brought up some deep emotions that many of us are still trying to process.
Today my job puts me in a place of privilege but racism is not unfamiliar to me. As the child of a black father and white mother, I was acutely aware of racism from an early age in the contrasting way my parents were seen and treated by the outside world. These days, I may not experience the outright racist comments I did at the start of my career, but to say I don’t experience casual racism in my life would be a lie. Yes things have moved on but not as much as you may think. The thing is, you can’t ever truly understand how subtly pervasive racism is in the UK unless you’ve experienced the micro-aggressions, the subtle looks, off-hand comments and judgements for yourself.
Things are changing though and the protests have been heartening. It used to be just black people doing the marching, now white people are out alongside them in solidarity. It marks a positive shift in attitudes– a watershed moment in the politics of race. And yet, much of the performative allyship I’ve witnessed on social media in recent weeks has left me cold. The hand-wringing, the hollow apologies and the self-centred public statements of contrition. Blackout Tuesday became a global statement on racism, the like we’ve never seen before. But what is the use in posting black squares of solidarity for one day, if we simply move on to selfies and endorsements the next without acknowledging the real work to be done.
To genuinely move forward, let’s move on from the distracting conversations and trends, and tackle the structures that allow racism to flourish in our universities, workplaces, legal systems, and perhaps most worryingly our medical institutions, where as we’ve seen so recently you’re twice as likely to die from coronavirus if you’re black.
The media industry, like many others is now under scrutiny – and so it should be. It needs to do better. At Marie Claire, our staff make up is 28% Black Asian and Minority Ethnic but to be truly representative of the capital city we work in it would be 40% . Since I became Editor eight months ago, I have worked hard to build on Marie Claire’s feminist agenda with an approach that is both diverse and inclusive. But I’ve pledged to do more.
The truth is, fighting racism takes time, energy and commitment for more than one day or one month while it looks good on our social feeds. It is about recognising, supporting and amplifying the black voices in our every day lives and using any platform or privileges we have to campaign for genuine long-term change.
At Marie Claire, we’re pledging to keep up the pressure, drive those difficult conversations and educate as we go, so you can be part of the change too. Because this is a movement that will need all of us.
This article was first published in June 2020