I’m not alone in feeling horrified when I watched George Floyd die, desperately pleading for his life as police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck to pin him – unarmed and handcuffed – to the ground, as fellow officer Tou Thao looked on and prevented public intervention. Yet despite Chauvin now having been arrested and charged with third-degree murder, I ask: at what point will the police force be justly held accountable for their crimes? The truth of the matter is that George Floyd has now joined an endless list of victims of the institutionalised racism found within America’s criminal justice system. Although we currently see cases in the US being plastered over social media, so too do we see reminders of cases from within the UK, like those of Stephen Lawrence and Mark Duggan, which must never be forgotten. A crucial difference in how racism is perceived in the UK and US is that gun use in America greatly increases the number of fatalities. However, the lower number of fatalities in the UK does not detract from the prevalence of racism in our own country.
We cannot ignore how evidence demonstrates that it is often black people who find themselves at the bottom of the heap. Between 2018 and 2019, black people in Britain were approximately ten times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people and more than three times as likely than Asian people. The permanent exclusion rate of Black Caribbean pupils was almost three times higher than their white counterparts between 2017-2018. In 2018, black people had the highest unemployment rate out of all ethnic groups.
However, this brand of racism towards black people is not just a western phenomenon. Just a month ago in Guangzhou, known to house one of China’s largest African communities, hundreds of Africans were evicted from hotels and apartments following the circulation of rumours that targeted black people for the spread of coronavirus. What’s more a photo surfaced online picturing a notice from a Guangzhou McDonald’s branch, which begins: ‘We’ve been informed that from now on black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant.’ Whilst the incident was met with outrage across social media platforms globally, a surge of popular racism emerged from Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. Despite the fact that China heavily polices its social media content, none of the racist posts were removed.
It seems that talking about racism is ever-present nowadays. However, the journey towards racial equality has somewhat stalled. The issue isn’t the lack of dialogue about racism, but the level of understanding about what it is. Anti-blackness does not only manifest itself in hate crimes and racial slurs, but to a great extent in a subconscious white supremacy that allows subtly racist behaviour to be socially acceptable. Reading Renni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race last summer enabled me to find the words to describe a racism that has long been overshadowed by the violence of far-right extremists. She rightly observes that ‘at best, white people have been taught not to mention that people of colour are “different” in case it offends us’. However, this lack of acknowledgement promotes the belief that lived experiences of white people are universally shared. This is ignorant at best and like Eddo-Lodge, I can’t engage with their defensive attitude as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do.
Author of White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo believes that the problem with white people is that ‘they just don’t listen’ and although white people are receptive to finding out their impact on other people, there is ‘a refusal to know or see, or to listen or hear, or to validate’. This is true from my own experience in sixth form. Having attended a private school for sixth-form where I could count the number of black individuals using just my hands, I was furious to witness how racist behaviour is tolerated in white spaces. Eighteen months ago, I was quietly studying alone in the main school library when a group of boys began typing crude jokes into Google Translate and playing the audio out loud. I hadn’t been listening in but at the exact moment I removed my earphones, I heard the words: ‘What’s the difference between a black man and a park bench? A park bench can support a family of four’. Everyone in the room was from my own year group and being the only black person in the year, it would’ve been hard to miss my presence. The immediate laughter that ensued made me feel insignificant and livid that I had been so disgustingly disrespected in public. The fact that every single person had avoided making direct eye contact with the tears that were streaming down my face as they left made the incident all the worse. I immediately reported it to a library staff member naming all individuals that were present, which was then passed onto the Head of Boarding and Pastoral Care. The person who made the derogatory joke was reprimanded and the incident was swiftly swept under the rug. But what about the actions of the bystanders, whose unwillingness to challenge racial indignation is just as racist as partaking in the joke?
It is beyond frustrating that comprehending structural racism requires black people to prioritise white feelings. It is futile and exhausting to have a conversation about racism when our words constantly hit a barrier of white denial met with reverse-racism retorts. I am not simply referring to the cries for us blacks to acknowledge that ‘white people face racism too’ but to the existence of oppositional movements to antiblackness, such as #AllLivesMatters, which deny our suffering a platform to be heard, and exclude us from the equality agenda. I loathe people who claim ‘reverse-racism’ exists. Though black people can show prejudice against white people, which should be condemned, anti-whiteness does not come with systemic privilege, that is to say white people are not the predominant victims of racism and thus this does not deserve the attention of racial politics.
In the words of Dave, ‘black is pain, black is evident’; it is the colour of injustice. Changing this image requires the active engagement of white people in racial discourse rather than leaving them to participate in the ignorance of white silence.