Image Credit: Dezeen
What’s different about the murder of George Floyd from the murder of so many other black Americans by police that have reached global media? Global protests and the recognition that structural racism does not end in the US.
For years, UK and global audiences watched coverage of police brutality against black Americans with sympathy, but now more and more of those audiences have been looking through a more empathetic lens. An understanding that the structural racism that exists in America, exists in the UK, in Germany, in Australia, and around the globe thanks to colonialism rooted in white supremacy.
What’s different is that protests in the UK saw placards not only with George Floyd’s name, but with the names of Sean Rigg, a British man who died in police custody after being arrested in 2008; Kingsley Burrell, who died in 2011 of cardiac arrest in police custody and Stephen Lawrence, whose 1993 racially-charged murder investigation was mishandled by police. Figures of deaths while in police custody show an overrepresentation of black men, disproportionate to their population in the UK. While a 2017 independent report led by David Lammy MP shows that black and minority individuals were twice as likely to die in police custody than white individuals.
As the US reflects on its own structural racism, intentionally built and maintained over the years, this reflection is happening in the UK. As US protesters toppled statues of confederate leaders, UK protesters toppled statues of slave traders. This literal dismantling of racist figures and historical representations is happening as more developed discussions of racism in our institutions, workplaces and networks begin. And these discussions can be powerful.
Just as we in the UK asked ourselves why we still have statues of slave traders in our public squares, we must ask ourselves why it’s acceptable for white comedians to mock black culture. This has led to the Little Britain series being removed from the BBC and Netflix. This kind of humour that was widely accepted just a week ago, is now being rejected. This is happening because more people are joining the discussions that for too long have been limited to black and other minority communities. We all must do the work to dismantle racism, whether we directly experience it or not. This means understanding how deep it goes in our social consciousness. A stray insensitive comment may not seem like a big deal, but when it is made time and again along with racist humour represented in media, this comment enables structures of racism that have persisted for too long.
We are all learning. We must be patient with each other, particularly with those who are newly committed to being anti-racist. As with any form of personal growth, we can’t dwell on our past mistakes for too long, we must learn from them and move on to be better. For those who will never experience racism, they must do the work to understand why expressions like “You’re so articulate”, “Where are you really from?”, are offensive racial microaggressions. It’s not about defending or justifying these comments, it’s about understanding why they were made in the first place and how hurtful they can be.
The global movement that’s happening gives me hope, because I am seeing swift change happen. But for sustained progress, we must continue to bring more people into this discussion in our workplaces and social circles.
Frank Starling is the Founder and MD of Variety Pack | Diversity and Inclusion Consultants | www.varietypack.co