What conversations can we have with others that I can guarantee will make someone feel uncomfortable. Sex? Money? The that fact the marmite and cheese should never be a combination in a sandwich? Depending on the person you are, yes. All these can make you feel uncomfortable but the biggest subject matter that will make people feel uncomfortable today is Racism.
The last two weeks we have seen this subject come to front due to George Floyd. This was a man in the US, who walked into a convenience store and tried to buy goods with a fake $20 note. The owner of the store called the police. The police arrived and apprehended Mr Floyd. A video showed a police officer kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck. You can hear quite clearly Mr Floyd stating to the officer he cannot breathe. The officer kept kneeling. You can hear Mr Floyd gasping for breathe. The officer kept kneeling. You can see the life ebb away from Mr Floyd. Again, the officer remained kneeling. Whilst this is all going on, other police officers became full participants of this abuse of power. By standing there and watching a fellow human being; die in front of them. All due to him trying to buy goods from a store with counterfeit money. I don't know whether George knew it was counterfeit but was it really enough of a crime to kill someone.
I hope you notice that no point in the above paragraph have I stated what race Mr Floyd was. It shouldn't matter what colour Mr Floyd was, this treatment of someone should not be ok. Until the video of the assault was put on the internet, the police officer was fired from his job but was not facing any criminal charges.
Rewind approx a month ago and another video was released on the internet. A young man called Ahmaud Arbery was walking down a street, two men in a vehicle chased Ahmaud. Ahmaud started to run. He was struck by the vehicle. The men exited their vehicle and shot this man in cold blood. The reason they gave to the police was that they thought he was "casing" the street, to later come back and burglarise. Police came, took statements and then the two men were released, back to their families.
Again, I do not mention their race of either the young man or the shooters. Again it should not matter what colour someone is, no one has the right to kill another.
But just so we know, the victims with African American and the shooters and the police officer were Caucasian. Both stories show that the African Americans lives are expendable and the people who afflict the violence are allowed to carry on with their lives with not much comeuppance. Due to the uproar all around the world, the police officer has now been charged with 2nd degree murder, as have his colleagues and the two shooters have been rearrested and are now in jail waiting for their trial.
Now back here in the UK, there have been many discussions from people who are asking why people are holding demonstrations in this country when this happened in the US. I heard the words, "This is not our problem" or "This wouldn't happen in the UK" or "There was racism in the UK in the 60s and 70s, but not now". Well I am here to tell people that racism is here, it is just that it is subtle.
If you didn't know I am mixed race. My father came from Jamaica in the late 60s and my mother is white, pure Bristolian.
When I say it is subtle. It maybe a look you get when you go into a shop. The way someone tells you how much a product is, with a look that says "you cannot afford this". When you enter a pub or restaurant that isn't in the city and someone stares. Me, being me. I look that shop assistant in the eye and give her my dazzling smile. I thank the sales assistant for letting me know the price, but tell them I was looking for something a bit more classy. That is me and how I was taught to deal with the subtleties.
I used to work for a very well known department store. I was doing a stock check and accidentally walked in front of customer who was looking at a product, so in grossed in my work. The customer quite rightly pointed out my error and I apologised. He then said "so typical of your sort". A colleague was coming to my rescue when I thanked the customer for saying such a lovely thing. The customer became flustered and said "I beg your pardon". I smiled at the customer and my colleague (who now had a very confused look on his face) and said "well obviously you mean highly intelligent and good looking". The customer muttered and walked away. My colleague laughed and said "you know that wasn't what he was trying to say". I agreed but I wanted to see if the customer had the balls to say he was actually referring to my race.
I would say I have been very fortunate, I have had a handful of racist comments in my life. The truth is, my colour is seen more acceptable than someone who is black. See, now you might start feeling uncomfortable. I am saying that I have had some privilege due to the lightness of my skin. If we are asking white people to stand up and talk about white privilege, then I have to say I have to speak up about maybe life has been easier on me. That isn't to say that I haven't worked my arse off for what I have but maybe it was an easier journey than someone who was black.
The conversation we need to be having is why my skin colour is easier to deal with than someone who is black. What makes me a safer bet than someone the exact same age, gender as me but is black. And, then we need to ask what makes a white person a safer bet than me or the black person?? Do you know how many serial killers are white? Answers on a postcard.
We need to have a conversation why police are still racial profiling. Years ago, on a Saturday night my father was driving me to the centre of Bristol, to the Horn and Trumpet (if you know, you know). The next morning my dad told me how he had been stopped whilst driving on a notorious street in Bristol. My response to this information was not, "I am sorry Dad" or "I cannot believe that happened to you". I said, "what do you expect driving down that road, at night as a black man. Of course you would be stopped, especially driving that car". I think it is sad that my father who has been in the British Army and has worked every day of his life, paid his taxes was unable to drive down a road, without being stopped due to the colour of his skin. What is also sad that by 18, I already knew a black man is more likely to get stopped by the police than if a white man had driven down the same road.
And before some people say, it isn't just white people who are racist. I agree, I have suffered racism from black people. I have been called a traitor, as I have had relationships with white men. So, yes racism is everyone's issue!
So what is the answer? Talking and educating. It starts in the home and in schools. We need to tell our children about black history. Living in Bristol, a city which prospered in the slave trade, there is no where in the city this is properly documented. We shouldn't hide our city's history. People want to change the name of the Colston Hall (music venue) and remove statues of Edward Colston, a man who did some good deeds in Bristol but very much built his wealth on the back of the slave trade. We should keep the name and statue but educate on what this man did, the good and the bad; and explain why it is bad. We shouldn't be afraid to say our history isn't great but it is our history, so what can we learn from it? Let's start the conversation.
A friend of mine, sat her children down this week and very bravely explained to them about white privilege and how their lives may be easier due to the colour of their skin. This is not an easy thing to do, but she did as she felt this is how we start to make a change in society. She started the conversation.
The government needs to look at every part of society and see how it does not benefit all of the people in the UK. Education needs to be completely overhauled, allowing all children to get the same quality of teaching. Have the services in place to help with children who are coming from a difficult background, black and white. Industries working with schools, offering schemes to help those who cannot afford university, to still have the ability to get that well paid job. They need to start that conversation. We need equality in every industry, not just gender but race as well. How many ethnic minorities hold high positions in the Forbes 100 list?
If we truly want change then we have to sit with feeling uncomfortable but having that conversation. I love the thought of a group of people from different backgrounds sitting together and asking what their life is like, what is it like having that colour skin, how does it affect you being that colour? More importantly if they hear something negative, listen. Soak in what has been said, don't argue or try and blame the person for their experience. It is their experience, don't try and own it.
And for those who do not believe that people cannot change. I was told this story and still to do this day, it gives
I worked with a gentleman, white skin head. We were talking on a very quiet shift and he admitted he used to be a fully paid up member of a national party. Feeling uncomfortable with this admission, I did ask whether he knew I was mixed race. He laughed and said yes. He said he had joined the party because a loved one had been a victim to a terrible crime, which was perpetrated by a black man. He admitted after that, he tarred every black man with the same brush (no pun intended). Years later, he was in a less than savoury pub in Bristol and was started on by some young black men. The friend he was with did a runner, leaving him to deal with the situation. Just as he was ready to take whatever may have been coming to him. A stranger stepped in and told the group of young men to stop and leave it. The language was more colourful but you get the idea. The stranger was a black man, who took in the skin head, the nationalist tattoos but still stood up for him. The stranger and my friend became firm friends, being at each others weddings and being part of each others lives. It takes a big person to say they were in the wrong and to make change.
Let's start the conversation.
One Love 💕