Reflections

The month of June felt big. For most of lockdown, it’s almost as if I have been silently slipping into a drowsy, sleepwalking state, induced by a combination of mandatory hibernation and information-overload. I became content with the new rituals adopted within the protective walls of my own little world, cutting the cord connecting me with the outside somewhat.

After settling into the adjustments, my weekday routine became therapeutic: wake up, yoga, shower, breakfast, work, coffee, cigarette (repeat last three on a loop until 5pm), lunch, dinner, guitar, write, read, bed. Maybe interchanged with a morning run or the odd switching around of activities, normally summarised with an alcoholic beverage, and always accompanied by intermittent scrolling of Instagram.

The synchronisation with this rhythmic pattern allowed complacency to thrive as I drifted through my predetermined check list every day and switched off once finally complete. I was immune to the stale quality this process eventually began to amass, so content I was in the numbness it awarded me. I suppose it was a sort of coping mechanism as a barrier against the unknown, but looking back I left myself no margin for genuine rest or feeling.

Last month’s uprising shook me awake, but not just from what I assumed was a temporary slumber provoked by lockdown measures. I realised I have been ignorant to racism and even enabled it in the past by being passive in situations where I should have challenged behaviour, including questioning my own inherent bias. I learned I have a distinct lack of knowledge around black history and never made any previous attempt to alter that – or, more shameful still, never even considered it.

The fact that I was able to make a conscious decision to turn off the news to preserve my mental health is a sign of privilege in every sense of the word. A step further from privilege, it’s actually harmful. By dismissing the media and information for personal satisfaction, I was also overlooking the fact that BAME communities are disproportionately affected by COVID and so increasingly susceptible to contracting the disease. I was unwittingly rejecting opportunities to help raise awareness by opting for radio silence.

I’ll admit that before George Floyd’s death, I thought I was doing enough to qualify as an ally, but I hadn’t even scratched the surface of what being an ally actually meant. Choosing to prioritise my comfort 24/7 by slinking into the shadows is selfish, cowardly and fickle. We can’t dip in and out of activism. It’s a lifelong commitment to educating ourselves and others and standing up and speaking out every single time we encounter racist behaviour, even – especially – when we are scared or overwhelmed or uncomfortable. This approach is the only way to make a difference.

And right now, on the cusp of change, the power lies in the ability to slam foot on the accelerator and make more noise than ever. Anti-racism isn’t a trend, so while the feed may have gone back to ‘normal’ the movement must continue in our actions both on and offline. Supporting the black community is not a standalone moment that starts and ends with a single performative message of solidarity, but a mentality that must be integrated into our daily routines, habits and choices.

It’s easy to have one conversation, sign a petition or order an item from a black-owned business, and then fall back into familiar sequences of convenience; not calling out racism and assuming disapproving of it is enough, ordering cheap products from Amazon to be delivered the next day whilst knowing the unethical practices it stands for, instead of taking the time to research and support small companies.

I appreciate that not everyone has the time or money to contribute consistently, but through our actions and social media presence we all have the power to positively influence those around us. It can be as simple as telling a friend or relative that a racist comment or joke doesn’t sit right with you, and asking why they hold this view. Rather than making a person feel bad, encourage the perspective that it is okay to change their mind after learning new facts.

We need to normalise saying ‘I don’t know enough about this to have an opinion,’ when probed on a topic; then we can make a mental note to research the subject later. This applies to every aspect of life and there’s no shame in opting out of a debate rather than agreeing / disagreeing for the sake of it.

No one knows everything, and if we forgive ourselves for not being correctly informed we create more space to flourish and grow by investigating the areas we are not so clued up on. Admitting we are wrong can propel us forward and identify opportunities to do better. I will admit that I may have approached some people with a confrontational and unhelpful attitude in regards to educating them on the BLM movement, by letting anger and frustration around their refusal to understand get the better of me.

I’m very stubborn, but on reflection I can see how this pushes others away rather than respectfully providing resources and facts. It’s irrelevant and deflecting as white people to let our emotions steer a conversation that is not ours to sensationalise. An insight that has really clarified this issue for me recently, is accepting that some individuals (typically the ‘all lives matter’ crowd) just do not want to listen or learn about white privilege and systemic racism. Rather than wasting energy on trying to persuade those who are fully disengaged, it is more useful to focus on those who may not be aware of the issue, are not equipped with the right material or need some assistance with where to start.

I have loved altering the structure of this blog over the past few months to focus mainly around chronological life updates, including content I have both created and enjoyed consuming, such as books, podcasts, TV series and products. I want to continue with this format, so as my primary outlet of expression I will be incorporating the inclusive resources I am digesting as part of my continued education and evolving, broader exploration, into my regular weekly posts.

I acknowledge that in the past this blog has distinctly lacked reviews or recommendations involving black creatives, businesses and authors, as well as discussions around experiences from communities other than my own. I’m hoping that channelling my hobbies and interests into sharing inclusive content will be successful in amplifying marginalised voices, appreciating different cultures and highlighting the issues they may face.

Before I resume regular instalments, though, I think it’s important to dedicate another post purely to the BLM movement. I don’t feel right sandwiching some trivial stories about my week in here whilst discussing a topic that is so far from my personal experience. Progress is being made, but it is neither fast nor adequate enough and black people continue to suffer and die while waiting. I want to start by sharing a few ways we can continue to help right now, and then provide a little insight into the research I have done so far.

Photo credit: Alison Stratford

What we can still do to help the BLM movement

If your feed is no longer bubbling over with links and suggested actions it may be difficult to comprehend that the fight is ongoing, or know where efforts are required. Follow activists and creatives such as Tamika D. Mallory, Aja Barber & Munroe Bergdorf, as well as accounts such as Feminist and Shit You Should Care About, as they consistently post relevant information and clear direction on how to help. Following hashtags like #BLM and #AmplifyMelinatedVoices are a good method to keep the discussion on your timeline, too. If I’m busy I tend to save Instagram posts to refer to later when I can fully focus my attention.

Despite the high profile campaign for justice, Breonna Taylor’s killers are still free. You can still sign the petition and donate if you are able to. One of the easiest and most effective activities is reposting key messages on social media for others to read as it spreads support, as well as encouraging your network to take interest and have separate conversations off the back of it.

The Black Lives Matter’s website is a great source for updated advice and official campaigns. It even provides zip codes to use in case you are outside of the USA.

Black Trans Lives Matter. Between the 25th June & 3rd July, six black trans women were found dead: Brayla Stone, Merck Mack, Shaki Peters, Draya McCary, Tatiana Hall & Bree Black. This marks the violent deaths of at least 22 trans women in 2020. Read the full article here. We need to keep saying their names and sharing their stories to recognise the prejudice and social disparities that black transgender people face, and demand change.

A summary of resources

Over the past few weeks I have swapped out most of my traditional media choices in order to concentrate predominantly on black history and narrative. Harnessing such knowledge equips us with the tools to have informed debates with peers and reflect on our white privileges and the entities that uphold and prosper because of this.

I started with the documentary 13th, available on Netflix, which I would highly recommend as an initial entry point that provides a summarised yet detailed timeline on black slavery in America and how the roots of this are still present in the systems that prevail today.

As the name suggests, it dives into the meaning behind America’s 13th Amendment, which on the surface appears to condemn slavery but on further inspection actually is a loophole to punish those convicted of crimes. The horrific cycle of injustice the black population faces as a result is clearly portrayed, from social and economic inequality, to higher proportions of arrest due to racial profiling, and police brutality.

The timeline behind the podcast 1619 follows a similar trajectory; in this instance pinpointing the origins of the black slave trade in the US and tracing the devastating effects still manifested in contemporary society. Nikole Hannah-Jones from the New York Times magazine combines her personal experiences with insights and interviews, spanning individual subjects such as the economy that was built on slavery, the segregation of healthcare and the birth of American music, which interlink to uncover how the country’s foundations were really established, and how racism is inevitably still ingrained deep into it’s structures.

I found the series incredibly eye opening and informative, each episode slotting together to continue telling the story from alternative points of view. While there is still a lot of research I need to do around black British history, 1619 taught me a lot about the influence and benefits the UK is culpable for in terms of slavery. It’s difficult to comprehend that our schools omit such lessons in favour of an almost propaganda-like curriculum, celebrating the battles we have won rather than reflecting the truth of power and corruption we yielded at the expense of other human beings.

When They See Us is a four-part series based on the real events of the Central Park jogger case, where five teenagers were coerced into committing to crimes they did not commit purely due to the colour of their skin and the fact that the police needed a scapegoat. The innocent boys were blamed for the rape and assault of a white female jogger, due to the complete fabrication of occurrences by authorities. They spent the majority of their teenage years in prison and served full sentences, only being exonerated in 2002 after the true perpetrator confessed.

This harrowing account depicts the premeditated and targeted attack that destroyed the lives of innocent young people from minority communities, exposing the institutional racism and flawed justice system present in the US. This is a hard but necessary watch if we are to understand the extent of corruption affecting black people from those who are allegedly meant to ‘protect’ citizens, which makes a strong case for tactics such as defunding the police.

Josh and I watched Fruitvale Station last week, a film directed by Ryan Coogler that portrays the final day of Oscar Grant’s life before he was tragically murdered by a police officer in Oakland in 2009. The raw filming style and the editorial decision to set it over the course of one day gives the characters a familiar quality and creates a closeness between them and the viewer. It really puts into perspective the daily considerations black people have to make that white people just do not encounter, such as how to behave around authorities, and that getting into a scuffle on a night out could end with death.

Most recently I watched 12 Years a Slave, the award-winning movie directed by Steve McQueen and based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free African American man living in New York who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery in Louisiana. While Solomon’s resilience and hope that he will return home is incredible, his plight is brutally ruthless and unforgiving, and this is just the story of one man. Let alone the millions that were enslaved in America until the real liberation on 19th June 1865, when the news that all slaves were free was announced in every state including the last, Texas.

It is horrifying to realise that after Solomon was rescued from slavery it would take another 12 years for all other slaves to be declared free. This date is marked as Juneteenth, and is the reason why the 4th July as ‘Independence Day’ is invalid and insulting to so many.

I attended two BLM marches in Brecon & Abergavenny, which were hopeful in the way they brought together so many different members of the local community to show commitment to the same cause, and powerful in highlighting how the urgency of the issue affects us all.

As lockdown regulations begin to ease in many areas and our schedules fill back up, it is important that white people do not forget about the messages we circulated and pledges we made in this time of extreme and continuing darkness to fight for the black community. We can keep the momentum going by listening, learning, calling out racism and continuing to be active allies in every way available to us.

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