The past week has been a whirlwind of emotion. The execution of George Floyd has moved, unnerved, disgusted and shifted the emotions of the greater part of the western world. People who have never openly discussed race or acknowledged the systemic caste of race that was developed to oppress black people and uplift white people.
For some black people, they don’t believe themselves to be held back by the colour of their skin. Many white people will counter the chant of Black Lives Matter with All Lives Matter, refusing to face the disproportionate poverty, racism, physical and mental health challenges coupled with the sometimes limited access to health services and discrimination faced once access is obtained by black people (in the US and UK). Black people who assert their opinions peacefully are suppressed (think Colin Kaepernick); denied the right to protest peacefully, censored and fought when pointing out the disparity and discrimination they face, told they are exaggerating, harassed by the statistics of black on black crime.
This past week, however, has been different. The voices of the oppressors have been silenced by the cries of the outraged, the hurt, the repulsed. Black people are hurt. Those of us who have lived in North America and Europe are hurt directly and indirectly by the injustices we and our ancestors have suffered. We recall being followed in stores, being denied jobs and promotions, presumptions that we were white over the phone because we were SO articulate! Memories built into our DNA of lynchings, beatings, rapes and families forcibly torn apart for profit.
But what will the outrage, the protests and the media coverage result in? Will the police be policed? Will police be held to account for executing people in the streets? Or will we wait until the next George or Aubrey is killed?
How come the police, the media and white people (when I refer to white people, I refer to white racists whether they are aware of their racist tendencies or privilege or not) feel comfortable killing us and then replaying our deaths on loop to further traumatise our children and mothers?
Micro-aggressions that remain unchecked daily by black people and those who witness them. “Hey Alice, is that your real hair?”, “That bag is expensive, did your brother rob it?”, “You live in Manchester? Oh you mean Mosside (a predominantly black neighbourhood in the UK)?”, “Your family lives in Barbados, do they spend all day at the beach?” (Yeah, Carole because they don’t have jobs), “All lives matter, who’s the racist now?” (well that’s not quite a micro-aggression).
Every time we don’t respond with “What the fuck do you mean???”, “Who the fuck are you talking to??”, “That is unacceptable”, “Barbara, my family practice law and by the way, have a swimming pool so they don’t need to go to the beach. Barbados is also 166 square miles so they aren’t exactly on top of the beach”, “The next time you say something to me like that, I am going to report you to HR Linda”, then these executions will continue. These statements and other minor “I didn’t mean anything by it”s are the building blocks of state-sponsored and state-approved murders.
Preventing the execution of black people begins with checking white privilege. White people should not be allowed to make ridiculous, race-based comments in the workplace (or any place else for that matter) without being held accountable. Allowing colleagues to casually insert comments like these into conversations is unacceptable.
Another point of reflection that is nagging me is the support that black Americans are receiving from the Caribbean, the same Caribbean that is stewing in colonialism but refuses to address or even discuss it. The colonialism that manifests itself as prejudice against the black majority in workplaces, telling men and women that dreadlocks are not professional, that black people especially those that are bigger are not welcome in many Trinidadian Carnival bands. The same colonialism that tells black Caribbean people that Indians, Syrians and mixed race people are better than them, that “white is right”. How can this be the same Caribbean that looks down its nose at its majority and lend its support to the same people it spites?
Silent amongst all of this noise has been the shouts of my Asian and brown friends and colleagues. Those who love to share in my sorrow when they feel discriminated against by white people. But now that my people’s wails are piercing every corner of this earth, they are woefully silent. No longer are we brown brothers in arms. Their proximity to white means an alliance with black people is a dangerous one. Your silence is not unnoticed.
Despite all of this, I would not trade being black for all of the money in the world. To be black is complex, it carries great weight and responsibility. Your success comes on the backs of your ancestors, your future dependent on your vigilance and your allies, your allies dependent on your perseverance, your peace dependent on self assurance of your value.