‘Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are’
‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice then you have chosen the side of the oppressor’
- Desmond Tutu
In my most recent blog, I wrote about the tonic that is nature and the blessing that the coincidence of sunshine with lockdown has been. Which is all still true. But the truth is, its only half the story. Because if I am completely honest I have equally found the immense beauty of the weather and of nature over this time a little haunting. I have spoken to so many people who are relishing lockdown, attesting to loving it much more than normal life, willing it not to be over. I too have been one of the lucky ones, able to pick out the best of it, and concentrate on lockdowns silver linings.
But I have also never been able to shift the underlying feeling that this is no holiday. People are suffering , something that the beauty of the weather is in danger of masking - especially those of us who have the luxury of lovely gardens and incomes intact or government supported. There is the reality of global death tolls, of course, and the illness running rampant through care homes and amongst people at their most vulnerable and lonely. But there is also the much bigger picture of livelihoods lost, the backlog of urgent medical treatments been put on hold, the mental health of vulnerable children and the grotesque inequality in how this experience is affecting people- being in an ethnic minority has now been found catergoriacally to be a risk factor for COVID-19. And consider the horror of the lockdown experience for people who were already living close to the bread line or whose sunny days have been largely spent staring at what must feel like the cage of only four walls. We are in this together, but we are by no means experiencing it equally.
And then last week, whilst many of us we were no doubt basking in the twilight of another glorious day, the horror of horrors was happening on the other side of the Atlantic. A white policemen with his knee to the neck of an unarmed black man, killing him, mercilessly and without any hesitation in broad daylight. Watched by his police peers, and immune to being filmed by passers-by, whose lives too will be forever scarred by what they accidentally witnessed.
8 minutes and 26 seconds of brutality that lead to the death of an innocent black man but also serves as the microcosm of a history, past and current, of police brutality, entrenched racism and a broken society. I echo the words of a fellow yoga teacher when I say, as traumatic as it is, every white person needs to watch the video of George Floyd’s death.
When you do it is impossible to stop thinking about it. Or to contain the emotions it provokes; the horror, anger, shame, despair and utter utter unbridled sadness. And so, I would be lying if I said that the sunshine didn’t somehow feel bitter sweet. A shiny and unreal gloss over the very real cracks that need addressed by every single one of us if anything is truly to change.
I am fundamentally dedicated to well being and mental health. My quest in my work is to help you, and me, navigate life in all its messy glory and with all it inevitable suffering. Though I have always been deeply political, I have equally tried to keep politics out of my blogs. But this transcends politics and sits right at the heart of health. I feel I can’t write about anything else until I write about this. For it is impossible for us to be well when society is sick. And it is simply a mark of our privilege if we feel otherwise. Our well being is necessarily and inextricably linked to that of society’s.
What happened to George Floyd might not have happened in our own homeland, but it is very definitely our problem. A few years ago, the journalist Caitlin Moran wrote a very compelling piece on date rape. In it she argued, with her particular brand of acerbic wit and fierce insight, that whilst it was largely women who campaigned against rape, the only way in which things would change is if men started to take part in the conversation. That it wasn’t enough for a man to protest that he would never, not in a million years rape a woman - in the same way that white people might proclaim, loudly and vehemently that we as would never be/endorse/accept/tolerate racism - they needed to do something about it. Their silence, like our silence is part of the problem. White supremacy, and that is what it is, is a white problem. We can’t hijack the conversation, but we can and we should listen, and we should call out disparity in all the places it lurks, both seen and unseen.
I grew up in Singapore in an entirely multicultural community. I had barely any friends who were from the ‘same place’ as me. I went to an international school - one of the now 13 United World Colleges- who aimed, in their own words, to ‘foster a global education movement that makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future’. There were 1200 students and 44 different nationalities and aside from United Nations Day when we deliberately celebrated our culture differences, we were a melting pot and our nationalities were an aside. It followed, almost naturally, that race relations and international understanding were at the heart of our thinking as teenagers. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela were idols of mine, as much as Tears for Fears ( remember them?!), U2 and The Cure. I read about race relations, apartheid, the slave trade and segregation. I precociously & relentlessly took people down over dinners - especially the older generation- if they said something that even sniffed to me of racist.
And then, at some point- and I can’t work out exactly when- I went quiet. I moved to the UK and found myself surrounded increasingly by friends of largely white descent. They were political and insightful and engaged, no doubt, so I didn’t notice the change to begin with. And then I got consumed with the largely white rave culture and with Brit pop, with an ever growing family and anti-capitalist marches, with the Iraq war and folk music and to the perils my growing family of children faced in mainstream education. I was still political, but very gradually and without realising it, I unknowingly hung up my racial injustice rage. I never actively decided that race wasn’t my problem anymore, but I behaved as though I had.
And then last week I read this quote from Martin Luther King, ‘In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends’ and I realised that my silence has been making me complicit. By default rather than by design but complicit all the same. Every time we don’t call out racism where we see or hear it, every time we don’t follow a news story because it isn’t about ‘one of us’, every time we say thank goodness the UK isn’t as bad as the US and then turn back to our comfortable lives, we are being complicit in a system that values white over black. And that is allowing white people to kill black people and get away with it.
So - and its not much at this stage I know - but I have become determined to re-educate myself. To contribute to causes where my means allows, to follow and listen to black activists and to take their lead, to educate my children in the ways in which racism can enter their lives insidiously ( because this generation is far more on it than ours has ever been) and the way in which they can, I can, we all can, call out racism every time we see or hear it.
I spent the afternoon of BlackOutTuesday researching where we can all start if -like me- you feel a need to engage.
The list below is by no means exhaustive. I find those just overwhelm me to such an extent that I file them away, alongside all my good intentions, and then unwittingly forget about it all.
So this is my whittled down short-list.
There is still a lot here, so my plan is to try and realistically weave an ongoing education into my life going forward. A donation by direct debit, a book a month, one podcast series at a time, even just an episode a week. My teenagers are pledging to do the same.
Things that take 5 minutes-
The musician Dave’s performance at the Brits in February this year. Immense.
Sign a Petition
Color of Change
Petition that seeks the arrest and charging of the three other officers complicit in the killing of George Floyd
You need a US zipcode. Here is NYC one 11201.
Lobby your MP and the DofE to update their school syllabus’
Michael Gove stripped the GCSE English syllabus of all black female writers in his questionable overhaul a few years ago and Black History barely features anywhere at all.
For those of us with UK schooled children I feel this is key. Follow links here. https://www.theblackcurriculum.com/action
and sign this petition
Donate to an organisation or cause and consider setting up a direct debit
- Black Lives Matter Movement; to support ongoing fight to end state sanctioned violence, liberate black people and end white supremacy forever.
- Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust is named after Stephen Lawrence who was killed in a racist attack in 1993 in Southeast London. The organisation is a legacy to his memory, and aims to support young people to ‘ transform their lives by overcoming disadvantage and discrimination’, encouraging greater diversity in business and continuing to campaign for fairness and justice. www.stephenlawrence.org.uk or donate here
Broaden your social bubble by following these people on Instagram
THINGS TO LINGER OVER
Podcast Series that have been recommended
A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson.
Hauntingly prescient, and another angle on issues of race- his poetry about Grenfell is some of the most beautiful, and heartbreaking things I have read about it.
Documentaries to watch ( while you still have empty evenings)
Ava Duvernay's 13th - fascinating and blood boiling documentary about racism and the judicial system. Details here & watch it on Netflix.
Ella Fitzgerald; Just One of those things. On BBC Iplayer now.
Toni Morrison - recent documentary about Toni Morrisons life ‘The Pieces I am’. Available here.
A Book List
( I’ve piled them these by my bed and intend to read them, one by one, over what is now going to be the longest summer holiday on record. A massive list is here if you need more. )
How to be Anti-Racist by Ibram X Kendi ( out of stock but available as an audible book)
Why I am no Longer talking to White People about Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women White Feminists forgot by Mikki Kendall
Me & White Supremacy by Layla Saad
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Queenie - by Candice Carty Williams, currently free on Soundcloud
And For Young Adults
Noughts and Crosses ( also now a BBC documentary, but am told by my teens that the book is better)
The Hate We Give
Pledge to call out racist commentary or assumptions, against any person of colour or ethnicity, when you hear it & even if it is an otherwise trusted friend or family member. There are areas in life where political correctness has arguably gone mad, but this is not one of them.