Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement has exploded onto the political agenda in the last month. The murder of George Floyd by Police in the US sparked anger on both sides of the Atlantic. We asked one South Leeds resident what the movement means to her.

I am a history teacher in a large secondary school in Leeds. I am a proud resident of Beeston and my family’s origins are in Afghanistan. I am delighted to be given this opportunity to explain why ‘Black Lives Matter’ is so important and to appeal to all local people in our multicultural community, to support the movement.

In Beeston we have some recent history of challenging racism that we should be proud of. We have a vibrant local ‘stand up to racism’ group and alongside local councilors people have come together to show support for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, ‘taking the knee’ in a socially distanced way in Cross Flatts park and along local streets.

When two years ago the local Mosque and Gurdwara were attacked, the community came together in a show of unity to offer peace and support.

The truth is we are facing serious challenges. Years of austerity have both widened existing inequalities and intensified economic hardship for all communities in South Leeds. One immediate impact of the Covid-19 crisis will be to trigger attempts to cut public spending which means cuts to our local services.

We are only going to be able to protect our communities and services if we are united in our response. Racism divides the community. Racism divides neighbour from neighbour, work colleague from work colleague. The Black Lives Matter movement on the other hand, in recognising and challenging the racism that still exists in British society, helps to build unity. Unity is what we need to collectively build a positive future.

Let me take you back to 17 April 1969 when a black man called David Oluwale, was (not for the first time) beaten with truncheons by two Leeds police officers who smashed his head against the pavement and urinated on his body. After the beating they ran him out of town towards the river where his body was found. ‘Wog’ was written on the nationality section of his death certificate.

David, like many in our community, our mothers and fathers, grandparents and great-grandparents came to this country to make a positive contribution to British society. And we have.

Not just economically in terms of providing the expanded labour force that was the basis for the growth of the British economy after the Second World War, not to mention the creation of a national health care system; but also culturally. Our way of life, everyone living in our communities way of life: art, music, theatre, festivals, religion, language, poetry is enriched beyond recognition through the coming together of diverse experiences from all over the world.

We are lucky to live in a multicultural community, where these diverse experiences and histories are distilled. Multiculturalism enriches everyone, Black and White. However, by the same logic racism diminishes us all.

The Black Lives Matter movement has exposed the extent to which racism, including overt racial violence, and institutional racism is still experienced by minority communities in Britain today.

Thanks to the movement, the names of Christopher Alder, Leon Briggs, Anthony Grainger, Sean Rigg, Dalian Atkinson, Darren Cumberbatch, Edson Da Costa, Kingsley Burrell, Brian Douglas and many more Black and Asian people who have died after coming into contact with the police are becoming familiar to a much wider range of people.

Many are also discovering that institutional racial violence is perpetuated on a daily basis through control measures on the streets and the whole process of criminal justice. For example, Black young people are 9 times more likely than whites to be stopped and searched by the police.

Furthermore, the whole PREVENT agenda represents institutionalised Islamophobia in terms of the measures the state uses to control and negatively label a whole generation of young Muslims. I myself have had to educate my son, aged 12, about what to do when (not if) he is stopped and searched by the police.

The movement has also precipitated some honest conversations about institutional racism more generally, in terms of education systems and in terms of health and employment inequalities.

The uncomfortable reality is that Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, colonialism and imperialism was brutal, inhumane and underpinned by ideologies of white supremacy. This is a legacy which we are still dealing with today. It’s a history that has largely been ‘whitewashed’ out of the educational curriculum, as have the positive contributions of non-white cultures and societies to the whole historical development of the human race. Ignored in the curriculum, children from minority backgrounds find themselves more likely to experience overt racial abuse, and are up to 9 times more like to experience exclusion from school.

Furthermore, the Covid-19 crisis has shone a light on the discrimination experienced by Black and minority ethnic groups in relation to health care outcomes. BAME groups are twice as likely to die of coronavirus than their white counterparts.
BAME workers are also proportionally more likely to be on the front line as ‘key workers’ and therefore are more exposed to the virus.

The continuing discrimination and poorer life chances experienced by BAME communities also clearly enhance the risk of dying of the disease. Also, we shouldn’t forget the whole scandal surrounding the treatment of the Windrush generation, or for that matter the government’s attempts to create a ‘hostile environment’.

The mask of respectability has been stripped away from government actions and racism has become explicitly articulated as policy. Of course, this explicit racism is promoted and amplified by the media who for years have demonised immigrants as ‘scroungers’ or ‘terrorists’ and have consistently promoted bigotry. Not surprisingly therefore, in recent years reports indicate a significant increase in racist abuse and an increase in hate crime generally in society.

The experience of racism runs very deep. It is institutionally embedded in the structure of society. That is why the movement that has erupted is so powerful and at times, emotional. It expresses righteous anger and frustration that has been building for many years.

However, the anti-racist movement that has emerged is beautifully diverse. It has involved Black and White standing together to challenge racism. And it has been young, representing real hope for the future.


This post was written by Zari Grist

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6 Replies to “Black Lives Matter”

  1. I can not believe that even after the outing of Black Lives Matter movements aims on national TV and the BBC, Labour and FA now distancing themselves from the movement, that is been given space. I totally agree with black lives matter because to me all lives matter and that we should ensure racism has no place in our society, and that includes Marxist movements.

  2. Really intrigued that Linda thinks it’s important that all lives matter…….does she realise that’s been adopted by far right movements. To say ‘white lives matter’ or ‘all lives matter is to miss the whole point of this movement. White privilege is the crux of the matter……Linda’s comfort in glibly using right wing ideology shows her total disregard and ignorance of the need for #BLM to be affirmed or her total embracing of a racist culture that oppresses citizens solely on the colour of their skin. I propose education, increased awareness or a vow of silence.

    1. Mary s I think if you read Linda’s statement again she did not say white lives matter she said all lives matter.Its people like you that are causing division in our societies.

    2. Mary, that’s a pretty nasty, naive and divisive post that misses the whole point of belonging to a diverse society. Just because ‘far right movements’ – whatever they are – adopt an expression doesn’t invalidate it. All lives matter, full stop. If you use BLM solely as a stick to beat white people, expect social cohesion to take a hit too.

      1. All Lives Matter is a completely false and disingenuous statement until Black Lives Matter as well. Saying ‘All Lives Matter’ is like going to a cancer fundraiser and saying ‘There are other diseases, too!’. Yes, every life matters, but Black lives are being disproportionately impacted and killed because of racism, and that’s why Black Lives Matter is so important.

        Now what is pretty nasty, naive, and divisive is to label #BLM a “Marxist movement” and dismiss it out of hand as a result. As is viewing BLM “solely as a stick to beat white people” which is an extremely poor take on the subject and a very clear example of white privilege.

    3. Mary’s response to Linda, ending in a demand that Linda be educated to believe the same things as Mary or silenced, tells us a lot about Mary but very little of any practical value, except perhaps that it wouldn’t be much fun to live under Mary’s totalitarian regime.
      It is not an act of right-wing propaganda to state that all lives matter – it’s common sense humanity. Again, I think the desire to paint Linda’s “comfort in glibly using right-wing ideology” hints at the terrible fate of misrepresentation, public shaming and cancelling, that would be meted out to those who dared to disagree with Mary.
      In my experience, people who bandy about the term “white privilege” rarely see themselves as its beneficiaries. They are usually talking about it as a way to criticise others. In fact, academic studies have shown that the concept of white privilege has done zero to improve empathy for those who suffer from racism and is almost exclusively used by those who wish to feel superior to their fellow men and women.
      Someone I know was posting about it online last week and the temptation was to tell them to stand down from their well-paid, prestigious post and recommend a person of colour to replace them Anyone serious about white privilege would do that without feeling the need to post about it online. Actions not words!

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