On 25th May 2020 an innocent man named George Floyd was senselessly murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin. His cries were heard not only in all 50 states of America but around the globe, as the video of his death quickly went viral and sparked protests worldwide. You may think here in the United Kingdom this is nothing to do with us; that racism is an American issue and we as a nation are not racist. You hear the phrases ‘I don’t see colour’ or that the police aren’t shooting people of colour here so we don’t need to worry. This perception not only denies the struggle of non-white UK citizens, but allows for the prevalence of a type of discrimination that is almost a cultural norm. The overwhelming problem in the UK is that much of the racism here is in the form of microaggressions and the denial of our racist history. The platform of protests could help change this if we are willing to listen.
The average white person doesn’t see the racism because we are not the ones facing it daily. We are instead perpetuating it, unintentionally or not. It isn’t just police brutality, it’s your friend jokingly saying the N-word or your history classes skipping over how the British Empire came to be, or statues glorifying slave traders standing proudly in city centres. Racist attitudes are everywhere in the UK. Our culture is steeped in it and our society built upon the bones of slaves. This is not an issue for the people of colour to solve, this is a deeply entrenched in everything that surrounds us and we must address it together.
As someone who had never attended a protest before I wasn’t sure what to expect when attending Chester’s Black Lives Matter peaceful protest (wearing a mask and staying 2m away from others attending). I left feeling empowered and informed, the experience was deeply moving and I urge everyone to go to protests if they are able to. Chester’s protest remained peaceful throughout with a variety of people stepping up to speak, sing or read poetry. We also knelt for 8 minutes and 30 seconds – the amount of time George Floyd suffered. Protests are not an excuse for rioting and violence but a tool which can be used to teach those less informed. Listening to the voices of everyone who spoke combined with around a thousand voices chanting back it is impossible not to feel like change is coming and you can help make a difference. Seeing speakers so passionate, some on the verge of tears as they take up the microphone, forces any hypothetical argument out of your mind. This is happening and it is happening to these very people facing you and all around you.
The youngest of the speakers was the beautiful Kiki who at only 4 years old led the entire protest in chanting “Black Lives Matter”, her mother told me Kiki couldn’t wait “for people to hear [her] voice”. Kiki is part of the next generation who are tragically going to face the same racist rhetoric unless there is a change in our national consciousness. Older speakers told stories of being singled out by police and arrested whilst their white friends were let off with a warning, or of walking onto the school bus and having racial slurs shouted at them. Speaker Riah, who spoke publically for the first time, explained how supporting George Floyd resulted in her removal from a local Facebook page because the admins said the issue didn’t have anything to do with them. She asked for white allies to begin speaking up against everyday racism, it is not enough to just attend protests and share petitions on social media you have to make an active change in your life.
As another young woman, Tanisha, explained it’s not that there is more racism but it is being filmed and shared so it is easier for us to see the truth first hand. The video of George Floyd is completely unfiltered; you can feel his pain without the distorting layer of someone retelling it. Racism wasn’t abolished alongside slavery, it was just hidden from those whose privilege allowed them to ignore it. However, the visibility of the issue means people can finally see what is happening, the racism that runs through our country’s bones has been exposed. Tanisha urged that people keep up the momentum, educate yourself and find local groups and businesses to support. Going to a protest is not the end point but the beginning.
The main takeaway from the protest was the message of education and compassion. We must not only educate the younger generation but educate ourselves. Speaking as a white woman I will never feel the effects of racism, but I can at the very least learn about the racist history of our country and use my privilege to amplify those whose voice cannot be heard. In the words of Riah, “this is the moment for people to open their eyes”. Take a look at yourself and those around you and ask if you are doing enough. Even your response to protests is incredibly telling; if damaging a statute of a slave trader bothers you more than the deaths of thousands of innocent people, I hate to be the one to tell you but you might be racist.
This is not instant, it is a process but all you have to do is take the first step. If you want to get involved follow our ally advice and donation suggestions. All lives cannot matter until black lives matter.
Words by Danni Scott. Photos by Good.Citizen on Instagram.