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Nothing New. #Blacklivesmatter

“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.– Malcolm X

We are amidst a global pandemic but the world, and more specifically, the United States is on its knees again with the murder of George Floyd on May 25th. The shocking footage of a white American Minneapolis Police Offer with his knee on the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck opens up the deep wounds between African Americans and racism, which have been engrained in their experience for over 400 years. As riots gather pace, this is a time of unity against COVID19. However, the world, just like the USA has never fully found a cure for its most deadly virus, racism.

President Trump labelled protesters as ‘thugs’ as tensions continue to rise in the US following the killing of George Floyd. Image Copyright: Gossip-Live

Despite suffering from racism throughout my childhood, it was only in Year 8 where a teacher called Mr Pearson recommended Malcolm X’s autobiography, a book I later picked up at university. I discovered Franz Fanon, Angela Davis, Akala and Stuart Hall amongst others and although I was always a firm believer in assimilation. My Grandad always taught me to remain silent, but injustice must always be challenged. Well, he was crasser in saying, in Punjabi “If someone does something worthy, say well done. If they are a bastard, call that bastard a bastard”. It was only in 2012 where an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin was murdered, when I began to realise that silence is unacceptable. Throughout my upbringing, I was told I have a chip on my shoulder yet for victims of racism, and I will quote Malcolm X here, “That’s not a chip on my shoulder, that’s your foot on my throat”. By no means is my experience of a handful of stop and searches and racism anything on the scale of the daily fight for equality and justice for African Americans. Yet, silence enables racism to prosper, so whoever you are, as long as you are fighting inequality, let’s collaborate.

There is no easy answer. How can we change centuries of learnt behaviours, reboot societal norms and values, and change an entire power structure which prospers from some form of racism, institutional or otherwise? There truly is no easy answer. I don’t believe silence, fence sitting, objective, neutral or passiveness is enough anymore. Your silence makes you complicit in the cover up of racism. My own platform of education and social media entertains a mere few thousand followers, that’s if I am lucky. Don’t judge anyone by the number of followers they have, assess how they use this platform whilst the entire world is on its knees. We all have a moral responsibility to stop all forms of discrimination.

Why people won’t engage in the racism discussion?

There are four prevalent themes I have witnessed over the past week or so relating to conversation about race. Those who are unwilling to entertain the topic have three ‘rationales’ which I would like to breakdown. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list but a means to prolong dialogue on this topic.

I don’t want to get involved – Turning a blind eye to evil doesn’t make evil disappear or heighten your own sense of self-worth. ‘Not getting involved’ means you are unwilling to use your moral obligation to help others. Comments like this seep in both privilege and emotional distancing. In a classroom, we would be quick to condemn a child drawing a swastika wouldn’t we? We are quick to use # and change profile photos when it fits our own interests and agendas. The plight of one group is the plight of humanity and refusing to engage in the discussion makes you an accessory to injustice. Plato once said, ‘Silence gives consent’ echoed in the sentiments of Martin Luther King Jr’s “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” The number of people who have an incredible platform form, Edu-celebs included, who are unwilling to call out injustice, it’s astounding. There was a time where you didn’t have your platform, and someone helped you build what you take for granted today. Honour those people who helped you by giving those who are lowly a voice. ‘Getting involved’ could mean you sign a petition, as this micro-protest could help reform government policies. This isn’t a time to dwell, contemplate or give blasé half-arsed responses. The world needs all of its citizens to fight racism and America is where our conversation is currently at. As Alison Kriel succinctly put it, “Racism is everyone’s business”.

It (racism) is not really an issue here in the UK – I am absolutely astounded with the ignorance of this comment. Ignorance or naivety but either way, it is simply untrue, misleading and dangerous. This Churchillian imperialism that over here in Britain our police don’t shoot down innocent black people and that we are somehow socially sanitised of all racial biases. Many of seem to develop some form of selective amnesia when we hold dialogue about racism in Britain. I’m going to throw down some statistics here. During the current global pandemic, Anti-Asian hate crimes have gone up by 21% during pandemic,. As of 2019, black people are 40x more likely to be stopped & searched. 2018, Islamophobic incidents rose by 375% the week after Johnson compared veiled Muslim women to “letterboxes”. I could go on and on, even mention the many dozens of unlawful killings in police custody of BAME people. Racism is not exclusively an American experience and to render it invisible is not only misleading but also a vast oversimplification of racial equality in the UK. Overt racism in Britain may be less prevalent and an odd shocking YouTube post or unsavoury incident during a sporting event. However, racism in an institutional form, which is formed through microaggressions and unspoken and unseen behaviours. When the Prime Minister of the country has used slurs like ‘piccaninnies, ‘watermelon smiles’, ‘letter boxes’, ‘bank robbers’ and ‘tank-top bumboys’ to describe minority groups, we clearly do have an elephant in the room don’t we? Even Brexit, which only a fool will tell you has nothing to do with immigration is built on the pillars of xenophobia. If you find it uncomfortable to admit, try sitting on a train with a Hijab, or being stopped and searched for the umpteenth time. Denial of racism is arrogant and such tunnel vision is incredibly divisive. It is uncomfortable to admit but we must challenge it together and our unity will break this unease.

I haven’t really been keeping up to date with it – Is this even conceivable at an age of 24/7 news, social media and the constant bombardment of media? Riots have ensued in dozens of cities; Black Lives Matter activists have been protesting right across the world. It is uncomfortable to hold a conversation on a subject matter that we personally have little experience of. Being an informed citizen doesn’t mean you need to be ‘woke’, turn to yoga and spend hours researching Veganism. It is in our benefit to make informed decisions through being informed properly. Ignorance is bliss and the sheer breadth and depth of coverage of global events can create apathy, but lives have been lost, people are being attacked for peacefully protesting and injustice is rife. At the very core of keeping up to date with current events is our ability to have the agency to differentiate between the facts and the lies, the reality and the fake news. With regards to the killing of George Floyd, this is a Human Rights issue and that is something every human being should be aspiring to support.

White people are victims too? Don’t our lives matter? – When we begin to see one of the most maligned, degraded, hated and abused race, African American as equals, only then can we begin to brandish around the ‘All Lives Matter slogan’. All lives do matter, as life is both fragile and precious. The uncomfortable fact is, because of racism and the hierarchical system it has formed and further stratified through the dynamics of social class, age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and ability, not all life is equal. The White race is a race, it too can be the victim of racism, prejudice and discrimination. I think the saddest element of when someone mentions their own race in discussion of the plight of others, it forms a racial point scoring system and benefits no one. It causes more defensiveness, more division and more distance between groups. I am not here to critique White privilege but as a light-skinned Asian male, this privilege was once projected onto me when I visited my Grandparents homeland of Kashmir. We know full well that victims of racism come from all backgrounds, as do the perpetrators. However, until we challenge our own internal biases, move away from primordial ‘us vs. them’ sentiments and consider the sacredness of all lives, nothing matters, and nothing will change.

In Summary

Everyone has their role to challenge discrimination of all kinds and silence is no longer a virtue we can glad-handily endorse. The struggle for racial equality in the United States is over 400 years old and there appears to be no end to this nightmare. George Floyd is one of many and until there is a radical overhaul of the system, this will not be the last case of police brutality towards Black people. COVID19 may be today’s global pandemic but the virus that is racism has yet to be vaccinated.

The world is on its knees and you choose silence. Innocent people are dying, and you decide it’s too uncomfortable to use your platform. For Educators and those with a platform, I sincerely hope you can find it within yourself to place value on the lives of others, acknowledge their plight and proactively use your influence in the right way. It’s true, our lives begin to end the moment we stay silent on the things that matter.

RIP George Floyd. Until Black lives matter, no lives matter as we are one. One humanity, one love. Black lives matter 🖤

Thank you for reading

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

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