I get it. I really do. I am a black man and it has been wearying, even for me, the worldwide movement that is Black Lives Matters. That is not to say I am sick of hearing about it. It is, unfortunately, a necessary movement but like the Me Too movement of recent years, a movement that was adopted by Hollywood but in truth was created a decade before to highlight sexual abuse and harassment, something related to half of the world’s population, it has become bloated.
I would be lying if I said I did not feel a twinge of irritation when seeing the perennially raging Rose McGowan, her public pain even shooting down those who belatedly support her. It is the disruption, more pertinently, it is a disruption that I do not, emotionally, recognise. I understand it, logically, but I do not feel it.
The Me Too movement was started by Tarana Burke back in 2006 to try and highlight sexual abuse and harassment suffered by women. The phrase was adopted some decade-plus later by Alyssa Milano who used it as a hashtag around the time of the Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. With the Weinstein case, there was a focus, a target for all of the ills suffered by women the world over. That he happened to be a super abuser just amplified everything.
That did not stop it from becoming exhausting for those who are not affected by it. Another voice that many have found wearisome is that of the child-adult planet saver, Greta Thunberg. Her relentless rants at world leaders whilst understandable, have had the opposite effect and made many ignore that which she wanted to bring to light.
A football game in Manchester was marred by a banner being flown over the ground brandishing the words ’white lives matter Burnley’. This is one of the more overt expressions, the beginning of the backlash against Black Lives Matter. I can only imagine how attacked some must feel over the movement if I am feeling overwhelmed by it.
The thing is, there is so much. There are so many injustices that have happened, are happening or have not been acknowledged. Black Lives Matters sprung up in America after years of unlawful killings of black people by law enforcement. As well as the deaths, the disproportionate amount of incarcerations, with harsher sentencing in relation to their white counterparts, keeping them imprisoned for longer.
In the UK, racism has always been more subtle. Though we only make up three percent of the population, like any minority, black people are mostly in the cities and large towns, where the work is. Black people have been coming to these shores, post-Windrush, for the past sixty-plus years. The stories of ‘no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ are rife and are of my parents’ generation.
The white view over here has always seemed to be ‘it’s not so bad’ as if not getting shot should be the aim of every black person, not every person. There is a perception that ‘we’ should be grateful to be accepted, forgetting that most of the West Indies were under British rule into the latter part of the twentieth century and a vast majority of the black people at the present day protest were born in the UK.
There is a perception of ‘us’ showing unconscionable ingratitude for the life we have in the UK. What does it matter that so few of us are represented at board level or even management level in the work environment? Why should it matter that there are very few British black television programmes or films? Black Lives Matter, though about the mistreatment of black people, is also about so much more.
All lives matter. Of course they do, but what is a life? How many white people actually think about how they might be received in another country? Or even worry about going to another country? I remember before my trip to Australia many years ago, being warned about their attitude towards black people. I, thankfully, did not encounter any bad blood whilst down under but it was still considered enough of a thing to be mentioned.
What has any of this got to do with the UK? I pointed out that minorities tend to migrate to the cities, so outside of the cities it becomes a game of spot the blackface. Outside of the city borders, being a black person can feel like a curiosity.
When I was at school in the late seventies/early eighties, the student body was over ninety percent black. The teachers were all white except for two. In a predominantly black school, in a time when there was a dedicated class to history, there was no reference to British involvement in the slave trade. I learned more about slavery from Alex Haley’s Roots than I did in school.
In my working life, of more than thirty years, I have had less than five black managers, this includes beginning my working life with London Underground when most of the staff was still black. Now in my fifties, I know a lot of black people who are managers or run their own businesses and it is a nice thing to see.
They are mostly around my age group and when they attend management meetings, they are not only in a minority race wise, they tend to be in a minority age-wise. In management, black people tend to get their chance at management later and only once.
Perhaps the problem is the slogan – Black Lives Matter – maybe it should be All Lives Matter, after all, I would have to admit that black people are not killed regularly in the UK and because of that fact, the Black Lives Matter rhetoric has made many uncomfortable. They do not get the complaining; all lives matter.
The debate becomes semantics, the overriding message lost. It is about an expectation of fairness, not worrying that your ‘look’ is not what is expected. Prejudices will always exist, that is just human nature but having to fight stereotypes and ingrained beliefs is tiring in the extreme.
We live under a government that has, from the leader downwards, shown an impressive disregard for the plight of black people. With the idiotic Home Secretary prepared to instigated the sort of rules that would impact her own parents to the even more foolish Health Secretary who, when asked to name a black cabinet minister, was left floundering, babbling about a ‘diverse’ cabinet.
It is not a case of getting more than white people or taking away from them, as some seem to think. It is about seeing the truth and a different perspective. It is not about statues – even if some are rightly removed – it is even less about long-forgotten television programmes that nobody watches or even care about.
The majority of black people are not scanning the social medias of famous people looking for some racial indiscretion and we are definitely not checking film archives in the hope they are not doing a special showing of Birth of a Nation – original racist version, not the acclaimed film of a few years back that was torpedoed by scandal.
Black Lives Matter is a statement. It is not stating that our lives matter more, it is stating that they do not matter less and as such, society should not treat us as though they do. All lives matter, of course they do, but Black Lives Matter as well.