We all need to make changes across the world, even in the UK.
I was contemplating writing this for a while, I didn’t want to just jump on a band wagon, but I kept getting woolly emails in my inbox from coaches across the UK saying things about needing to sit and learn and take in what’s happening – I think we already know what’s happening, we’ve just chosen to not pay attention.
Of course, we all know that our society is endemically racist. You’d need to have had your head in the sand your whole life to not realise this.
What is happening in America right now, is part of a chain of events that has been happening since time began. The peaceful protests and the riots are not the first and unfortunately will not be the last. The murder of George Floyd is the latest in a long string of murders, by an institutionally racist America.
Yes, America abolished slavery and the Jim Crow laws in America, but with that they bought in the 13th amendment – which said slavery was abolished except as punishment for a crime.
Is it any wonder that African-American adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated than whites in America? And that once you have been convicted you no longer have the right to vote, effectively removing the right to democracy from thousands of people.
And companies like the bust American Apparel marketing using the term ‘Made in America’ but forgetting to tell people that they were made in Prisons using labour paying them 23 cents an hour. Effectively slave labour, they very thing they said they’d abolished.
But this institutional racism is not just something that happens in America.
Something we as Brits can look over at with wonder and then ignore what’s happening right on our own doorstep.
Black men are 26% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody in the UK. They are also nearly 60% more likely to plead not guilty.
And we pay our prisoners at least £10 a week for the work they do behind bars. Jason Swettenham, head of public sector prison industries in England and Wales said “There’s a real business opportunity here”
We overwhelmingly voted in a man who calls black people piccaninnies with watermelon smiles, compared Muslim women with letterboxes and called gay men tank-topped bumboys.
We did that. The British people.
Arrests in London during covid have overwhelmingly targeted black people over white. The Met police twice as likely to fine black people over lockdown breaches.
A report by the London School of Economics found that Black people are nine times as likely to be stopped and searched in England and Wales.
I think we all know what’s happening. It’s whether we choose to see.
I watched a Ted Lecture yesterday by Daniel Goleman about why we aren’t more compassionate. And overwhelming it’s because we are busy, focusing only on ourselves and what’s happening in our lives, and if we would only look up and see what was around us and stop and pause we would have time to be more compassionate.
I left my home town of Gosport primarily because of its small-town backward thinking racism. I remember going to the pub in the late 90’s with a black friend and being told to leave and that we wouldn’t be served. And it wasn’t just one pub.
So I choose to move to a more diverse city, where I thought there would be less racism. But things are not that much different here.
I recently went to deliver an inspirational speech to children at risk of being expelled at a city senior school. And I was shocked by the class and racial segregation in Nottingham. It was there for me to see the whole time, I just hadn’t ‘seen’ it.
The senior school my daughter goes to is overwhelming white, rated outstanding by Ofsted, nestled in a council estate but doing good. The school I went to talk in was in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city and overwhelmingly not white. And the teachers had an air of giving up.
I knew that we were not doing the best for these children, they were being left behind in a system that never gave them a chance in the first place.
We know from the fabulous work of Professor Carol Dweck that changing the mindset of these children can take schools in the bottom of league tables to the top. She tells the tale of one of her Stanford Grads who went back to her Native America reservation and took her class from the bottom of the league table to the top beating the Microsoft kids in Seattle.
We can make a difference to these childrens lives, the tools are there, we just need to use them.
We all have a lot to learn, I remember when I wrote about the Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. I loved the campaign, I wrote about how Nike knew their audience and could afford to lose the Trump voters, but even when big companies weigh in on these issues there is conflict.
They’re turning kids into slaves
Just to make cheaper sneakers
But what’s the real cost?
‘Cause the sneakers don’t seem that much cheaper
Why are we still paying so much for sneakers ?
When you got them made by little slaves kids
What are your overheads?
Sneaker companies have lots of issues to sort out too.
And it’s great that Google’s been posting that it’s behind the protests, but it’s taken Palestine off the map, and was in the middle of a row about searches for unprofessional hair showing up pictures of black women.
And so what can we all do? We can look up. We can call out injustice where we see it.
We can choose not to buy cheap fashion when we know it’s made by children as young as 14, in factories using processes that gives cancer to those children.
We can choose not to go on holidays to place like Dubai that uses modern slavery to build it’s beautiful hotels and beaches.
We can stop buying prawns because of the well-documented use of slaves in Thailand.
We can look into the human rights of products we bring into our home. Corona has opened our eyes to the plight of migrant workers from North Africa picking strawberries in Spain and in meat factories in Germany – these things are happening in our country too.
And I know here I’m getting a little woolly and moving away from black lives matter and making it about brown lives too – but we need to be looking up, our whole society is built on systematically abusing other people.
We can choose not to vote for openly racist white men to run our country, who once wrote of Africa: “The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.”
And a Government who were intrinsic in the Windrush scandal illegally deporting people who were encouraged to our country in good faith between the 1940’s and 1970’s.
We can call out racism and injustice when we see it, and we can have good long looks at ourselves and how we consume and vote and ask ourselves if the things we do daily are contributing to making the world being a better place for everyone?
I’m pleased to see that the protest in America are starting to make a difference and making moves to call to account the Police officers who murdered George Floyd.
I want to believe that the world will change. I want to believe that society will become a fairer place for us all.
And I’d like to think that it can be done peacefully, but as we know from the suffragettes it wasn’t until those well-behaved women in Edwardian society started smashing windows, blowing up the Chancellor of the Exchequers house and throwing themselves in front of horses that the establishment started to pay attention.
Hopefully, the Trumps and the Johnsons of this world will start to listen and make changes before it comes to that, but I am doubtful.
Or we as the people can vote them out. And make moves to make the world a better place through the things we consume. But we also need good leaders and people to get behind, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t need to wait for the next generation.