All Lives Matter
Like most people, I found the death of George Floyd in the USA terrible. While things have improved greatly in America since the days of segregation it still has many people and communities that sadly hold volatile racist and divisive views.
Given the advent of camera-phones, along with the ease and speed of spreading images via social media, the public anger and subsequent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests across many US cities was not entirely unexpected given people had been holed up in a pandemic lock-down the likes none of us have ever experienced. Fear of an unknown virus, large scale deaths, the inability to see family and friends, a total shut down of normality, enforced social distancing and a massive impending economic tsunami undoubtedly created considerable additional mental and physical stress on a great number of people. Many were stuck at home, no doubt, spending more time than usual on social media and watching TV to cope with the cabin fever. So when the dramatic images of the death of George Floyd went viral it was perhaps just the trigger to make many people snap.
However, what I did find surprising was the scale of the protests here in the UK, particularly given that the UK is one of the least racist countries. Indeed, according to a report published in 2019, by Frontiers in Sociology, prejudice and racism is ‘rare’ in the UK.
Admittedly, rare does not mean non-existent. Racism does exist and there will be areas and communities where it is worse than others. However, it is my fervent belief that the vast majority of people in this country do not harbour hateful prejudice and those that do, unlikely to be dissuaded by legislation or the pious sanctimony of politicians, celebrities and sports stars. Nor too, violent protests and the destruction and desecration of ancient statues and memorials.
Over the past few weeks I’ve observed the unfolding protests, demands and reactions to the BLM campaign and worry it is doing the opposite and fear many normally, fair-minded, people are now becoming increasingly irritated and angered by the direction and indeed hypocrisy of some of the protesters demands and actions that it may well hamper the fight against racism rather than aid it. Which would be a pity.
Rather than make a kneejerk reaction, I decided to take some time to watch, listen and read the reports on the unfolding UK BLM protests, their demands and observe too the unfolding reactions from those in authority.
In a free country people are entitled to support causes they see fit and I would not like to see such freedoms restricted, so long as they are peaceful and respectful. However, I do think some of the things people are doing and demanding is not helping.
It’s is easy to protest about historic links to slavery and demand the removal of old statues or the renaming of streets and scream “racist” or “I’m offended” to those who express alternative views or argument. Yes, slavery was abhorrent, but sadly still exists today in countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Indonesia, Philippines and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Perhaps if all those protesting outside Oxford University, for the removal of Rhodes statue, instead protested outside the embassies and consulates of those countries it may actually help to end the slavery there.
I do worry that in the enthusiasm to support moves to reduce racism and provide more opportunities for disadvantaged people things are getting out of hand and in many cases will do nothing for either. For example, some people are saying Chess is racist as white traditionally goes first. The Archbishop of Canterbury has even said that the Church should reconsider portraying Jesus as white. As I understand it, Jesus is portrayed in many colours across the world. So not sure what this will achieve? Frankly, I’d rather the Archbishop spoke out about the mass murder of Christians in Nigeria.
Things are regrettably now getting out of hand with some muddled and, in some cases, quite bizarre demands and actions that risk trivialising what began as a noble, anti-racist, cause. So much so, we are already beginning to see an ugly backlash emerging with some people saying “white lives matter too”.
This isn’t helped by the revelation that UK wing of BLM has a rather dubious manifesto including: “…A commitment to abolish the police, close prisons, dismantle imperialism, capitalism, white-supremacy, patriarchy and the state structures that disproportionately harm black people in Britain’…”
Labour leader, Sir Kier Starmer, has now criticised the UK BLM movement saying some of its demands are nonsense.
Many people are now saying that “all lives matter” is a more appropriate slogan to back in the drive to reducing racism and enhancing opportunities for all disadvantaged people. I wholeheartedly agree with the sprit and principle of equality in society and that the best way for people to become ‘colour-blind’ is for skin colour to have no more relevance than one’s eye or hair colour. To achieve that, I believe, it is important we look to progress from the past and look to overtly refraining from using skin colour to differentiate people and communities. So perhaps we should all look to embrace the spirit and aim of the equality and diversity legislation that selection should be solely based on merit and ability alone.
This column was first published in the Newcastle Journal on 2nd July 2020