By: Escher Walcott
George Floyd’s murder by police that was captured on video for all to see on May 26,th lit an emotional chord worldwide, sparking explosions of fury everywhere. Angered by the unjust treatment black people face in and outside of the US, citizens globally have risen up in protest supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. As Westernized black people, we were born into centuries-old systems of oppression that, despite slavery being abolished over 150 years ago, are still very much cemented in place. There are no signs of these systems disintegrating under government pressure, so protestors have taken it upon themselves to apply force and try to topple over the system like they did the Colston statue in Bristol, UK, momentously on June 7th.
Knowing that such a statue stood high and mighty from 1895 up until that date illustrates how ingrained racism is within British culture. Considered a philanthropist by many in the past, Edward Colston was in fact a slave trader in the 17th century responsible for transporting over 84,000 slaves in crammed boats from Africa to the UK resulting in 19,000 deaths. I clasped my hands over my mouth when I first watched the video of Bristolians pulling down this figure loud and proudly. Statues are traditionally viewed as historic figures of worship, etched in permanence signifying solid praise and acclaim, and so seeing such a figure come crashing down was a shock to witness. The jubilance that erupted immediately after from protestors at the scene is a vision I’ll never forget. I think we all realized in this instance that, if we all pulled together to support the right cause, real positive change for the future can occur – and that starts with truly acknowledging the discriminations of the past.
We’re taught that history cannot be argued with as it is based in fact yet, as these protests are exposing, much of history has been tailored to create a false foundation on which our present society lies. Considering this statue and many others throughout the world, certain parts of history have been recognized and repeatedly taught in curriculums for generations, affirming a social hierarchy that disregards the people hardly mentioned. What about the history of Black people? Rarely was it discussed in my school education and it wasn’t until university that I was given the opportunity to study African American and British Black literature, offered up as optional modules. What happened in Bristol highlights this very issue and now many statues in the UK are being considered for removal due to links to tyranny and slavery.
As society develops and discriminations of the past continue to be acknowledged, these past weeks have shown that we can make right those wrongs of generations past. I felt this as I joined the protest on Saturday in Victoria, South London. Despite weeks of feeling anxious about going outside amongst crowds due to the current pandemic, I couldn’t remain at home during these protests. The calling was bigger than me as I’m sure every other individual that participated felt. As I heard chorused chants of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘No Justice, No Peace’ and looked ahead at the growing crowd surrounding me, I could feel the atmosphere changing. The tide is turning finally as we’re all making it known that we cannot stand for what happened to George Floyd and countless other Black people victimized by systematic oppression.
“This moment will mark my generation. The unification I witnessed was emotional on many levels as I felt our struggle as Black people in society finally being loudly addressed in the UK and all over the world.”
Not only were we standing for the injustices in America, we were also defending Black lives in the UK, acknowledging the many levels of racism that go on in this country, often unacknowledged. I’ve noticed how the word itself strikes discomfort in some of those who have never felt the weight of oppression, feeling that bringing up the issue at all is an attack on themselves. That’s why chants of ‘Silence is Violence’ also uttered during the protests were so important for non-Black people to hear in order to make them realize being dormant in situations of racism is just as harmful as being the aggressor. There were sights I never thought I’d see as my sister and I walked for hours all over the city through wind and rain, along the River Thames and past estates, to the black gates of wealthy Chelsea neighborhoods. Cars beeped in solidarity and residents raised their hands in support on balconies, along with a couple of non-supporters I spotted frowning at the sight of the crowds. Seeing this only made us chant louder.
Coming home the exhaustion hit me but so did the pride. I felt like I accomplished something remarkably poignant, something I could tell the grandchildren about one day inspiring them to continue to stand up for their community. This moment will mark my generation. The unification I witnessed was emotional on many levels as I felt our struggle as Black people in society finally being loudly addressed in the UK and all over the world. However, the work does not stop there. Systematic racism needs to be tackled seriously which starts in the workplace, through education of history and the criminal justice system. More Black employees need to be hired and assigned managerial positions, evaluated on the same level as their white colleagues. Real history needs to be taught to students in order for them to understand where their ancestors came from and how society has developed over time. Laws created to institutionalize Black people need to be abolished and most importantly – police brutality needs to stop while we wait for these changes to take place.
Once all these goals have been achieved, only then will Black lives truly matter in society.