Updated: Jun 20, 2020
My intention to post regular blogs means that while I hope to primarily concentrate on issues in Thorpe and Southend, there are certain widely reported subjects that if not acknowledged, might imply they are being actively ignored. Moreover, often the impact of something that is so seemingly far away has very real consequences on our doorsteps, and affect people more than we know.
I must also state that one of my personal assurances is keep to the facts where absolute facts exist, but explicitly acknowledge when I do not have enough information, or the facts are not verified, to be open to sharing my ignorance – rather than spread inaccuracies or guesswork.
George Floyd and Black Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter Movement has now become one of the most prominent and emotive topics on the news and social media, but brought to the forefront after a video showing a Police Officer in the US appear to kill a black person by asphyxiation.
Having watched the footage, I have no words. The social issues must come second to the fact that a human being has lost his life in the most brutal of ways, and on a human level – regardless of what we believe – all our sympathies must go out to his family and loved ones.
The emotions I felt whilst watching the video were anger, disbelief, and a desperate hope that what I knew would happen somehow wouldn’t. Anyone watching the video might be forgiven for thinking extreme thoughts about the consequences for the Police Officer in question.
There are so many issues surrounding this case and the facts may never be fully known. When it is played out in court we can only hope that justice will prevail. While it would be easy to speculate about the facts, only those responsible for bringing this to trial will have the best chance to know. So when I felt the need to make comment, although I fully recognise that a human being has so needlessly lost their life, it is the explosion of racial tensions that has followed that I wish to focus on.
I started writing this blog over two weeks ago, but have struggled to publish anything because the issue of race is such a deeply sensitive subject. I am not looking to alienate people with any of my writings, but with each word I wrote came a new argument; a new upset; and a new lack of empathy. As the reports have continued to come in about the anger, violence and discord so it became ever more difficult. However, in the end, out of all the complications, nuances, hearsay and noise, I found the most relevant route was to discuss race in relation to both myself and Southend.
Where do I stand on the issue of race?
I have been brought up to believe we are all human beings and should treat each other without the external features that appear to separate us. This is an uncompromising and categorical red line and I will never change on this. Whilst I recognise freedom of expression, I am content for those that do not agree to put their political and moral support elsewhere (I would imagine they would not need convincing). Some who know me might point to my Jamaican heritage as to why I would feel this way, and maybe they would be right; however, aside from the rare occasion I was called half-caste when I was younger, I have rarely encountered racial discrimination personally. Where do I stand on the issue of race: adamantly and vehemently opposed to any form of racism.
What about Southend?
Although I know racism exists, nearly every person I have ever come across I would not consider to be racist. Either I am somehow missing something or Southend, in general, is a progressive and inclusive town. Some might argue about the so-called silent majority, but that in essence would make it difficult to tell. I have had conversations with a few people that would be considered racist, and whenever I asked them about their ideas what struck me most was that they did not believe they were racist. They could not see that a casual joke that had a punchline based on race is racist; or that using language that humiliates a person based on their race is racist; and that while they may even believe they are not racist in their heart, soul, spirit and mind, by engaging in words and actions that are racist does in fact make them so.
I do feel optimistic about the future for Southend. I personally know people that had never had one conversation about racial discrimination before George Floyd’s death, and are now preaching the injustice that it is. There seems to have been a social media big bang that has connected with people, particularly the younger generation, and this regardless of their race or social background. People that did not care at all have become sympathetic and passionate about supporting the Black Lives Matter movement – and it does not seem to be a transient phenomenon. It is sticking and is spreading.
It is clear not everyone feels the same, but I take the view that we all live together in this town – whether we are strangers or not - and the energy that we give to each other in our conversations and actions contributes to the culture that we share. I would like to think that we would all want a positive and harmonious culture in Southend, therefore, any kind of prejudice just wouldn't fit. For those that hold opposing views I am fairly confident those views will not change; like all of us, our world view has been shaped by our experience and it is difficult to engage with the idea that there are other ideas. But it is only when a thought is actioned for the worst that it becomes a problem, and this town has so much to do without working against each other.
How we partake in the debate is entirely an individual decision. For me, the very least I would expect is neutrality. If you have racist views I sincerely hope they do not inflict harm on others – mentally or physically. For those that are taking part in protests in the town, I hope that the peaceful and respectful way it has currently been conducted is continued - so far Southend should be proud of everyone that has taken part.
Elsewhere, I understand it is hard given the raw emotions sparked by this atrocity, however, I do not support violence in any form. Bringing down statues may not seem particularly aggressive, however, the act was founded in anger, and I would fear where this mind-set will lead. It also undermines the original message by stealing the focus. This is not about statues, it is about striving towards equal opportunities for black people.
Black Lives do Matter
The wording black lives matter has been taken by some to mean that literally black lives matter more than others. Had the organisation been called ‘Movement against the Police Brutality of Black People’, then maybe there would not be quite the polarisation of views. However, Black Lives Matter, like any other movement or group that supports people that have had to endure and combat cultural aggression, discrimination or hardship, is there to raise a specific issue as a cause that needs to be put right - it is not a fight to prioritise black people above white people.
As much as there remains many disagreements, I hope we can all agree that George Floyd’s death should never have happened, but because it did, people are now aware that Black Lives do Matter and George Floyd’s life mattered too.