THE purpose OF THE PROTESTs
The importance of the Black Lives Matter protests and why we must keep up the momentum ensuring our voices are heard and a difference is made.
words and photos: Amara Barrett Willett
Last weekend, I decided to join the black lives matter protests in London after a long, heavy week of being inundated with graphic videos and pictures of brutal police violence and proud racists. Like many other Black Brits, I had the urge to make my voice heard and do something, but was unsure the best way to go about it. You’d be forgiven if you had forgotten we were in the middle of a global pandemic, but unfortunately white supremacy has refused to go on hold whilst we’re all trying not to die. Somehow, despite a globetrotting virus causing the world to literally shut down, there has still been time to make room for the murder of innocent Black people who are going about their normal daily lives.
For some reason, people seem to forget that Britain is the grandfather of modern global racism. The British Empire is responsible for some of the bloodiest, most gruesome and most animalistic behaviour in history. It was this country that paved the way for slaves to make it to America and the Caribbean. The first concentration camps were set up by... you guessed it, the British. The British colonial project has caused death, famine, grief and trauma worldwide. Conveniently, the British have managed to sanitise their history when teaching about their ‘great’ country. In schools, the curriculum jumps from Henry VIII [16th century] to WWII [20th century] so it’s far from surprising to hear people romanticise the colonial era.
This glossing over of history is what has given its citizens the confidence to blatantly overlook its wretched past. White British people will tell you that this country is the “least racist”, or that “you’re making it up.” We should consider ourselves lucky as “we’re not America,” and “slavery didn’t happen here.” Or my favourite - “we helped free slaves too”. Their ignorance should not make us question our experiences and doubt our own truths. We stand up to those who are racist, when we protest and chant; “Justice for Belly Mujinga”, “Justice for Grenfell”, Justice for Shukri Abdi,” refusing to let those wronged escape our memory.
The white guilt that we are now witnessing many people experience holds no flame to the pain the Black community has felt for hundreds of years. And I’m not afraid to say I’m glad some white people are uncomfortable. I’m glad mainstream journalists showed their arses this week, asking Black people if “racism is really that bad here?” [Fiona Bruce, I’m looking at you.] I’m glad we took the moment and ran with it. To protest is to let your opinions and the truth be heard and to prevent injustices carry on blindly.
Saturday's protest was full of young people who felt the same way I did. A distinct energy by everyone who is fed up. There were several times as we were chanting “Black Lives Matter” I wondered, “why am I arguing this? Why am I debating this with anyone?” I was screaming, begging in all actuality to be acknowledged as a life that matters. And therein lies the problem, some people have to beg for their lives to be acknowledged and some people don’t. That is racism in a nutshell. That’s prejudice in a quick minute.
Despite the mix of heavy emotions throughout the day, I left that protest feeling better in my heart. Probably a selfish moment on reflection. I felt better about myself for engaging in a big demonstration of how much I care. Would I have felt the same if I took to one knee last Tuesday outside my house, like Jeremy Corbyn suggested we all do to, “show solidarity?” I think not. While the action of protest itself brings about change and progress, it also makes you feel as if you are contributing to solving this big abstract problem that is structural racism. And for that, I am thankful for the protests.
It’s important to keep the pressure on. When Black people spoke out about the current Prime Minister’s actual racism [see watermelon smilies, piccaninnies, and letterboxes etc.], we were told it’s not that bad and we should get over it. The country then overwhelmingly voted for him, making it clear that he is not alone in his thoughts and beliefs. What we do know is that many in this country deep down, or for some, not deep at all, hanker back to a different time where we did have different rights.This is why protesting is still essential. Being politically active is still very important. Reminding your friends and family who share racist posts on Facebook that it’s not cute. Educating yourself and educating your children to be and to do better is key. Keep signing petitions, keep attending protests, keep supporting the organisers, keep donating to black charity funds, keep donating to the US bail funds. With so much more to do, it would be such a shame if we were to lose the momentum we have built.