What brought me here (apart from an introduction by a dear friend?)
I am your typical White, left of centre liberal man of a certain age, with a life span that has had its own privilege of free university education, simple unemployment benefit, (very important for a self-employed person), easy affordable access to rental and then purchased housing in London. Sounds idyllic? It was. It was simple.
On top of all this, of course, was my white privilege. A growing knowledge and understanding of this are something more recent for me. I have always enjoyed the company both social and professional, of all types and ethnicities, but their real lives, the lives they experienced by being “other” was not something they discussed, and of that I had no knowledge.
I have always been aware of injustices, of disproportionate incarceration, stop and search and the horrendous killings by the police in the US of adults and children of colour. Here in the UK, too.
I am old enough to be contemporaneous with MLK and Black Panthers, Malcolm X and the Civil Rights Movement. Yes – I was aware, shocked, sympathetic, but not involved.
My consciousness was raised by my now hero, Bryan Stevenson. Academic, civil rights lawyer and representative of convicts on Death Row. He gave a shocking (to me) Ted Talk a few years ago which I urge anyone to watch if they haven’t seen it
Last year, I saw a movie called “The Hate U Give”
It was like an electric shock. The portrayal of an “ordinary “ Black family, where at breakfast the children are instructed how to behave when outside the house. Don’t talk back. Don’t wear certain clothes. How to behave if your car is stopped.
Then came the murder of George Floyd. Not only was I appalled as everyone was, but then reading more, researching, following stories on social media and alternative press, I became aware of the smaller, daily but devastating incidents of White people calling the police on a birdwatcher, or a group of women staying at an Air B’n’B, or a young woman falling asleep in a college reading room, and many other such incidents, the thousand cuts of muttered words, gestures, profiling, and so forth. I was particularly struck by the personal story of a young Black American who, when going out for a walk would always take his five year old daughter with him – for his protection.
I am not a writer, and far less a poet, but the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor brought out these words and I wrote them down, unedited, unrefined, from the heart:
I am not “other”I am not black
I am not Jewish
I am not Arabic
I am not Asian
I am not gay
I am not even ginger
I have never been
Physically or verbally
Bullied or abused
Stopped and checked
Asked to identify myself
Asked if it is my car
I am not afraid
That my children won’t return home
That a gun will be pointed at me
That I will be arrested
That I will not be believed
That I won’t be tried fairly
That I will be murdered by a policeman
I have been
All over the world
And never felt “Other”
But my, white, world
Is full of “others”
Who have no justice
Just fear and pain
I have never
Stood up to be counted
But showed my support
On the sidelines
In words only
The time for words
I am now reading “Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire” by Akala. A brilliant, eye-opening, mind-expanding book. I commend it to all my (White) friends, just as I recommend “I am Not Your Negro”, the James Baldwin documentary.
Nothing will change without education, without the desire to learn.