I am so surprised, that you claim you are surprised
By Michael Hamilton, Director at The Ubele Initiative
The death of George Floyd a year ago today, has another focus on racism by the majority European community in a way that only happens when that community is forced to do so.
In the UK, there was the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, the Brixton uprisings in 1981. Published facts that Black people are nine time more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. Every time these emerge in the press, it is followed by questioning, reports, apologies and then silence…until the next time.
We could begin this conversation, from any point in the relationship between Europeans and Africans. We could begin with Jim Crow laws of the late 19th and early 20th century. We could begin from what was coined the ‘The New Jim Crow’ in 2010 where we see the reasons and impact of mass incarceration of Black men in the USA. We could begin with Bernard Coard’s examination of how Caribbean students in the UK have been mass labelled as “educationally subnormal” in 1973. From wherever we begin, we see the same pattern:
First, we see the ‘horror’ of the majority population. Second, we see it followed by a shock reaction with claims that sound like: “we didn’t know!” or “we must educate ourselves!”. After that, we see it followed by “we don’t have a language to talk about this”. Then, reports get published on how it fits into a wider narrative of institutional racism to then finally, be followed by…silence.
The moment that intrigued me during this past year was when Derek Churvin, the policeman who murdered George Floyd, was found guilty and let out of court. He genuinely seemed shocked to be found guilty of any offence. After all, he had not done anything particularly different; he comes from a society where murder at the hands of the police is a leading cause of death to Black men.
The shock for the Black community was not the event itself. It was the noticing of the event, by people all over the world. Derek Churvin knelt with confidence for nine minutes on the neck of another man, whilst that he was calling for breath, whilst by standers took photos and videos of the murder, whilst people shouted, “you are killing him!” whilst his colleagues protected him knowing that in normal circumstances; the full weight of the state would protect them. It would protect them just as it did other policemen, who kill innocent Black adults and children.
I can point to countless reports and inquiries where the European majority have collected the evidence themselves, that told them very clearly that this was the common experience of Black people. I can point you to the data, books, movies, songs, poetry, plays, conferences, documentaries, news stories and the endless academic material that clearly told them, that this is commonplace for Black people.
They knew. They also were aware that they knew, which is truly the reason that it has made it such a difficult conversation for them to have with each other and with Black people. As we saw with the Holocaust conversation in Germany, rebuilding began with: “I knew, and did nothing”. What we know is that people knew and were enjoying the power and benefits that racism brings them so much- they pretended not to notice anything wrong with it, to hold on to it.
At The Ubele Initiative (a Black-led NGO based in London) we have been at the forefront of the Black community’s response to the Covid Emergency. During the emergency, the White European community were forced to see the reality of racism with the disproportionate impact that the virus had on Black communities. A part of our call was for Black-led organisations to be rescued from inevitable closure, as most of them operated with out reserves. This call led to some more directed money being focused on our community. This, then led to more democratic funding processes for the distribution of funds.
We schemed and dreamed with representatives from charitable givers. Whilst some of them took responsibility for knowing about racism, some even going as far to accept that they were a part of the problem: none suggested that they must have less power. They remain by controlling the endowments, and the rules about the spending of those endowments- to firmly stay in real control of power. The sharing of crumbs instead of divestment of real power; has been one way of nudging us back into silence.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently published some research about where their endowments originated. Whilst we welcome them publishing the truth, I wonder if they were really surprised that that endowment was built at the hands of African people taken into slavery, and never recompensed for the work they did?
Oppressors need silence. Reason being, the only real response to any thief when we locate them, is to put said stolen things- back into the hands of those from whom it was stolen. The only real response, would be to give up power and resources endowed by racism to people it was stolen from.
We shall continue to make noise for George Floyd, but also for every Black and minoritised person who continue to lose lives at the hands of racial oppression, upheld by the police.