by Audrey Tambudzai
'It didn't start with Floyd, and it didn't start four weeks ago.'
Appalled, we have now all seen the senseless, inhumane death of George Floyd and the global outcry for change which has followed. It didn't start with Floyd, and it didn't start four weeks ago.
Police brutality, one of the many byproducts of entrenched and systematic racism, has been a reality for the black community for centuries. And it is not just siloed to the US; there are deep roots in the UK and racial divides present in every nation of the world. We now find ourselves in an uprising like never seen before: the ‘Greatest Civil Rights Movement’ as some have called it, with its sheer scale, force, and widespread solidarity. All 50 US states have now risen to take a stand in the Black Lives Matter movement. The whole international community has engaged. Regions as different as South Korea to war-stricken Syria have chosen to stand with us.
As a young black woman in the UK, I realise that even in light of this, a tangible fear remains. While there has been unprecedented support and rallies across the nation supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and a demand for change in race relations here, the fear is that the protests may die before change is seen, as has been the pattern. SNP and Labour Members of Parliament in the UK sponsored an Early Day Motion, stating: “This House supports the Black Lives Matter campaign.” The Labour Opposition has called on the UK government to condemn Trump's aggression coupled with his action and non-condemnation of the violence of the police. On the 16th of June, we saw Trump try and weaken the radical moves to defund the police with an executive order that had only a suggestion of incentives for departments to 'improve their practices'.
This is not enough. And as the chants continue to grow louder, so does the pressure on authorities to act, and we are starting to see change happen. Three weeks ago in America, we saw the NYPD commit to revolutionizing the way it did police work – choosing to disband the Anti-Crime Unit, which the Legal Aid Society described as “an outfit infamous for employing hyper-aggressive policing techniques to brutalize New Yorkers—mostly those from communities of colour—and to defy their basic constitutional rights”. In the UK, our Prime Minister has declared that racism has no place in our society – reiterating the obvious yet without substantive action.
Yet still, as a young black woman, I feel the same fear. I feel this not only for my wider black community in the US, which walks in a much greater fear of racial injustice daily. I also feel it here in the UK, where racism is far less palpable and therefore more readily dismissed. As a young black woman in Britain, I also see the saddening reality of apathy. To this day, I encounter friends and people who remain dismissive of the privilege that they as a majority have. They don't think about discrimination and so are detached to the way race affects them and every single one of us.
'Like the body, our society has many limbs. Each displays the varied yet crucial facets of community. We are all the muscles which act to either strengthen or weaken the whole.'
And that’s the issue. Race affects all of us. It’s not just a battle that needs to be fought by the affected, racism is a war against prejudice, misuse of power and ignorance. And as members of the ‘one human race’, as phrased by Jane Elliott, this is a war in which we are all conscripted. We are all necessary to each other. Like the body, our society has many limbs. Each displays the varied yet crucial facets of community. We are all the muscles which act to either strengthen or weaken the whole. And our health is dependent on us exercising our muscles of integrity, justice and empathy. So, we need to exercise our physical, mental and moral justice, lest we atrophy and find ourselves inept on the day that injustice inevitably knocks at our door. To not use our voice is to lose our voice.
Yes, as a young black woman, present in predominantly white spaces with predominantly white people, I feel the burden to speak the prevailing truth of injustice. This can no longer be solely the black person's burden, however. I have always refused to be silent and I refused to be quieted, inspired strongly by leaders such as the uncompromising force that is Jess Philips (MP). And this great movement of our times means I will continue to speak truth to power because if it’s not me, if it is not us, then who?
'We can no longer remain silent, and we can no longer tolerate that which should not be tolerated. We must call out wrong that exists.'
So white friends, asian friends, black friends – please hear me. Racism and discrimination are injustice, and injustice, no matter what cloak of elegance, camouflage and deception it scantily drapes itself in, needs to be called out for what it is: wrong. Throughout this season, I have spoken with many friends and colleagues who have struggled to enter these discussions around race. Whether that’s been a personal fear that they don’t know enough, or a wider fear chained by the reluctance to cause further upset or to take the platform away from those who so desperately need it, those concerns are real and understood. In response to this I say, I get it. We do not want to offend or cause further hurt. But if there is anything that this pandemic and this uprising has shown, is that we can no longer remain silent, and we can no longer tolerate that which should not be tolerated. We must call out wrong that exists. Otherwise we find ourselves like the onlookers of a bully in a playground, watching on, silent and hearing the cries of the bullied, yet unmoved to do anything about it. Why? Because the bully has not made a beeline to us yet.
And that is the battle of atrophy in the race against racism. To not move, to be desensitised, to think someone else will come in and save the day. But regardless of whoever else may or may not be there – we are in that playground. And we see the bully that is racism. We see how it acts, where it punches and the old bruises and marks that speak of how long this has gone on for. So, I call on all of us, to be a people whose comfort falls in the face of injustice. Black people fighting for black issues on racism which affect us all is not the answer. Just like the fallacy of women's rights being fought only by women, even though the topic is framed and centred around men. Where men need to be strong allies against the destructive nature of sexism, so with race, we need white people and all people to stand up and speak out against racism if we are ever to see true and lasting change.
'Once the protests have died down and the media attention dries and focuses elsewhere, we all need to continue to take on the mantle of actively exercising our muscles against injustice - however and whenever we see it.'
So yes, I write this letter tired of how little we have come as we have progressed as a society and sobered by the reality that this is the start of a new and long response of work which still needs to be done. But I also write this letter encouraged. We are in the ‘Greatest Civil Rights Movement of All Time’ – in all its size, scale, and reach; a movement not seen since the days of Martin Luther King. I’m encouraged by the young and mighty leadership of the next generation – especially my own, set out to truly shift our culture and institutions to reflect the innate human value and dignity – values which are richly deepened by virtue of our racial and cultural diversity. And lastly, as a young black woman, I write this letter to encourage others. That once the protests have died down and the media attention dries and focuses elsewhere, we all need to continue to take on the mantle of actively exercising our muscles against injustice - however and whenever we see it.
Why? Because the time is up for silence.
Audrey is a Brand Strategy and Sustainability Consultant based in London. Her previous experience is in marketing and sales, she has co-founded a start-up, and has dedicated her time to human rights organisations that help restore the lives of those caught up in human trafficking. In her spare time, Audrey delights in song writing, reading and finding creative ways to live more environmentally consciously!