The 9-minute video of the murder of George Floyd, and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM) movement which it sparked in the US, also struck a chord in the UK, where it has long been accepted that many of our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities and citizens face deprivation, disadvantage and discrimination.
BLM coincided in the UK with an NHS Blood Unit internal report which has revealed active racism; AND with the realisation that BAME citizens are dying of Covid at twice the average rate.
This comes after the Grenfell and Windrush scandals evidenced a ‘hostile environment’ for some BAME citizens; and after the Angiolini (deaths in police custody), McGregor-Smith (BAME groups in the workplace) and Lammy (criminal justice system) reports of 2017. Although these reports revealed significant levels of discrimination HALF A CENTURY after the Race Relations Act, nothing has been done to address their recommendations in the three years since their publication … plus (as if to prove the point) the government this month published the BAME/Covid report MINUS those sections which cited the societal barriers facing BAME citizens.
Nobody is saying that white lives do not matter, or that the deprived and disadvantaged communities in County Durham do not need immediate action. But – by the same argument – it seemed to many that the statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ was also beyond contradiction and so, the weekend before last, huge rallies demanded change for our BAME communities. Unacceptably, there was at those rallies some behaviour which no-one would condone.
The backlash – which, alarmingly, some people are calling the ‘push-back’ (an indicative distinction) – was at first defensive, but quickly moved onto the offensive, especially aggressively on social media.
Wherever there was to be a BLM rally, and sometimes even when there wasn’t, right-wing political groups called for people to turn up ‘to defend our war memorials’. And last weekend – despite the fact that I have not been able to find a single instance of a war memorial being damaged or defaced – people did so in their thousands.
Once there, they often found themselves standing shoulder-to-shoulder with extreme right-wing and racist political groups … and with groups such as the ‘Football Lads’ (who have nothing to do with football, but who form the combat wing of the far right). Frighteningly, many seem not to have been horrified, despite the fact that they were ‘defending’ memorials which commemorate the defeat of everything their co-protestors represent.
As we know, the whole thing descended into thuggery and violence. But by this time the Police were calling for ALL protests to be banned, and many citizens had decided that they ‘are all as bad as each other’.
Which is of course a win for the racists and a cue for further inaction.
CALLING ON OUR MP
My fear is that, in all the ruckus, the core principle of BLM – that we need to look urgently to the well-being and equity of our BAME citizens – may get lost. If all that comes out of this is that a couple of statues are taken down and put in museums, then we really have failed as a society.
Together, the Windrush, Angiolini, McGregor-Smith and Lammy Reviews made 201 recommendations. The BAME/Covid and NHS Blood Unit reports have additionally suggested changes to the NHS. These do not amount to the necessary root-and-branch reversal of the deprivation, disadvantage and discrimination facing BAME citizens, but they are a start. So I am calling on our MP to ask the government that those recommendations be implemented.
The Prime Minister has sympathised and promised yet another report, but NONE of these injustices will be solved by reviews and warm words; they need action and funding.
Because, after everything, every decent person will always believe that Black Lives Matter.
John D Clare