I think right now we’re all being forced to contemplate the consequences of our own choices more than we’ve ever been used to. How many times a week have we been forced to think about what might happen from our stepping out to the shops for those few bits to top up our cabinets? Each of us has to weigh up the costs of our action vs. our inaction. Yesterday I made a conscious decision. I, like so many in the community, chose to head out to Cheltenham’s Pittville Park to demonstrate solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Since you have an Internet connection, I’d say it’s safe to assume that you already know about the brutalisation and murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers on March 25th. This incident lit the fuse on a powder keg, inspiring protests all around the USA and morphing into a full-blown civil rights movement across the world.
In the days leading up to the protest in Cheltenham detractors citing a lot of different things to take validity away from the event. They’d cite the threat of a second wave of COVID-19, a whole ocean separating us from the Floyd incident, or even that systemic racism isn’t really a problem in this country like it is in the states.
I can’t help but wish that those out there condemning this protest (those arguing in good faith at least) could have witnessed the proceedings with their own eyes. Thanks to attendees wearing masks and adhering to social distancing as much as possible, I personally felt safer in a literal crowd than I have walking the aisles of my local Morrison’s these past few weeks. As for the more ideological excuses for why BLM events shouldn’t be happening? The talks provided by the many great speakers addressed those wonderfully.
Insulting to NHS workers, you say? Considering 44.3% of NHS medical staff are classified as non-white (according to gov.uk, at least), it might be a bit of a stretch to claim in absolute that campaigning for racial equality is an insult to all NHS staff. Even then this makes the unfair assumption that all white medical staff wouldn’t endorse the protest.
As for the idea that racism is only an issue on the other side of the Atlantic… It’d be hard to defend stances like that after actually listening to all the speakers up on that bandstand yesterday sharing their own experiences as people of colour in this country. None could say that they even made it out of their teens before their first encounter with racial abuse. All of them could reel off whole lists of instances in their lives where they were made to feel like another that didn’t belong, thanks to Britain’s refusal to be introspective about it’s history with race. Just because the racial turmoil suffered stateside is headline grabbing, that doesn’t mean that America is the only country that needs Black Lives Matter. It’s just more out in the open there. As one speaker said “In the eighties and nineties, they would call you a n****r to your face. Now it’s all coded”.
As a white person, I can’t speak for the experiences of black people in my own communities. All I can do is listen, and use my own voice and whatever platform I have to show meaningful support. I don’t think I’ll ever regret making the choice to come out in peaceful support of basic human rights alongside members of my community. I’m not going to dedicate any time in this post to talk about compositions or the creative choices behind any of these images. It wouldn’t seem appropriate. I just hope that they convey the sense of sense of solidarity and human compassion that could be felt all around in Pittville Park yesterday.