Black Lives Matter: 'Unless you have been the victim of racism throughout your life, can you really judge what it's like to live that life?'
Dr Suman Sandhu is founder and chief executive of a global healthcare consultancy company. She lives in Bishop’s Stortford with her husband and two children, who attend local secondary schools. She has been a governor at two Stortford schools and firmly believes that positive change is possible through strong community cohesion...
I’ve been interested to see a flurry of activity and debate over the past few weeks in our local community regarding Black Lives Matter (BLM) and racism in general. I have been pleased that so many people are discussing issues and ways to eradicate racism and equally dismayed to realise that some are opposed to the fight against racism.
Once again, I have been told ‘‘If you don’t like this country, why don’t you leave?" as a supposedly reasoned response to a rational argument.
Non-white people disproportionately have to live with the idea that we are being judged on whether our behaviour is consistent with having the right to be in our own country. Being told to leave your own country has become a normalised response, suggesting that if you don’t say the things that people want to hear then you should probably leave.
This insidious racism is engrained in society and often difficult to identify and eradicate. It infiltrates every aspect of our society and can go unseen by anyone who is not on the receiving end, anyone who is not a black or minority ethnic person.
In this context, it should come as little surprise then that in light of the recent BLM and anti-racism activity, the less tolerant among us are starting to feel uncomfortable.
After all, ‘racism’ is a word that most people don’t want to be associated with. So, instead, we hear phrases such as "This movement is divisive" and "It will set race relations back by decades".
If people standing up for equality is leading to greater racial divisions, then the implication is that any racial harmony we may have had must have been based on oppression.
Some opposers have quoted a study published in 2019 that suggested Britain is one of the least racist countries in Europe, expecting a pat on the back. Well, the fact is that 'least racist' is still racist. Instead of point-scoring, let’s channel our passion and awareness into real change.
Those who criticise the BLM protests completely miss the point. BLM is against racism and systemic injustices against the black community. The slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ doesn’t mean that black lives matter more or non-black lives don’t matter. It is that black lives matter just as much. The goal being equality for everyone.
Reactionary cries of ‘White Lives Matter’ or ‘All Lives Matter’ demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of Black Lives Matter, creating an absurd false equivalence. Such cries also have the effect of diminishing the plight of a community that has suffered violent subjugation and continues to feel the residual effects of history, with overt and subtle racism still evident today.
Institutional racism permeates through every facet of our society. We have heard a lot recently about examples of this in our criminal justice system. Hate crime rates have more than doubled since 2013. Stop-and-search became more common against all ethnic minority groups, apart from white and Chinese people, between 2014 and 2019, and black individuals are almost ten times more likely to be searched than white individuals. This is the country where, in the last 10 years, the Windrush scandal, the Grenfell fire and the hostile environment are symptoms of a very deep-set racism.
Systemic racism is also deeply embedded into our education, housing and healthcare systems; the latter being most evident recently with the disproportionate number of BAME coronavirus deaths in the UK.
It’s all well and good for a white person to oppose the protests and dismiss the impact of racial injustices in our society, but unless you have been the victim of racism throughout your life, can you really judge what it's like to live that life?
Should we not take this opportunity to let those who are suffering speak out and for us as a caring and supportive community to listen and rally round that particular group?
It doesn’t diminish or discredit any other group. It is not an exercise to make any other group feel guilty or less important. It just serves to bring awareness and support to the group that needs attention.
Our forward-thinking Bishop's Stortford schools have already committed to making changes and to create an agenda for action to tackle racial inequality within schools and to decolonise the curriculum. Surely it is time for the rest of the community to follow suit?
This doesn’t mean that other groups of people don’t suffer in different ways. Let’s not divert the conversation by saying "What about me?" For example, some feel that the plight of white working-class men is being glossed over. Well, these white working-class men (and women) are part of the same fight. We are on the same side. Our goal being equality which by definition applies to all.
The reason these injustices remain is because people have continued to turn a blind eye and say "They are not me". Well, we are all society. We all live among each other. Being quietly ‘not racist’ is not enough. We have a duty to each other to shape the kind of society we want to create for future generations.