The Black Lives Matter movement arose in 2013 following the murder of Treyvon Martin by George Zimmerman. This was not the first occasion a police officer had murdered a member of the black community and sadly, was not the last. The more recent murder of George Floyd on May 25TH resulted in an outbreak of protests in the city of the incident, Minneapolis, that quickly spread worldwide.
These protests have acted almost as a catalyst and the voices of the black community are undeniably being heard. The shared feelings of hopelessness and despair in the black community meant that people worldwide came together to fight against a system of injustice and to demand better. There is evident unity; not only through physical protest but also online.
Shaun Flores, a journalist from London, described social media as “a weapon in the war against racism.” American journalist Chevaughn Sterling expressed her overwhelm at this being “the first time during our lifetime that we didn’t just see protest at home (America) but we saw it on global stage.”
The blatant footage that has circulated has left no room for denial, racism is not a myth and it is very prevalent. This prevalence has meant that anyone who isn’t speaking up can no longer use the excuse of ignorance.
Liza Bilal, organiser of the Bristol BLM protest, where the Colston statue was toppled, expressed a true belief that times have changed, saying that “in 2015/2016, the majority of people I saw at protests or engaging with the Black Lives Matter movement were Black people, or people of colour. This time around, we’re seeing a much higher engagement rate from white people and large brands.”
Others, such as Femi McKenzie, ESL Teacher and Founder/Director of Sun Kissed Youth, take a slightly more critical view. Whilst acknowledging that the BLM movement has “been extremely successful in raising awareness and drawing people to the cause” he explains that progress for the black community as a whole cannot be marked “in a moment, day, week month or year” and believes it cannot be referred to as progression unless there is “lasting change.”
The question arises: how do we ensure that this is a movement, and not just a moment? Now that the world is finally listening, what are we telling them? How do we keep progressing once the protests die down and the media loses interest?
Chevaughn stresses the importance of unity and organisation in the black community, expressing the importance of “building our own economy to strengthen our own communities” as well as “formulating our own banks, our own hospitals, our own stores, our own police force.” This view contributes to the larger debate surrounding the black community and reparations. Is it productive for black people to wait on the same people and systems that persecute them to provide justice?
Liza encourages black people to “be persistent, take up space and keep your foot on the necks of the brands, celebrities and our white/non-black friends who are immediately disengaging from the conversation now that it’s no longer trendy”. She makes an important point in that “this period, where the protests are beginning to plateau, is a great way to distinguish real allyship from the performative.”
This period of progress has allowed for not only introspection and analysis of how we as individuals can do better, but also the systems around us. Shaun holds great disdain at the “utter historical absence of the horrors of the past” in the teachings of British history in education. However, whilst he stresses the importance of education, he acknowledges that “we cannot educate those who do not want to be educated.”
Shaun’s point is hugely important. Whilst there is great power in numbers, a smaller army of those who carry a passion for the cause and the willingness to fight for change will surely be more effective than a large group of performative activists, who only show up when they deem it a trend worthy cause.
The importance of systematic acknowledgment is echoed by Femi who emphasises the need for “lasting change in policy on multiple levels.” However, he does not fail to encourage the importance of individual work. He highlights how fundamental it is to “recognise where you stand but also where you are regarding your own experience, immersion, internalisation and understanding of race and racism. It’s ensuring that you educate yourself so that you cannot be manipulated.”
Whilst the interests of wider society may change, our black skin remains. This fight cannot be temporary, the community must come together to ensure that progress keeps happening and that people have no choice but to listen and act. As Femi said: "everyone has a part to play whether it be creative, front-line activism or financial” and so we must all actively tap in, find out how we can help and do just that.
Written by Aaliyah Miller