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Black Lives Matter - Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

Tue 7 Jul 2020

By Lisa Robillard Webb

Recently, I was shocked to see that the person I both like and respect share a #whitelivesmatter Facebook post. Misguided? Innocuous? I can’t say. But the hidden message was clear to me. 

 #BlackLivesMatter is not saying that all lives don’t matter.

It isn’t saying that white lives don’t matter.

It is simply saying that black lives matter as well as anyone else’s.  That simple fact should matter to all of us

But throughout our country (and indeed, the United States) the silent message in our systems is that black lives are not as valued as those of their white counterparts.  Sometimes it is overt but often it is hidden quietly in plain sight.  I would hope that most people agree that it is morally right to treat people equally, but in the UK, the facts paint a completely different picture.  For example, people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicities (BAME) groups are:

The recent #blacklivesmatter movement is challenging the wide-spread UK toleration of this situation.  It is calling-out the small everyday actions that construct division and inequality.  Busy with our lives, we can unknowingly become part of the problem.  My hope is that we take a moment to think and become part of the solution.  We are not born racist, we simply learn it from the influences around us. We are trying to make sense of the world around us and can use blanket statements to simplify life.  Dividing humans into sub divisions does not lead to progress and harmony.  History has resoundingly dispelled that myth.  The arguments of division can seem superficially compelling but their substance often evaporates quickly under challenge.  Division is short-term, damaging and ultimately flawed.  It distracts us from the true threats and potential of our lives on this planet.

There is only one race of humans, the human race.  We are all equal. Pigmentation of skin is irrelevant to a person’s worth.  Sparked by the brutal death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, many people have now been called to action. We are saying that enough is enough. The disproportionate amount of black deaths in custody is shameful.  In the UK, black people are more than twice as likely to die in police custody than white people. #Blacklivesmatter is saying that all humans should be concerned about this injustice.  We are all degraded by institutional brutality or negligence in whatever form it takes.  We should all focus our care and concern to stop this happening to our fellow humans.

Certain far-right groups will be using this time of heightened awareness to spread their own views on hate and division.  They are nothing, if not opportunistic. They have attempted to spread confusion about the #blacklivesmatter movement. Their one aim is to maintain, if not accelerate, racial inequalities.  They want to normalise the message that people of a different ethnicity or colour have a different worth and that they could potentially be a threat.  There message is nonsense but it is also dangerous.

For centuries, humans have been tremendously clever at using their words and intelligence to generate arguments of hate to maintain their position of superiority. But at the core of it, is a simple message of separation and isolation.

The ‘white lives matter’ Facebook posts are specifically designed to initially appear true and harmless.  Scratch beneath the surface and they are truly insidious.  If you share or like them, you are now linked to an algorithm spewing out similar or increasingly extreme posts.  People are often unaware that they are now part of hate-generating factory.  The ‘white lives matter’ key argument is really limited, it totally ignores the well-evidenced racial inequalities and it emphasises the needs of white people.  #Blacklivesmatter is asking for everyone to work together to create equality for black people; so that we are all equal.

Life is complex.  We have many ideas thrown at us every day. It is hard to navigate our way through this and we can feel anxious offending others if we use the wrong words or terminology.  I often hear ‘It is political correctness gone mad’.  It can feel confusing, but by taking your time to think about your words you can create a kindness to others and offer them the respect they deserve. I know, on occasions, I have chosen the wrong word. I have found that it’s best just to say sorry and ask what words they would prefer instead. 

I am passionate about history and the lessons we can learn.  The monuments of slave-trade pioneers displayed in our communities needs to be revisited and challenged.   We are all capable of greatness and horror - and everything in between. No one is perfect.  We have all absorbed unnecessary prejudices. The easiest way out is to blame everyone else. But just taking a bit of time and care to challenge your thinking and choosing a stance of acceptance is a more thoughtful and humane stance. We should be focusing on someone’s individual behaviour and context rather than their birth-place or skin colour.   

We are all culpable and part of the problem if we choose to stay silent about race inequality.  It is everyone’s problem.  We should all be outraged that in 2020, we have failed to create and sustain inequality for our fellow beings.  Reporting racist posts, challenging friends, wincing at terrible jokes, checking what we’re reading and opening our eyes to everyday injustices are vital.  I am mindful that every person’s story is different and that a voice of someone from the BAME community would have had more resonance.  But I wholeheartedly encourage you to speak out and normalise messages of racial understanding, acceptance and hope. 

As Martin Luther King, Jr suggests, unless we all have the courage to speak out against prejudice, it is likely we are part of the problem:

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Other columns by Lisa Robillard Webb

Central Devon – A beautiful place to fight for - Tue 11 Feb 2020
South Dartmoor Community College - Mon 2 Dec 2019
Our Local Post Offices - Thu 1 Aug 2019
Political Choice - Fri 3 May 2019
High Streets – At the centre of our communities - Thu 24 Jan 2019
The Shame of UK’s Indefinite Detention - Thu 8 Nov 2018

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