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Race, Diversity and Racism – Taboo, Toxic, Overplayed? – Sunday October 4th 2020

black history month

This talk is titled Race, Diversity and Racism- Taboo, Toxic, Overplayed?

Any time the subject of race and/or racism comes up for discussion, public debate or argument, there is a temptation for people to look for an easier subject to talk about like say climate change or corona virus.

It is becoming so difficult to talk about anything remotely linked to race in a clear headed and rational way, that maybe the words Race and Racism, should be pixilated or asterixed whenever they are used.

Despite this being a difficult subject to approach, one thing that is certain is that issues relating to race have become a regular part of our news in many ways alongside documentaries relating to work, sport, health and many other areas of life.

In recent months, there have been a steady increase in programmes on Radio and TV, relating to areas of ‘Black Culture’ and ‘Black History’.

As we are now in October, Black History Month will bring even more programmes looking to grab our attention and interest on a variety of issues.

With this in mind, I would strongly recommend that you try to catch up with a documentary I saw recent, presented by Suzy Klein and Sir Lenny Henry, about little known Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American classical musicians, which looked into how they have been ignored or forgotten. This is worth seeing via the BBC I-player, not only relating to their absence from popular culture in their time, but also this being continued to this day and the pushback in some cases, when broadcasters look to change this situation.

As I said before it does bring many challenges and in some cases denial of there being a problem. I recently saw an Afro-Caribbean man, I wish I could remember his name, say on breakfast news, that there is no such thing as racism in the UK, that the UK is a tolerant country and it is Black Lives Matter that is the cause of racism at present.

This happened about 3 weeks ago and I am still stunned by his assured manner when delivering what to me was a bit of a bombshell. I wished I live in the UK that he believes exists.

In my view, there are two types of tolerance; one which accepts all people wherever they come from alongside their culture and history. The other is a putting up with people, ideas or lifestyles that are different from you with outward acceptance but inside, a combination of distrust and despair that the town, the city, the country is not what it should be and would be better if x or y was not here.

I don’t want to overload you with statistics but this is just a snapshot of modern life which may have some influence on the situation this country is in.

First up are the annual Stop and Search Rates as of March 2019

Ethnic Group Rate of Stopped and Search per 1,000 people Total

Stopped and Search

Asian 11 41,472
Black 38 70,648
White 4 187,761

Police Powers & Procedures in England & Wales

Housing in England

  Black Caribbean

2015/16+2016/17

White

British

2015/16+2016/17

Rent Privately 18% 16%
Rent Social Housing 45% 16%
Own Home 37% 68%

 

Feeling of Belonging to Britain

2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
Asian 84% 84% 83%
Black 81% 82% 75%
White 85% 86% 85%

Community Survey

 

As always with statistics, a point could be made for a positive or negative reading of the figures but to me it is the last set of statistics which makes me feel slightly uneasy and concerned.

This feeling is not eased with the rise of hate crime towards ethnic minorities, after the Brexit Referendum Vote, which alongside events in the States has led to the increased prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which I will talk more about later.

Some of you may be aware of the TV Programme, Long Lost Family, (one of Elaine’s favourites), where people who were adopted and/or abandoned when very young, look to find their birth mother or father or siblings they knew about. In essence, it is about looking to gain a sense of belonging and identity.

This is the aim of both Black History Month and Black Lives Matter looking to provide a positive identity and a sense of belonging. This is obviously not a consideration restricted to any particular group of people but it is an ongoing pre-occupation for those constituents of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities (BAME).

I would suggest the rise of Black Lives Matter, its current prominence at both a national and local level has seen a fundamental shift in the discussion, debate and affirmative action relating to race.

This is a quote from Catherine Ross – Founder Director of The National Caribbean Heritage Museum which will hopefully give an explanation about Black History Month and Black Lives Matter.

2020 has held a mirror up to the world and forced many to see the reality of racism in all its guises. From Black people dying disproportionately in the pandemic, to the horrific murder of George Floyd and no justice for Breonna Taylor – the 26-year-old emergency medical worker killed by police in her own home.

 In the UK, the scale and impact of institutionalised racism has been laid bare, with young Black men stopped and searched 20,000 times in London during the coronavirus lockdown (the equivalent of 1 in 4 young Black men), along with Black MPs, barristers, senior police officers, sportspeople and many more.

#BlackLivesMatter protests around the world sparked a commitment among many individuals and organisations to educate themselves about Black history, heritage and culture – as part of understanding racism and standing in solidarity against it.

If that commitment is to transcend beyond social media into real change, everyone, from all communities, needs to embrace Black History Month as a starting point for exploring, discovering and celebrating Black history, heritage and culture – both past and contemporary. From the incredible achievements and contributions, to the many untold stories and barriers to progress – the day-to-day reality of institutionalised racism.

Crucially, this year’s Black History Month is a time to shine a light on our shared British history and tell the whole story honestly and truthfully, to decolonise and reclaim history, and tell stories from the perspective of all people – not just the rich white men in power. The felling of contentious statues and monuments is just the start, now it’s time to ask communities how colonial objects and symbols are used to tell the true story of history.

Black History Month 2020 is also a time to look forward and celebrate the here and now – and the future possibilities. In years gone by, October has been the only time of year when the UK talks about the achievements of Black people in Britain. Hopefully, the events of 2020 will be a catalyst for Black history to be shared much more widely – in museums, galleries, schools, universities, public spaces and communities.

Black people have always made history and always will – but it’s equally important that Black people take the lead on how that history is discovered, explored, researched, recorded, archived, curated, exhibited and shared. That means supporting Black-led heritage organisations and professionals; making national and local institutions much more accessible and representative; and empowering communities to define and share what Black history means to them.

Black culture isn’t just a commodity to be appropriated and monetised, and Black history isn’t just a month to be ticked off a calendar dominated by a white-washed version of history.

Black History Month 2020 is a time for people to come together and hopefully learn lessons for the present and the future. It’s a time to honour the commitment to learning and standing united against racism. It’s a time to reclaim history and re-imagine how our shared history will be told in the future.”

I am aware that this quote I have just read may be unpalatable to some. There seems to be a strong undercurrent of anger, defensiveness, resentment and distrust of anyone who says that we need to look at our history and bring it into the spotlight for good or ill.

The cry of All Lives Matter has been used as a counter call. I believe this is based on fear and a misunderstanding of what is the aim of Black Lives Matter. It is about a need for respect and dignity not recrimination.

It is about those of BAME origin who achieve their aim and become lawyers, not having to endure being told that they should be in the dock, when they go to court.

It is looking to being able to do your job in the Health Service, without being told by patients that they don’t want your black hands treating them.

It is about young Black footballers not being treated differently and not being abused for buying a house for their mum, when their white team-mates are seen as heroes for doing the same thing.

It is about not being told that you should stick to your own kind when walking in the town with your white girlfriend. Or to go back to your own country, when this is your country or your adopted country.

This leads people to feel that the country they live in and love does not love them.

Irrational maybe but heartfelt and believed all the same.

I don’t see Black Lives Matter as a move to look to replicate the Government administration in the drama and book Noughts and Crosses, or to rewrite history.

The band Public Enemy addressed what I see as an irrational fear through these lyrics in Fear of A Black Planet.

People livin’ in fear
Of my shade
(Or my high-top fade)
I’m not the one that’s runnin’
But they got me on the run
Treat me like I have a gun
All I got is genes and chromosomes
Consider me Black to the bone
All I want is peace and love on this planet

(Ain’t that how God planned it?)

When I think about this counter argument, I consider when people raise money for a charity. When asked to support the charity, let’s say Macmillan, I doubt that any one has ever said in response, why not raise money for British Heart Foundation as well, as people suffering from heart problems are just as valid as cancer sufferers.

No one questions the motivation of those supporting Macmillan, so this should also apply in this case. It is the matter that is closest to their situation and not a comment on or being disrespectful to other situations or people’s lives.

I look to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his words read earlier by Vicki. We need to be aware of our past and our present in order to look to a better future. This relates to the historic and current world-wide involvement in slavery and the treatment of immigrants and people in general throughout the ages up to the present day.

I don’t say this is easy to achieve, I am 58 and it’s been a live topic all my life. However, we are called to be salt and light in this world and I am inspired by Patrick Hutchinson who saved Bryn Male from what would have been serious injury when a Black Live Matters march was met by a right wing counter march in June.

You could see it as a modern version of the Good Samaritan and a bright light.

Michael Johnson

Slide & story

I started with a question but I realise I have not really answered it.

That in a way is the point when looking at this divisive and unnerving subject, which has put what could be seen as an indelible stain on the world’s soul.

As with the Covid Crisis, it can only be solved if everyone works together. Unlike, the Covid Crisis, people of all races need to be convinced that a world united to end the misery and division caused by a different kind of virus is a benefit we can all share in.

I want to be positive and believe it is not indelible and can be overcome – with this in mind, I believe these words from a song called ‘Black Myself by Amythyst Kiah, can be encouraging.

I don’t creep around, I stand proud and free,

Cause I’m black myself,

I go anywhere I wanna go,

Cause I’m black myself

And I’ll stand my ground and smile in your face

Cause I’m black myself

I washed away my blood and tears

I’ve been born brand new

But there’s still work to do.

I will finish this talk, the same way that this service with the words of Martin Luther King Jr as a prayer

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Amen