I began writing this as I eagerly anticipate the arrival of a Black lives Matter protest in Leeds city centre, which took place (and was HUGELY successful) tonight, Thursday July 14th. Even as a white male living in Britain, the concept of black lives matter is something that resonates with me – as I believe it should with every single human being.
The history (and for that matter, present) of black oppression is a subject that has intrigued me as much as it has angered me, ever since being young. My fascination with the normality and desensitisation of oppression towards Blacks began when I first saw ‘Roots’. As a kid, i was someone who constantly questioned ‘why’ – a theme that has shadowed me into my youth. I’ve always yearned to understand why things are the way they are. When I was about 10, I saw a news article on the TV about a police shooting in America. When I asked “Grandma, why is there something on the TV about someone black being shot for no reason?” she struggled to formulate an answer that was appropriate for my, although inquisitive, young ears – ears that had not yet heard and understood the suffering of the world.
She, understandably, couldn’t quite find the words to explain it to me. What she did do was buy me the ‘Roots’ series. I watched the entire series from start to finish (and probably have done 25+ times since). Although the series probably couldn’t answer why Black men are being innocently murdered still, it did elucidate me to the pure evil and lack of humanity that Black communities through recent history have been exposed to.
For those that aren’t aware, the ‘Roots’ series was first aired in the 1970’s and was the adaptation of the book that followed Alex Haley (a journalist who assisted Malcolm X in the publishing of his autobiography) as he embarked on a mission to discover his roots – serving as the namesake for the title of the book. He looked into his ancestors history in regards to being taken from Africa and later sold and enslaved.
Prior to little over 150 years ago, the American constitution considered Black people to be only three fifths human. The ignorance of the existence of this fact literally leaves me speechless. Perhaps the saddest thing is that Black-Americans are treated with remnants of that clause. If you’re White and living in America, there’s a 1/100 chance you’re in a prison. If you’re Black and living in America, there’s a 1/9 chance you’re in a prison.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I now realise the series taught me that equality for Black people is a movement that should concern, not just Black people, but all of humanity rather. I learnt that, if you don’t think other people being brutally oppressed (and the media trying to desensitise us to this) is an issue, then you’re part of the greater, institutional problem.
And the fact of the matter is, our disregard for the oppression of Black people is an institutional issue. Slavery is arguably the most shameful periods in human history. Period. But instead of it being documented as an atrocity we must learn from (the way World War II is for example), it’s swept under the carpet. Just to put it into context, I took history GCSE in year 10, when I was 15. My history teacher relentlessly drilled into us the importance of being able to recall factual information, so just for example he could tell us how many battleships Britain had in WWII, how many cinema tickets were sold in America in 1920 etc. The final topic on the course was the civil rights movement – a topic I was really excited about in honesty. On the first lesson I got the sense it was’t the topic our teacher had put the most emphasis into preparing. I had read the Malcolm X autobiography by the time I was 13 so I was quite well equipped in the topic already and my teacher knew that. What I didn’t expect was to walk into the lesson for my teacher to ask “Ben, what year was Malcolm X assassinated?” so he could finish his powerpoint as we were walking into the lesson. Things like this happened on a number of occasions, and realistically I didn’t see it as a big deal, but the insouciant approach displayed by my teacher sort of acts as a metaphor for how Black equality is treated by society. We know it’s going on, and many people oppose it, but most of those people only really oppose it enough to feel self confidence in the fact that they aren’t seen as racist. They don’t oppose it enough to take a stand and make a difference – this is where one of the major issues lays.
I mean, we have become almost desensitised when we hear of racial inequality targeting Blacks. When we hear of police brutality murders of Black youths, the immediate response of most is a sort of blasé, apathetic, “oh, again?”. In America 1,134 Black males were killed at the hands of law enforcement last year – so if you’re black in America, you’re almost TEN TIMES more likely to be killed by police. This disparity shows a frightening facet of the human race.
The Roots opened my eyes to suffering, and since, my eyes haven’t even blinked shut on the idea of equality for all. It’s for that reason that I can comfortably say that equality for Black people is a concept that should be adhered to and endorsed by all humans with the capability to think and love one another. Compassion is a virtue that without which, the world would not turn round. The time is already long over due to show compassion, and in 2016 it perplexes me how so many can sit on the sidelines, without standing up to the ignorance of the aforementioned racism.
I was privileged enough to converse with a number of members of the public at today’s demonstration, as they answered one question for me:
“What does ‘Black Lives Matter’ mean to you?”