Updated: Apr 10, 2021
It has been 68 days since George Floyd’s death, 141 days since the death of Breonna Taylor and 60 days since Blackout Tuesday.
So, you posted a black square; now what?
Did the black square you posted on Instagram make a real difference? If your answer is yes, then explain why it is that people of colour are still being killed and experiencing discrimination daily?
Since the seeds of slavery were planted in the Fourteenth Century, racism remains a prevalent issue. Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) were used as a catalyst for the capitalist triangular trade and treated as commodities rather than humans with inalienable rights. This exploitation of people of colour is deeply ingrained in contemporary society, whether you want to believe it or not, from the white-washed curriculum, Black-fishing, and the profitable appropriation of Black culture, to only name a few.
Through the perspective and experiences of a person of colour, may you educate yourselves, question whether that black square on Instagram made a difference, and understand how you can do more than performative activism.
Sadly, as is often the case for BIPOC, I have frequently been subject to racism; it is now a normalised part of my life. I grew up in a predominantly white community, being one of the very few Black children in the school.
Throughout my school experience, I was subjected to being called the N-slur and unrelenting microaggressions. Although there are far too many to write, these incidents include, being referred to as a “Burnt sausage,” asked, “Why are your palms white when the rest of you is black?” and the most frequent one: “Which country do you come from?”
Something that has also been said to me and has stuck with me for some time is “You are pretty for a Black girl”. But what does it mean to be “Pretty for a Black girl?”
It is a profoundly backhanded compliment, implying that Black bi-racial women manage to be pretty despite our blackness. It indicates that having a lighter skin tone and mixed features allows my blackness to be more socially acceptable. This comment holds ignorance and upholds exclusive beauty standards that have historically disregarded and isolated Black women.
Growing up, I would often have my hair pulled and played with, without my permission, often feeling like an animal in a petting zoo. Also, I, like many other BIPOCs, have felt fetishized by people expressing their obsession with wanting to have mixed kids.
It is dehumanising. If you wish to have mixed children, you must be prepared and willing to endure and understand the trauma your child will encounter during their life. A black child is far more than a mere accessory to your life and image.
What personal experiences with racism have others and I encountered?
Another racial incident that stuck at the forefront of my mind happened while I was making my way to college. A white woman walking in front of me turned around and began to tightly hold her handbag after she saw I was walking behind. This persistent negative stereotype that Black people are criminals is highly damaging and offensive.
We are not criminals; we are humans.
Those few experiences of mine are some of many which are shared within the Black community. A friend of mine had glass bottles thrown at the windows of their home, waking to see the words "P*ki house" spray-painted on the pavement outside. These racially motivated incidents are not just happening in the street or the workplace, they are occurring while in the comfort of our own homes.
It is the place where we should feel the safest, yet this is not the case.
Another person reported someone telling them they were "not doing their job right because they do not understand the western work ethic," stating that they "should go back to their own country and stop stealing people's jobs". Again, this is only a snippet into the abuse BIPOCs face daily. What is less discussed, however, is the detrimental impact of racism on BIPOC's mental and physical health. Studies prove the connection between racism and heightened anxiety and stress levels. As anxiety.org (2017) wrote, 1 in 4 black Americans will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
So, instead of posting that black square, listen to the stories and trauma that BIPOC have endured. While it may be unsettling to listen to, their stories are far more educational and will give you greater insight into our inherently racist society. By listening and talking to BIPOC off-line, you will learn about what Black people like myself and others experience.
Why systems and institutions need to do more and how they can help
While on the topic of learning, there's no doubt that the UK is renowned as one of the top countries for education, with well-known institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge consistently topping the Global Rankings.
But how good is the UK education system when it comes to tackling racism and Black history? For those of us who have been through the UK education curriculum, I think we can agree that Black history is barely touched on, perhaps once a year in Black history month - just enough to fill a quota.
The lack of Black history taught not only exacerbates the ignorance of many but also leaves many Black students without an identity. Their history is omitted from books, often not spoken about at all.
Another issue in education is the lack of Black teachers. Black role models are a crucial element within schools and other institutions to inspire other BIPOC students. Educational institutions need to stop covering up racism and instead expose the truth that our society is founded on imperialism, colonialism and slavery.
Moreover, recognise that racism extends further than the slave trade. As a Law student, I cannot stay silent on a matter like this. My entire career focuses on advocating for human rights, the lack of which is something myself and other BIPOC experience disproportionately. Applying for a course and profession which is predominantly white raised many concerns for me. I questioned whether I was accepted based on my hard work and academic achievements, or whether I was just another student required to fill their racial quota.
I want to work hard to achieve something, to make a change and be in a position to support other BIPOCs, knowing that I will have to work 10x harder for the same opportunities than my white peers because of the colour of my skin.
There are often days where I feel discouraged, knowing there is a difference in median hourly pay between people of White ethnicity and those belonging to a minority ethnic group.
Still, if we want more BIPOC in our workplaces, we must be inspired to keep going. There are numerous ways to make a workplace inclusive, for instance, introducing BAME programmes within companies to allow Black people to experience the same opportunities as their white counterparts and provide safer, more actively anti-racist workplaces.
However, it is not entirely up to our institutions and workplaces to make a difference. As an individual, you can encourage your workplace, peers, institutions etc. to address and tackle racism.
Do not be passive in your approach; be an activist.
Personal struggles and life through the lens of a BIPOC
Growing up, I was the only Black female in my friendship group (until secondary school), often feeling like the 'Black token friend'.
The lack of diversity within my friendship groups often resulted in not being able to talk to someone who understood and shared the same experiences as myself, leading to feelings of alienation resulting in a different experience of adolescence. I was also consumed by white-washed media and not being familiar with people who looked like me, which often made myself, like many others, feel insecure and had a particularly adverse impact on my mental health.
In 2012/2013, I was undergoing therapy for depression and anxiety. I was often paired with therapists of white ethnicity, meaning they could not understand the other influences on my mental health such as racism. I also found my experiences of mental health services and mental health to be ignored and overlooked until something dramatic had to happen to have my voice and struggles genuinely heard.
The 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey showed that Black British adults had the highest mean score for severity of mental health symptoms but were the least likely to receive treatment for mental illness.
The lack of support for BIPOC's mental health is deeply rooted in systematic racism within the medical profession, something that is overlooked. We must confront our own biases and demand change in healthcare and other systems. Without the reform of these systems, I fear not only for my children's future but Black futures in general, which is why we must do more.
So you have read this article now what? How to move forward and make a difference
Hopefully, now you will understand why many BIPOCs around the world are outraged. Through years of being ignored, Black voices are finally being amplified. Now use this newfound knowledge to amplify minority voices. Our ancestors created racism; thus, it is on us to end it.
The abolition of slave owner statutes and having those involved in George Floyd's death held accountable is only the beginning. This is the era of change and equality. It is not an issue that can be solved in 2020 alone, but a lifelong commitment. George Floyd is one of many. How many more black lives need to be lost before there is a real change? We must do more than simply post a black square; we must educate ourselves and one another.
Most importantly listen to the voices that have been silenced for years, as those voices are the ones that hold the most impact and value. Do more, be better and stand up to racism. We are tired of the countless excuse of "I don't know what to say". BIPOC want change, not performative activism.
Black Lives Matter