Pen To Print

Friday Feature: Black Lives Matter Or All Lives Matter

For this week’s Friday Feature we’re handing over to some of our colleagues at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham as they talk about their minority experiences and then Teju Chosen, a career satisfaction coach, author and poet, talks about whether it should be Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter.

First up we have a piece from Adele:

I Dare ‘To Dream A Dream’

Just the other day I was wondering what my life would have been like if I was ‘white’.

What will it be like to live a day without the colour of my skin being seen above everything else about me…

To walk up to a counter in a store without the ‘white’ sales assistant leaning towards me and shouting loudly because he/she has assumed I probably couldn’t speak or understand English.

To walk down the street and not be concerned about the next time someone will throw a ‘banana peel’ at me or tell me to go back to ‘my country’.

To have a conversation without someone asking you ‘where are you from? and the answer ‘London’ be good enough, feeling you have to explain and justify your reason for being here.

To walk into a shop and not be followed around by a shop assistant, assuming, black equates to ‘thief ‘or ‘criminal’.

To apply for jobs and not wonder if the colour of your skin or strange-sounding name will count against you.

To succeed at securing a role and wonder if you are the ‘token’ black person.

To be around, but not seen or heard and ‘one black person is much the same as another’ (we all supposedly ‘look the same’).

To walk past a police car and feel shivers down your spine, even though you have done nothing wrong.

To have to think about speaking differently and be unable to express yourself freely because your passion or expressions are seen as ‘aggressive’ or ‘having a chip on your shoulder’.

To not have to worry about my son living as a black man, worry about his mental health in an unequal society, or be concerned about him fulfilling his potential.

To not have situations where people avoid sitting next to you on public transport, or get up and move away when you sit next to them.

To not have to see or hear about another ‘George Floyd’, another ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest, and feel a sense of shame and pride at the same time.

To not have black on black violence put down to a black community problem, rather than the issues getting the support they need to address them.

To not live in a society where communities are segregated, the blacks and ethnic minorities move in and the ‘white’ people move away.

To not have managers and colleagues look away, or ignore racist comments or attitudes towards staff.

To not have to worry about which party is in power nationally or locally and what impact that will have on your community.

To walk down a street and see flags in windows (not World Cup season) and wonder if … and you feel unsafe.

A white colleague told me a story about her teenage son, who has often been in trouble with the police for shoplifting. He has never been charged. They tell him off, then drop him home to his mum. This has happened on many occasions. I could not help feeling resentful, because, if it had been my son or another black boy, the story would have been different.

‘I dream a dream’ for when the experience of ‘blackness’ will equal the experience of  ‘whiteness’ and I don’t have to wonder anymore.

But until then, I keep hoping,  keep dreaming, keep striving. I keep staying strong and proud in my ‘blackness ‘while I wait for the day when truly ‘all lives will matter’… Breathe!

*****

Next, a piece by Zubair who talks openly about being racially profiled by the police.

Racial Profiling: My Experience

Over the last few years, the local police have set up a checkpoint at Ripple Road for driving licence and car insurance checks. I use this road every day to commute and also carry out visits for my LBBD work. The police initially had a camera van to scan for car insurance before the checkpoints on both side of the road so, I had no police stops. Then the van disappeared from the checkpoint and I was stopped every time going to work and coming home.

After a few occasions, I started getting frustrated, so I asked the sergeant on duty, why they weren’t using the camera van anymore to avoid unnecessary stops. Why was I getting stopped every time I passed the checkpoint. I also wanted to know how they profile their checks. The answer was simple; “the van is used somewhere else and you, plus the make, model and colour of your car match our profile.”

I was very annoyed and felt like complaining to the borough police commander and the council leader, but I was put off when I researched online and discovered that the police can stop drivers for any reason.

When I look back and think about this, even now, I feel depressed by how the police do their profiling based on ethnicity and make, model and colour of the car.

*****

Do Black Lives Matter Or Do All Lives Matter? Where Do You Stand?
Teju Chosen

It is obvious that all lives matter, but does this really need to be stated? It’s also obvious that Black Lives Matter, but is the society we live in today recognising this?

‘You better open your mind to read between the lines’, sang the late and great Aaliyah. This was based on another topic, but the words speak volumes.

By no means does the reiteration ‘Black Lives Matter’ from a Black or non-Black person’s pen, mouth, or keyboard mean that other lives do not.  By saying Black Lives Matter we are articulating the fact that the Black race is just as important as any other race; declaring that they stop killing us, discriminating against us and treating us like second-class citizens. They, meaning the very perpetrators that are doing the above. Other races have allied with us to scream the same. Thank you!

Imagine someone campaigning to raise awareness of breast cancer, how would people spouting; “All Cancers Matter”, help?

YES! Black lives do matter; and not just in the streets, in custody and hoods of America. Not only on the roads, housing estates and in the back of police vans in the UK. Not solely in the Guangdong province of China. BLACK LIVES MATTER EVERYWHERE!

If you are reading this and think it doesn’t relate to you, think again! Black lives matter in and around:

  • Your church
  • Your children’s schools
  • Your streets and within your neighbourhood
  • Your shops, restaurants and café’s (when you can next go to them)
  • Your place of work
  • Your boardroom

Let’s look further into the last two on the list. Does your: office, store, hospital, care home, school, prison, surgery, building site, precinct, police force, fire station, or science lab demonstrate that Black lives matter?

Think deeply before you answer. Having a token, a few, or many Black people working with you, does not mean that it does. Are Black people being given the same opportunities? The same chances for promotion? Are they spoken to and treated the same? Are Black members of staff in authority respected? Are there any Black people on your board, or just the token one so you can tick all of the right boxes?

This question is not for judgement or criticism purposes and you do not have to answer. But do answer this in your mind. Do think about it.

If you do have Black people on your board, do you find them difficult or argumentative? Do you not notice them because you ‘don’t see colour’? Are the Black women ‘angry’ in your eyes? Are their ideas too complicated for you to agree with, or take a risk in implementing? Are they too simple? If another board member came up with the same idea, would it sound better?

Are Black people being heard? If they make a complaint, is it fully investigated, or seen as unfounded? Is the evidence gained from saving three years of email trail insufficient? Is your workplace an environment where hard work pays off and people are promoted or listened to, based on their merits?

If so, great! If the glass ceiling does not exist where you work, that is inspiring and a good start. But let’s face it, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. If you keep quiet when you should speak out, you are enabling the injustice you have witnessed.

Many Blacks and non-Blacks cannot see what all the fuss is about. I have seen some social media posts that have astounded me. Some saying, ‘all lives matter’ and insinuating the horrific murder of George Floyd could have happened to anybody (WHAT???), and one stating that if you asked ten Black people what they want you will get ten different answers. The statistics over the years in the US, and also here in the UK, form hard evidence that the heinous killing of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 would unlikely have occurred had he been White. In addition, Black people are individuals, so why wouldn’t you get ten different answers?

Black lives matter because Black people are being killed. Their feelings are dismissed and actions are misconstrued and shunned; in particular by White extremists, racists in denial, journalists, and broadcasters on social media. Systemic racism is prevalent in police forces as well as the prison and justice systems. It goes without saying that many corporations are evidentially racist too. A move in the right direction involves everyone being responsible for their part in exercising racial equality. Leaders, in particular should take note.

If we stopped to think about how our actions make other people feel, then maybe we would all make different choices in the workplace. The majority of Black people, like myself, I have encountered in the workplace, have been very confident and are often highly acclaimed. But not all. Often a chain of events in the form of constant discrimination can knock someone’s confidence, affect their performance, and make them see other races as the enemy. As a Non-Black person, you may be the last straw that broke the camel’s back by your intended or unintended actions. As a Black person, pretending that you could not see that fellow co-worker for fear that you might be deemed as interacting only with your own, could be what made your fellow Black colleague feel even more despondent that day.

I have seen advice to White people on doing their part to foster good race relations floating around social media. One insisted, White colleagues should read the book, Why I am No Longer Talking to White People About Race (by Reni Eddo-Lodge), and ask their Black colleagues how they can help. I don’t recommend the latter at all. It can be seen as patronising, especially if done randomly in the canteen. How about a formal, scheduled round-table meeting on cultural awareness or racial equality training? You can help by thinking though. Thinking, before you talk and act. You can help by educating yourself. Read. Research.

A few facts:

  • Black men in the UK are ‘40 times more likely’ to be stopped by the police than their White counterparts (The Guardian).
  • Black men and women are being attacked by police on a regular basis (including innocent men and women I know and family of friends).
  • The murderers of many women in the US who died at the hand of the police still walk free.
  • At present, Amazon are still selling racist books and refuse to take some off their platform due to a firm stand to exercise freedom of speech and allow literature to be freely available.
  • The book entitled, 10 Little Niggers by Agatha Christie [1] is still on sale, despite being inaccessible (but still listed) after the pressure of the petition to ban all such books.
  • The book, Destroy All Niggers has finally been removed but search for yourself; you will see that there are plenty more books that should not be there, especially in the 21st century.
  • Even children of all races are protesting and want a better world to grow up into.
  • A 97-year-old Holocaust survivor drove to a Black Lives Matter protest to show her support.
  • Many firms, corporations, and brands are showing their support, showing that Black Lives Matter to them. This includes Denton’s law firm, ITV, TikTok (offering 4 million in grants), Netflix, Fox, Apple Music, Nike, Spanx, PrettyLittleThing, Sol de Janeiro, Lego, Nordstrom and Ben & Jerry’s. (The Times/The New York Times).

Years have passed since Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech of 1963, and yet, the struggle continues.

“… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character. … little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little White boys and little White girls as sisters and brothers.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 28 August in 1963

Black Lives Matter does not mean other lives do not. Black lives are constantly mistreated, threatened and are in imminent danger.

Some questions to ponder on:

  • Did all lives grow up with a lack of positive role models in books, TV and in the media?
  • Do all lives worry about being unsuccessful at an interview because of the colour of their skin, in this day and age?
  • Do all lives have stories to tell of younger, less qualified non-Black colleagues supervising them?
  • Are all lives compelled to give ‘The Talk’ [2] to their children so they can understand where society places them and how best to deal with it?
  • Do all lives face anxiety when their sons leave the home for fear, they might not see them again?
  • Do the hearts of all lives skip a beat when they hear a police siren, for fear of what is to come?
  • Are all lives being killed because of the colour of their skin?
  • Do all lives have siblings who have been murdered by the police?

Let’s stop diluting the cause and let these gruesome facts instigate positive change. Everybody can make a difference if they make a stand. Do Black Lives Matter or does the addendum, ‘All Lives Matter’ make you feel more comfortable?

Where do you stand?

© 2020 Teju Chosen. All rights reserved.

Connect with Teju at her website: tejuchosen.co.uk

[1] The author is aware that Agatha Christie and her publishers have done everything in their power to correct their mistake by changing the title of the book several times. However, some people have dug up the original and are reselling.

[2] For generations, Black parents have been giving their children a lecture on what it means to be Black in this world and what to do if/when stopped by the police. This is known as ‘The Talk’. 

 

Read the latest issue of Write On! magazine online.

What will it be like to live a day without the colour of my skin being seen above everything else about me?