They matter in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered by a police officer whilst others looked on.  They matter in London, where the police mishandled the investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s racially motivated murder according to the MacPherson inquiry.  They matter in Scotland, where the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights highlights “everyday racism acts to silence and demean minority ethnic people and reinforces the inequalities they face”.

Carr Gomm aims to foster a culture of equality, diversity and inclusion; recognising the positive contribution that each person makes to our world.  Everyone is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. Without exception.

If we want people to flourish then we must seek to understand the threats and difficulties they face.  In this regard, Casey McCrae, our colleague from the North East Glasgow team, wanted to share with us her personal experience of trying to find out more about the Black Lives Matter movement and how people experience systemic racism.  You can read Casey’s story here.

#Black Lives Matter

What is the movement?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has come into the limelight in recent times, both through mainstream media and social media. We'll have all seen the recent protests that have taken place in America in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the subsequent protests that have taken place across the UK in support of the BLM movement.

For those who may be less aware, George Floyd was a 46 year old African-American man, one of many black people living in America who have been killed through police violence towards black people. George was arrested based on allegedly using counterfeit money at a local shop. George was handcuffed and forced to lie face down on the floor whilst a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck, despite George showing no resistance or threat to the police officer’s life. This went on for nine minutes with George begging for his life and telling the police officer that he 'couldn't breathe'. George lost consciousness and later died in hospital.

This is life for black people living in America, the prospect of being killed at the hands of police brutality all too common a reality. The list of hate crimes against black communities is endless and although many of us are shocked at these merciless acts we are seeing on the news and social media, this has always been the shocking reality for black people long before we had technology to show us the truth of what goes on.

Although now we are seeing a lot more of a push for the BLM movement, this actually started years before the death of George Floyd and is a non-violent movement in protest against white supremacy and violence against black communities. It was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer.

Trayvon was a 17 year old African-American boy also killed at the hands of the police. He was walking home from a local shop, a neighbour called the police claiming Trayvon was acting “suspicious”, police officer George Zimmerman responded which subsequently led to Trayvon being shot, with the police officer claiming he acted in self defence.

Regardless of whether or not you would actually believe this police officers claim, or the claims of many others who acted in “self defence” when killing a member of the black community, ultimately if this was a white person the chances of them being killed are disproportionately lower than for those who are black.

Admittedly, although being aware of the BLM movement since it started in 2013, I haven't played much of an active role despite being in support of it. It is with the explosion of advocates for the movement across social media emphasising that enough is enough I have come to realise that I can no longer be a back seat supporter of the movement.

The UK is not Innocent

While many people might find themselves thinking “but it’s just a problem in America”, that would be incorrect. For example, racial hate crimes remain the most commonly reported hate crimes in Scotland, with 2880 charges reported in Scotland alone in 2018-2019. Racism also exists within the police force in the UK, for example in 2018-19 black people were eight times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched, police are also five times more likely to use force against black people than white people in the UK.

In Scotland officers responded to reports of a man, Sheku Bayoh, waving a knife in the town centre of Kirkcaldy. Sheku was unarmed when officers arrived, he was held down by up to nine officers after him being subjected to CS spray, pepper spray, batons, handcuffed and put in leg restraints. His body was covered in bruises and lacerations, he had a fractured rib with petechial hemorrhages (a sign of asphyxia)  in his eyes. Sheku never regained consciousness after this restraint despite pleading with officers that he 'couldn't breathe'.

No prosecutions were made against any of the officers. The likelihood of officers taking such brutal action like this to a white man in the same circumstances as Sheku are very slim, in fact one of the officers has since being outed as being openly racist.

There is also pervasive racism against black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities throughout the UK within the systems in which we exist, known as Systemic/Structural/Institutional racism. One only has to think of the tragedy of Grenfell Tower fire to realise this, which saw the poorest members of society (most of which are BAME) pushed into poor quality housing, ultimately leading to their death.

BAME communities face significant social inequalities in comparison to those who are white, such as in their access to employment, healthcare, housing, and education. Some examples include the fact that using identical CVs, BAME applicants have been found to have to send 80% more applications than white applicants to get a response from an employer, or that 36% of UK Homeless are BAME, despite only accounting for 15% of the UK population.

Together this leads to BAME communities being disproportionately left as some of the poorest members of society. It is important to emphasise here that this is not to say white people do not experience such inequalities, as we know too well that many white people face significant hardship living in the UK too and are also discriminated against for many different factors, such as those in lower social class.

However, the fact of the matter is that white people are not discriminated based on their race. BAME communities are discriminated for all of the factors many white people face, with their race being an added disadvantage on top of all this.

White Privilege

There has been a term that seems to have come to light given the current climate with the BLM  movement and it is that of White Privilege. It's one I haven't been overly familiar with or even considered until now. I touched on the fact that BAME communities face all of the same inequalities that white people face but in addition to this they face the added discrimination based on their race.

This is essentially what is meant by White Privilege, whereby white people are in a position of power by not being at a disadvantage based on race, even if discriminated by other factors whether this is gender, sexual identity, being disabled etc.

We live in a system/society that benefits from the oppression of BAME communities, dating back to times of slavery. If you are white, myself included, it can be difficult to see or accept this as we are absorbed into this system from birth and so we are often blind to this. It does not mean that we are necessarily racist, but rather that we are living in a system that is racist and we have privileges, again in terms of more equal access to wealth, housing, education etc., based on our skin colour that BAME communities do not.

There are many people living within society who sincerely do not consider themselves as racist (albeit there are people who say this to be socially acceptable), so where does a lot of these inequalities stem from if a lot of us are not racist?

One of the things I have been reading about is implicit racial bias. This is a term used to explain unconscious stereotypes that we hold that we are totally unaware of, affecting our opinions, attitudes, and behaviours. They can be both positive and negative, and originate from different sources.

One way in which negative racial biases come about is again because we are brought up in a system and society from birth that is inherently racist without you often even realising it if you are white. Some examples of such negative implicit racial biases that have been found include that black males are more readily associated with weapons, that they are more strongly associated with danger and hostility, or the idea of black women being “sassy”. It is these biases that can then go on to affect aforementioned factors such as access to employment and education.

How do we make change?

As I have mentioned, to date I have typically taken a back seat and thought that it has been enough to be in support of the movement. I've classed myself as a person who is not racist, one of the “good guys”, and thus do not need to make any changes to my life, attitude and behaviours.

There are also a lot of other white people who have also taken such a stance, meanwhile BAME communities continuously have to face oppression and fight for change. Clearly this has not been enough and deep rooted changes are still needed to combat the stark inequalities, racism and discrimination against those from BAME backgrounds. It is no longer enough to be “not racist” but rather we need to be “anti-racist”.

This starts by being open to the fact that if you are a white person reading this, we are in a position of privilege and whether we want it or not we are living in a society that favours our lives based on our race. We need to be open to change and be aware of our own racial biases that we hold as a result of the system we have been brought up in. But what about “all lives”, “don't all lives matter?”

Yes, all lives do matter. Saying “Black Lives Matter” isn't saying that black lives matter more than other lives, white people do of course face discrimination based on various factors as previously mentioned, such as disabilities and socio-economic status, the world clearly is not perfect. However, it is clear that we are living in a world where for the most part black and minority ethnic lives do not matter as much as white lives.

We need to step up and take responsibility to educate ourselves more on this matter far beyond this single conversation. We need to read about the history of slavery, the history of oppression and BAME communities have faced and still do face. We need to listen to their stories and amplify their voices.

We have to face up to and change our own racial tendencies we didn't realise we hold, have uncomfortable conversations with people when you see or hear racism, even if this is something “minor” in your eyes, the chances are that it is not “minor” to those experiencing it. Support BAME businesses.

Sign petitions for change, donate money wherever you can. Read, listen to podcasts, watch TV shows and documentaries on these issues and spread the knowledge you have gained. Racism goes beyond acts of racial hate crimes, when a person from an oppressed group in society tells you its racist then it is racist, even if the intention was not that. I'm still learning, it’s a long process but there are plenty of places to start.

“The world is changed by your example not by your opinion.” - Paulo Coelho

  • Casey McCrae, Support Practitioner, North East Integrated Service