• theleftberlin

A letter of urgency

Updated: Aug 8, 2020

by Alexandra Brown

George Floyd protest in Grand Army Plaza, June 7, 2020. Photo: Rhododentrites. Source: WikiMedia Commons

I wish to begin by sharing a prose I wrote in response to the murder of George Floyd

Institutional, systematic and structural racism, feels like I am dying a slow and painful death
When I learnt of the murder of George Floyd....it was like trauma to the soul
I fell silent.... as I screamed
I am filled, consumed and embroidered with RAGE

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black people has acted as an eerie reminder of the precariousness of black life. This for both the British and global context. That coupled with the knowledge of George Floyd’s murder, has created a sense of collective pain and trauma, that words could never attest to.

We must cease to understand and explain the cries and groans of black people merely within the context of recent events. On the contrary, its genesis is rooted in slavery. I put it to you that we must refrain from identifying slavery as a historical event, but rather, it should be seen as a relational dynamic, which persists.

An oppressive relational dynamic between a master and their slave

An oppressive relational dynamic between whiteness and black bodies

An oppressive relational dynamic between an a subject and its object

This oppressive relational dynamic is consequently embedded within all institutions and structures that govern society. This includes: the NHS, housing, policing, and the education system. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to conclude that what occurred in 1833 was not Britain’s abolishment of slavery, but more accurately, it was its reconstruction.

The gravity of this reality lies within and beyond the parameters of Western euro-centric epistemology- theories of knowledge developed overwhelmingly through a White gaze. It is centered upon the experiences and logical reasoning of White propertied middle-class cis-heterosexual men. Subsequently, we must explore the established canons, received understandings of wisdom, truth and knowledge that lie within the central rubrics of the black experience. These are encompassed within autobiographical accounts, historical texts, memoirs, folklore, songs, and the cultural practices of our ancestors and forebears.

These sources of authority establish that the truth the world is witnessing - is nothing new for black people. It is not a coincidence that black people are protesting across the globe. It is not a coincidence that Black British people can easily draw parallels to the narratives of their brothers and sisters across the diaspora. This is because the black experience outside Africa and the Caribbean bears a painful and violent resemblance, and this truth is an integral part of our heritage and something, we continue to teach our children.

Many of you may take exception to what has been said thus far, but I assure you:

Statistics, empirical knowledge, and logical reasoning - cannot speak of the reality, potency, and pain of the following

  • The conversation many black parents have with their children about how ‘The world is not fair’. As a black person you will have to work twice as hard just to be seen as equal and ten times as hard to be seen as above average (take Obama and Trump for instance).

  • That the collective unconscious still views black people as biologically subhuman, inherently aggressive, and intellectually inferior

  • How black people are violently reminded of their blackness whenever they stray beyond the norms and expectations of society

  • Despite not seeing many people who look like us occupying positions of power and leadership; and despite living, toiling, and contributing to this society - you will still be made to feel that ‘you don’t belong here’

Statistics, empirical knowledge, and logical reasoning - cannot speak to the loss of innocence and gaining of wisdom that black children experience upon hearing this truth and eventually coming to this realization for themselves. Neither can it capture the pride and joy we feel when we see people in our community achieving and surpassing expectations, despite the barriers.

Racism is not an invisible omnipotent being that affects black people. It is a racialised ideology that is dependent on social actors (namely white people and white dominated institutions). Therefore, there is a harsh truth humanity must accept. Anti-racism cannot solely reside within personal beliefs and inter-personal interactions. Rather, it dwells within the relational dynamics and structures of institutions. Until we admit and act upon this reality, what we are essentially saying is ‘Whilst I am anti-slavery, I am pro-slave master’.

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