Thoughts on why I went to a Black Lives Matter protest and what it was like.
Updated: Jun 21
We are in a time of change within the world and its led to a large amount of people feeling very uncomfortable, perhaps for a variety of different reasons including their own lack of knowledge, their lack of understanding concerning the every day experiences of their friends, neighbours, colleagues and people they don't know but follow on Instagram. It has led to us all to think about the issues that are affecting individuals and community within the world. It has highlighted wider issues that are going on in the world that we may not have previously been aware of.
This is not a judgemental blog post, I put myself in that category in all honesty. Whilst, I have always championed the rights of asylum seekers and highlighted the injustices they have experienced these recent events have really highlighted to me that I do not do enough - I didn't know the stop and search statistics for my area (which as you can probably guess are disproportionate and show that persons of colour are stopped and searched much more often than others), I hadn't fully considered the education I had received at school and how this had missed out huge parts of black history including Britian's role within the slave trade and I hadn't appreciated the disparity even basic medical care afforded to black women during childbirth - did you know that black women were five times more likely to die in child birth than white women in the UK???
So I strapped myself in and decided I needed to really listen, learn and take action. I did these things and the more uncomfortable I felt both in terms of my own lack of knowledge and the response from others around me. I saw people who I know taking to their pages and posting their black squares despite having views that I know do not support that view, I saw brands who have appalling records concerning exploitation of their workers vowing to give away profits to the movement and I saw people and companies who I had always thought to be fair saying absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing! I, as a white women who has a whole lot of privilege, felt angry so I can only empathise about how members of the community who this actually directly impacts must have felt. And after feeling angry, I just felt sad, really sad and helpless.
Now let me be clear, I am fortunate, I have no underlying health conditions, I have the means that ensure that I have PPE equipment available to me and this post is not to shame those who did not attend a protest. I have spoken to friend's about why they didn't feel able to attend and this includes feeling intimidated by such a large group of people, fear of COVID-19 and a view point that whilst they support the movement they feel a protest during this time is irresponsible due to COVID-19. These are their views and I hear those, listen to those and respect these views. However, I felt that I had to add my face to the sea of faces that are already there. I am a social worker and my professional values should mean that I fight for the voices of the oppressed and the dis-empowered. I felt strongly that I could not in my professional life advocate that people are experiencing disadvantage as a result of a variety of different factors if I did not in my personal life do as much as I could to support the movement.
So I went, alone, with my masks (and spare ones), gloves and hand sanitizer. I had seen the images that were in the media depicting how social distancing wasn't being observed and made a solemn promise to Mr Thoughts of a Wandering Mind and several friends that if I couldn't be socially distant I would have to leave. Well, I didn't have to worry where I was, I obviously can't speak for the whole event but everyone I saw was very respectful and we all spread out. There were stewards handing out masks to those that hadn't bought them and challenging people who said they didn't want to wear one. The stewards constantly reminded people to be socially distant, so whilst I appreciate the comments and complaints on Facebook I have seen it wasn't my experience (please note I whilst I may appreciate your comments and concerns, to the people who made comments suggesting protesters deserved to get COVID-19, I don't appreciate those).
The event itself was great. It was informative, powerful and actually let me take some time to get my thoughts together - there has been so much noise (rightly so) and judgement flying around in the last week, it has been very hard to gain the peace to internalise and reflect. The event I attended was entirely peaceful (as far as I am aware) and was a time for everyone to come together, listen and learn.
As for the violence that has been seen at some of the protests between police and protesters, I did not experience this at all. I can never take to my keyboard and say that this is ok. There will have been hardworking individuals there who agree with the message who got hurt just because of their job as a police officer, there may have been innocent bystanders who were caught in violence that were just in the wrong place. However, I am saying this from a position of privilege - I speak and people do listen, they may not always agree with me or take my position but they listen. It is well known that other members of the community speak and no-one listens and they are met with aggression and hostility. Maybe after being treated with violence and aggression all the time, they feel they have to lead with this? I have also been thinking about how different professionals are expected to respond to aggression directed to them, as a social worker I have been subject to verbal aggression, I know of colleagues and friends who have had their lives threatened, they have been harassed, they have been intimidated and they are told to continue in a professional manner and any aggressive response from them would lead to them being dismissed and a hearing about whether they continue to practice. A police officer in this situation has an arsenal of weapons at hand to use, despite their training about diffusing situations. Whilst, this applies more to America at the moment, given the tear gas and rubber bullets that are being deployed on peaceful protesters to clear areas, we in the UK can not be considered guilt free when after the London riots in 2011 we called for water cannons and rubber bullets to be available.
Will I be attending events like this again? Yes. Would I recommend it to someone else? Yes, whilst I hear your nervousness, maybe give it ago. Go with a friend (recognising that this is difficult at the moment with COVID-19), stand at the back and listen. If it doesn't resonate with you, leave. It may be uncomfortable but may be you will enjoy it. And if you don't enjoy it, think about other ways you can take action about the issues affecting individuals and community in the world. I believe we can do it and make a positive change in the world.
Say it with me, I care, I listen and I can help create change!