It’s no coincidence that I have rolled out of bed in the middle of the night to write this piece.
I couldn’t sleep. The issues. The pain. The upset. The tumult. Everything that has been happening in the last few weeks have taken 2020 to a whole new level of dystopia and collective angst.
It’s been bothering me that I hadn’t committed my thoughts and feelings on the Black Lives Matter to my blog and FB page. I suspected there was a cowardice under my reluctance. Fearful, as a white European, that I might be clumsy with my choice of words, or I might offend by proffering my opinions and then being accused of white knighting or being blinded by unconscious privilege.
But tonight, not being able to sleep, the noise and emotions in my head and heart became all too loud and I had a realisation that being Irish gave me every right to express those feelings without fear or rebuke.
Because for Black Lives Matter, you can read Irish Lives Matter, Jewish Lives Matter, Aborigine Lives Matter…the list is endless. Now, for the sake of clarity what I am NOT saying is ‘All Lives Matter’. That handy, dismissive, status quo enforcing patronise is nothing but condescension.
My point rather is this: We’ve been here before.
I know that is tricky to assimilate but we have. Our societies have reached times of enormous upheaval and civil outrage before. I see very clear historical through lines from The Suffragettes to the Civil Rights movements across the world in 1968 to ending of Apartheid, Tiananmen Square right up to and including Black Lives Matter.
These moments in our collective story show that we reach such a pitch of despair and frustration with inequalities that the roar cannot be contained a single second longer. And right now, we can hear the roar more loudly and clearly than it has been for a while.
The challenge for us all is simple: Are we willing to learn? And in turn to change?
The hypocrisies in our world indicate that we may not.
The way BLM is being reported in Britain makes me shake my head. The TV journalists talk in subdued tones, as if to say ‘why have we not noticed before?’ Yet the very same networks are happy to give people like Nigel Farage a platform to promote division and difference. The Daily Mail had the audacity to publish an editorial asking where tolerance has gone in our society, despite their right wing, bile-inducing demonisation of immigrants and minorities for years. It was only a relatively short 60 years ago that it was commonplace to see the sign ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’ in English boarding house windows. Yet people are shocked when there is a suggestion that there is unconscious bias today when it comes to race and religion in Britain. Tell that to Stephen Lawrence, to the Birmingham Six, to Windrush generation.
Society fools itself with false dawns of progress. Big cultural events such as the TV phenomenons ‘Roots’ or ‘The World At War’ allow us to be comfortably outraged in our homes, left feeling that we’ve been educated and redeemed, when all that has really happened is that we’ve been let off the hook. Allowed to feel edified by our fleeting empathy and compassion, secure in the knowledge that our lives go on as before.
I’ll say it again: We have been here before.
But our worldview is like that of the biblical character, Doubting Thomas. Unless we can see the piles of shoes at the entrance to Auschwitz or click on the link that shows eight or so minutes of a man being choked to death under a cop’s knee, we are happy to allow our disbelief and blind eye to fester and grow. We need to put or collective fingers in the wounds before we will really believe in the cruelty and humiliation we are capable of. And even then, the effect can be fleeting.
How can we change this?
On a societal level, education can help. Until the full story of British Colonialism is taught in our schools, there is no capacity to reach understanding at a broader level. As long as the countless public inquiries into racism are published and then ignored there is no chance of assuaging the fury and frustration felt by the marginalised.
These issues are systemic. Until there is an attempt to acknowledge the wrongs of the past, there can be no foundation to build a future upon. America must talk about the slave trade and the genocide of the First Nations People. Britain must square up to Colonialism, Slave Trading, the Irish Famine and the Troubles. France has it’s record in North Africa to look at. China and Nepal, Hong Kong, the Uighers. Every nation has skeletons in their closets, and those bones will jangle as longs as they are kept hidden and unresolved.
And on a personal, day to say level? There is a way to start to promote real change. It is understandable that in the face of such high discrimination, we can feel powerless to help or shift the balance. But there is one adjustment we can all make that will tip all the balances in the right direction.
Someone once told me that you can distil all the great philosophies and religions down to a pure and easily adoptable, four-word phrase. One that if we all took it on board, can help make our societies better places. One that requires us to pause and consider our reaction to everything that happens around us, to us, before us each and ever day. If we all put kindness into each of those reactions, instantly the world becomes a better place.
What’s the phrase?
Don’t be a dick.
We’ve been here before. Suffragettes. Civil Rights. Outrage on our streets. In these times when there is an openly racist President of the United States, when people clap for the NHS but recoil in horror at the idea of paying one pound more in their tax to pay for it, when even our global pandemic targets ethnic minorities more ruthlessly, we can still make small changes that can add up to a greater whole.
Don’t be a dick.