George Floyd’s death must force us to confront racism in the UK: Jayne Dowle
I thought I was tolerant and liberal-minded, until I listened to my two putting their arguments across. Recent events have brought the discussion into sharp focus.
Jack, 17 and his 14-year-old sister, Lizzie, have pored over the news coverage of the riots in America following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
They are aghast at the footage of a police officer kneeling on the man’s neck as he pleaded that he could not breathe. The protests in London and other major cities concern them. They are not naïve in the slightest, but wonder why people have to be so full of hate for each other.
Like most teenagers these days, my two take almost all of their inspiration and ideas from popular culture. Their zeitgeist is defined by music, movies, sport and social media, arenas dominated invariably by outstanding individuals of different ethnic origin from their own White British backgrounds.
They choose their own role models; for Jack it’s invariably international footballers and British grime artists, and for Lizzie, cool and uncompromising young female singer-songwriters such as Detroit-born Lizzo.
And while ethnicity is an identifying factor in each case, it is not a defining characteristic. Although it is important for a young black grime artist to be able to speak and write music with authenticity, for example, the edges are blurred.
The frustrations of being a youth in 2020, that constant sense of anxiety and the lack of trust in the establishment, resonates with Jack sat in his bedroom on the edge of a village in South Yorkshire.
This is an important point of difference from my own teenage years, for example, when popular culture was much more segregated. We observed and partook, rather than immersed ourselves in shared experiences.
Younger generations do seem more flexible and capable of recognising the things which bring us together rather than keep us apart. The internet and social media has played a huge part in this.
Our political leaders should learn to respect this development and use it to create a fairer and more tolerant society. The evidence so far however is not good. The coronavirus pandemic has brought many things into focus; the shocking fact that people of BAME origin do appear to be more susceptible to dying from the virus gives the debate a sharp and politically-important edge.
Racism is no longer someone else’s problem. How our political leaders steer the issue from now on will be vital in shaping our nation’s future, particularly when seen against the context of impending Brexit and how immigration is organised.
I’m sorry, but it’s simply not good enough for Health Secretary Matt Hancock to say ‘‘black lives matter’’ at the same time as attempting to defend the publication delay of an official report into the number of coronavirus victims of BAME background.
What was also missing was acknowledgement of the number of countless numbers of care workers and NHS staff, also from BAME backgrounds, who have fallen ill or lost their lives. A good proportion of these may have come to the UK from other countries.
Would you trust such a politician with such an epoch-defining subject?
Indeed, has any member of this Government so far shown that they have even begun to develop a grasp of the nuances of racism and racist attitudes in the UK?
I’ll give you an example. We live in a village on the edge of the countryside in a former mining town. It’s beautiful, but tough.
Yet one thing I will say about our town is that it’s more tolerant than you might expect. I always argue that it’s a matter of demographics; nearly two hundred years ago our forefathers came here from all four corners of the UK and beyond to work in the pits.
Of course, there are individuals with less-welcoming attitudes to people ‘‘not from round here’’. There are people who say, “I’m not racist, but…”. And especially in the light of Brexit, there are friends with strong views on ‘‘foreigners’’ coming to live in the UK.
It is possible to hold two conflicting ideas in one head, I’ve found. A reasonable person whom you know well can suddenly come out with a derogatory comment which makes you stop and take a deep breath.
In the main though, I’m pleased to live in a community where racism is largely confined behind closed doors. It exists, but it doesn’t define the place where I live. I’d like it to stay that way.
And we should however, be able to trust ourselves to follow the lead of our sons and daughters. It’s simple; focus on what brings us together, not what keeps us apart.
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