And so I feel it is entirely appropriate to express my total, unequivocal support for black communities both in this country and in the United States.
I stand with you. I will take a knee for you, and I will do all I can to champion your cause. Black lives matter. Right is on your side and I will argue with anyone who says differently.
There are those who may say it is not my fight. Look at my photo beside these words. I am a white middle-class woman in my early sixties. What do I know of what it is like to be judged by the colour of my skin? What do I know about being held back in life because I am black? What do I know of being targeted by those who believe my life is worth less than theirs? Nothing. But not experiencing the racist bigotry endured by generations is no excuse for not trying to do something about it. To not show our support is to be complicit. To stay silent is to side with those who have brought us to where we are, again.
The marches of the civil rights movement in the 1960s were right and just and brought about massive changes in legislation, voting rights and an end to segregation. However, the sad truth is it obviously wasn’t enough. As Meghan Markle so eloquently put it in a video message to pupils at her old school in Los Angeles, we should be reading about such events of the past few days in our history books not watching them being played out again more than fifty years later.
Which brings me to the rioters, and a President who announced, “When the looting starts the shooting starts” like some latter-day gunslinger. Do not be confused. There have always been those who seek to divide. There has always been the lawless who would exploit a situation for their own ends. The rioters and the looters do not care about the calls from a dead man’s family to show him respect by being peaceful agitators for change in his name.
But they should not be the focus of our attention. Let us not forget the vast majority of those who have been marching for justice have been peaceful.
The death of George Floyd was the tipping point. All they are saying is ‘enough is enough’. And it is. Yes, they are angry. We should all be angry, and yes, they are tired and weary of the same struggles.
We must never lose sight of why they were there, black and white marching shoulder to shoulder, risking imprisonment for a just cause. It was because a black man trying to turn his life around was knelt upon until he died. The perpetrators looked the other way, but we must not do the same.
It took the marches and protests before an officer of the law and the three others who stood idly by and let it happen were arrested and charged. For several days they had simply remained sacked in the hope it would all go away. Well it hasn’t and it shouldn’t.
And so they came to protest at the White House. It was by all accounts a peaceful demonstration. Yet they were forced back with tear gas, rubber bullets and by officers on horseback. They were cast aside because the most powerful man in the country wanted a photo opportunity at a church where he stood holding a bible as a prop. Well, if he had opened it he may have reflected that Jesus himself used the power of protest when he turned over the money lenders’ table at the temple, and that he was crucified for being an anarchist, an agitator and a trouble maker.
President Trump is standing for re-election at the end of this year. Covid 19 has meant he can no longer stand on the platform of economic prosperity, so he has conveniently switched his ticket to law and order at the expense of those who I hope will come out and vote for change later this year. Because change is needed. Instead of marching through a police guard to show he was the tough man in charge, it was his job to pour calm on troubled waters, not fan the flames.
He should have walked over to the demonstrators and asked them how he could facilitate change. But no, he had them cleared away. He could see what was happening and chose to ignore it. He has no empathy for their plight and no sympathy for why they were there. He is the President of the United States of America and rarely has it looked more disunited.
I say again it is our struggle. It is when I see a white woman in Central Park, a woman asked politely by a birdwatcher to put her dog on a lead so as not to frighten the wildlife, threaten him by calling the police and claiming there was a black man trying to endanger her life when he was not. But she felt empowered enough to use the colour of his skin against him.
So you see why it is our problem too. Ask yourselves what would have happened if she and the death of George Floyd had not been caught on camera, like so many other incidents.
I leave you with one more thought.
It is a quote that was used in the message of condemnation and support from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York, who reminded us that racism is an affront to God born out of ignorance. In it they urged us all to play our part to “eliminate this scourge on humanity”. They ended with a quote from Dr Martin Luther King, who said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I hope and pray that in years to come the protesters of 2020 will be able to look back and say ‘that was our moment, that was our Selma’. This was the time we demanded a seat on the bus, and we did it together.
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