Black Lives Matter. Today, three weeks after 18 year old Mzee Mohammed’s death in police custody in Liverpool, five years and one day since Mark Duggan’s murder by armed police officers in Tottenham, Black British activists are undertaking bold collective action. Organiser Joshua Virasami told the BBC that black people should unite ‘to achieve justice and equality in Britain and all over the world.’
Non-black people of colour and white people, our support must be unconditional and unequivocal. Collectively and individually, our lives have been immeasurably enriched by black culture. Artistically. Intellectually. Musically. Spiritually. It is now our duty to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Yes, support, meaning we must play supportive roles in the long struggle to end the death and violence inflicted upon black communities by the state. We are not leaders in this. A full commitment to playing a supportive role means there will be a time when we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with our black friends leading the way, adding our energy and voices to the chorus demanding justice. There will be a time when we simply need to stay away, when all black safe spaces are needed, because our very presence could interfere with honest and open discussion. When this happens, we absolutely need to stay out of our feelings. We should use this opportunity to reflect on our own prejudices and challenge the anti blackness that poisons our own communities. Ultimately, there will be a time when we need to put our bodies between our black friends leading the way and the uniformed tools of oppression, because we know too well that the lack of melanin in our skin is a potential safeguard against brutality. The police officer’s baton, swung so recklessly at our black friends, may not be swung with such abandon at us. If we are not prepared to fully support the movement then we need to accept that we are merely cultural thieves, and to quote Jesse Williams monumental speech at the BET awards, we need to sit down.
If we have spent the beginning of our grey British summer with gun fingers pointed at the clouds, basking in the greatness of grime artists like Novelist and Skepta as they captivate muddy festival fields, but we don’t support the movement, then we are cultural thieves. If we can spit JME’s ‘Man Don’t Care’ bar for bar, but we don’t support the movement, then we are cultural thieves. If the brilliance of James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Warsan Shire offers us an escape from the tedium of our morning commute, but we don’t support the movement, then we are cultural thieves. If we quote Angela Davis, Assata Shakur and Audre Lorde to impress peers with our feminist credentials, but we don’t support the movement, then we are cultural thieves.
A black family welcomed and cared for my brother and me when our parents were unable to. A team of young black men consoled me when my brother was diagnosed with cancer. A black woman encouraged and supported my writing when I was on the verge of giving up completely, giving me a platform and a voice I never imagined I would have. Blackness did not shout p*ki at my dad while he waited in traffic at a roundabout. Blackness did not split the back of my dad’s head open for having the temerity to have a drink with a white woman in the pub. Blackness did not take my surname, strangle it and laugh cruelly at its beautiful complexity. Blackness did not negate my ancestors’ humanity and inflict genocide upon them in the Anatolian plains. Racism did those things. The ideology of racial supremacy did those things.
We must understand that our support is not just an offer of solidarity to African Americans and their allies in the United States, campaigning against the ferocious rate at which the American state murders black women and men on the street. We need to learn the names and the tragedies of Black Britons, killed by the state in the motherland of racism. We must educate ourselves about the correlation between state and street violence. We must learn about and support those activists who campaign tirelessly for those locked up in Yarl’s wood, facing abuse and more. We should know that there are disproportionately more young black men in prison in the UK than US. That of the 509 cases of BME deaths in custody in suspicious circumstances that the Race Relations Institute examined between 1991 and 2014 in prison, 137 in police custody and 24 in the immigration detention centre.
We must educate ourselves, meaning we must do our own research, and not wait to be educated by our black friends leading the way. Our education is not the priority, justice is. It is the same twisted disregard for black bodies, informed by the murderous doctrine of white supremacy, that allowed Sandra Bland and Sarah Reed to be brutalised by police officers, and die alone in jail cells. It is the same twisted disregard for black bodies which compelled police officers to murder Mark Duggan, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
If collectively we continue to insatiably consume black culture, and benefit individually from blackness, but remain docile and silent while our black friends demand that their humanity is recognised, then we are complicit in their suffering. If we don’t support the movement, we have blood on our hands.
Read the statement from Black Lives Matter UK here.
Black Lives Matter protest today 05/08/2016 from 6.00pm in:
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Robert Kazandjian is an educator and writer. He works with vulnerable children in North London. His writing seeks to challenge inequality, in all its guises. He has previously written for Ceasefire Magazine on racism in Israel, gender politics and hip hop music, and the necessity of Armenian Genocide recognition. He blogs poetry at makemymark.tumblr.com. He cites Douglas Dunn, Pablo Neruda, James Baldwin and Nas as major influences. He tweets from @RKazandjian