Black Lives Matter Movement: Privilege and Protests
Joshua Fundafunda discusses his own experience of the Black Lives Matter protests over the past month, and offers guidance towards how we can all be better allies.
Upon starting this piece, it has been over two weeks since the murder of George Floyd. Two weeks since the murder of Tony McDade. Four months since the murder of Breonna Taylor. I could offer a name for each month, probably week, in which a Black person has been killed by the police alone. I struggle to describe how draining it is as a Black person to witness Black people brutalised and killed daily, and to see such shallow responses from leaders and people in positions of influence. I think social media plays a vital role in my and many others’ exhaustion. It’s undoubtably important to share information, videos, updates, experiences, etc. surrounding the protests (especially the violence across the United States), as not all of it will make it to mainstream media. However, I hope you can recognise the stress that accompanies seeing Black people no different than our sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers killed for the colour of their skin.
These protests are one way we have been relieving ourselves from lifetimes of this stress. I was able to attend one of these ongoing protests in London on the 7th of June, and was initially nervous. The previous day of protest had taken a chaotic turn, though there was no violence to be found that day. To my amusement, I recall the torrent of marching protestors waiting at a crossroad to allow passing cars through, beeping in support as they drove by. Nevertheless, as we left the United States Embassy and began to move towards our destination at Parliament square, the chants rose and subsided as thousands of people crowded forward.
Much of the chants’ sentiment focused on police brutality, and rightly so; the popular phrase “no justice no peace, no racist police” echoed across the water as we crossed the Vauxhall Bridge. However, as we settled into the square the conversation moved towards broader systematic injustice towards Black people in the United Kingdom. One Black woman adamantly spoke about racial injustice in the workplace, speaking from experiences of being ignored by receptionists, disregarded by work colleagues, and insulted by staff. She questioned us all; “why am I seeing bare smiles around? We should not be happy to be here!”.
That really struck me with surprise. After seeing all the protests throughout across the world, I was almost excited to be there in London to protest. But it is important to keep in mind that this is something we must do not want to do. On a similar note, the violent protests and looting across areas of the United States (and the day prior in London) are a direct result of people’s frustration and necessity to protest for basic human rights. It is unfair and misguided to critique how Black people express their outrage towards a system which is designed to oppress us. Beyond police brutality, antiracist sentiment towards the government, educational system, housing, and healthcare took centre stage as people took turns expressing their anger.
On the other hand, the scene in Exeter has been smaller in comparison, but still remarkably passionate. I attended two small demonstrations on the 6th and 10th of June near the Flowerpot skatepark. The first of the two protests sported about three hundred people, where volunteers gave fairly impromptu speeches over a small speaker. This was a smaller gathering to the larger forthcoming event the following Wednesday, and many of the speakers in my opinion, while emotional, didn’t add much to the conversation. I felt as though many speakers were diminishing their white-guilt over what people of colour, and Black people specifically, experience daily.
The Wednesday protest took a more hands-on approach. We gathered in the rain and listened to Black speakers, including the organiser, echo the pain felt across the world for George Floyd and many others. Between these speeches the organiser asked us to join up into groups and discuss questions she asked. This gave us an opportunity to voice how we’d been feeling over the past weeks, to discuss what an ally really looked like, and how we can actively create change. I found this strategy to be much more effective than Saturday’s approach. Besides some timid voices, openly discussing oppression and its many forms can help educate people who wouldn’t be introduced to it otherwise. Recognising privilege is a vital step towards systematic change, especially in majority white spaces like Exeter.
On the topic of privilege in Exeter, I want to consider the University specifically. Being a person of colour, let alone Black, at Exeter University can be very difficult and isolating. And as I see more and more signs crop up in students’ windows supporting Black lives with quotes like, “I understand that I will never understand”, or “I stand with you”; I wonder where has this enthusiasm been? The University is no stranger to racist incidents amongst the student body, and I cannot imagine what has been ignored, yet there was little to no vocalising support then.
Are you to challenging your friends, your families, your friends’ families, your families’ friends? Are you challenging your own privilege? If you can’t find an answer, now is the time to listen and learn from Black people
This is what irritates me about performative support. Beyond socially supporting this movement in public, what are you doing privately? To my white and non-Black allies, as much as I appreciate hearing you voice your support during a peak in this movements’ interest, I need you to take this energy back into your own spaces. Are you to challenging your friends, your families, your friends’ families, your families’ friends? Are you challenging your own privilege? If you can’t find an answer, now is the time to listen and learn from Black people. Listen to what we have to say on issues that have been present our entire lives. It pains me to see these empty gestures when action is needed.
Nonetheless, I cannot stress the importance of the momentum that is building around the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m glad people are realising the extent of systematic racial oppression. Although I cannot speak for all Black experiences, I can speak to all of you when I say; this needs to extend beyond the trends, the Twitter hashtags, Facebook posts, and Instagram stories. For the sake of Black lives everywhere.