Bill Acharjee, Black Members’ Officer, shares his thoughts and recommendations for those becoming more active in the anti-racist movement.
“We All Stand Together” (also known as the Frog Chorus) was one of my favourite songs from childhood, it was written by Paul McCartney in the early 80’s about Rupert Bear who stumbles across a lake filled with frogs singing majestically, and every time I hear that song it takes me back to those early years’ when life felt so innocent and simple (albeit under the regime of the ‘iron lady’). Fast-forward a few decades ‘innocent’ and ‘simple’ regrettably are words that feel more like a bygone era.
On 25th May 2020, we saw the world shaken by the tragic news of George Floyd an African American man brutally killed by white police officers during an arrest in Minneapolis, United States in spite of the fact that police brutality, as well as prejudice and discrimination, against Black people is a pandemic that has plagued society since time began! However, something that was not expected was the unprecedented and truly overwhelming scale of response from people of all walks of life showing solidarity through peaceful protests, campaigns to decolonise education curriculums and even marches to remove statues that represent or associated with injustices of the past such as slavery and imperialism. I cannot recall a time when an anti-racist movement has been so prominent in society with activities being held on and off-line globally on what seems to be a daily basis. Not forgetting the number of corporations putting out statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, like ice-cream makers Ben & Jerry’s who stated: “We Must Dismantle White Supremacy – Silence is NOT an Option!”
Sadly, with every positive step change and engagement from the social justice groups facilitating anti-racists events the far-right are always close to follow. On 13th June 2020 right-wing activists took over Parliament Square in London and pelted mounted police with bottles, cans and smoke canisters as well as displaying disgraceful behaviour (urinating on memorial plaques). Surprisingly, Boris Johnson even denounced these vulgar acts as “racist thuggery”. Could this mean that real change is upon us?
Following on from these events, I have been inundated with responses and queries from white friends and colleagues asking me “What is racism?” or “What should I do to stop racism?” and “How can I help?” My initial reaction at being asked these questions, I felt quite offended but also bewildered at the same time because as Black members we are faced with pockets of prejudice and discrimination from the moment we wake up in the morning and switch on the TV or radio, pick up a magazine or read a book, walk into a shop or into our respective places of work because we do not see people of colour being represented within these outlets or being offered the same levels of opportunities as our white counterparts, but instead we are exposed to a white-washed world which runs throughout the fabric of the society that we are in. Does this mean my white friends and colleagues are colour blind or oblivious to these simple facts, hence the reason why they asked those questions?
Whatever the reason, I felt compelled to try and articulate some simple steps that could be easily digested and considered by individuals who may be unaware of some of the disparities that exist:
- Listen to what Black members are saying and feeling – check in on your Black friends, family and colleagues and ask them if they are ok. If they are experiencing difficulties at home, neighbourhood or workplace you may be able to offer a helping hand. Black members are often told that racism doesn’t exist or when challenging a racist comment they are told to stop using the ‘race card’ all of which have a detrimental impact on our mental health.
- Boost the voices of Black people – on social media, share threads, posts with donation links and resources and ways to support. Become an ally and support Black causes and campaigns like ‘Black Lives Matter’. Be part of the solution and not problem.
- Educate yourself – do your own research and try not to ask or expect Black people to educate you. Read relevant books, especially non-fiction books, by Black authors. Buy them from independent bookshops or borrow them from your local library.
- Acknowledge your privilege – understand that you have ‘white privilege’ and think about how you can use this privilege to make change and educate others in your network. This may not be an easy topic but start by educating yourself and reading on the topic.
- Speak up and challenge racism – if you hear people making racist comments, call them out. It’s important to be proactively anti-racist and not just non-racist. Ask your employer if they offer ‘Bystander Intervention’ training. If they don’t, encourage them to consider it as part of their equality and diversity training provisions.
- Keep the conversation flowing with other white people – if you have friends or family who take a different stance on these issues, now is the time to have a hard conversation with them and ask them to rethink their views. Now is also the time to have conversations with other like-minded allies. Talk about how you can do better and discuss what you can do to help and coordinate your efforts.
- Take action and donate – you may not be able to attend a protest due to COVID-19, but you can do other things. For example, contact your MP to ask them about what they are doing to combat racism. Consider making donations to causes closer to home or Black charities, or even find and support local Black-owned businesses.
Remember racism, prejudice and discrimination against Black members is an unlawful act (Race Relations Act 1976), which means racists can be prosecuted!
This is certainly not an easy subject matter to discuss as there are far too many complexities to address and consider, which means that it cannot be easily resolved overnight. However, I feel that it is more prevalent now more than ever to stand in solidarity with our Black members, and the best approach that we can all take to fight the injustice that we are seeing each day is to simply follow the sentiments of the Frog Chorus;
“We All Stand Together!”
- Bystander Intervention Tips and Strategies
- “How to be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X.Kendi
- “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Renie Eddo-Lodge (from Hive.co.uk)
Written by Bill Acharjee, UNISON Southampton District Black Members’ Officer