It almost seems silly to start this blog by saying today is the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, surely everyone in the world knows that, even those who don’t see the significance of it, or care to mark it in any way. That’s because it’s fair to say that pretty much all of us have been affected in some way by the way George was taken from this world a year ago. So much has happened in the space of 365 days.
As Chair of Anti Racist Cumbria, I have struggled as to how to write this blog, how to mark this day. It’s tough. I have many emotions about it. George’s murder ignited a flame, like the Olympic torch being carried around the world but at such a pace, it was almost impossible to keep up. Images of a global uprising against racism everywhere you looked, making the hair stand up on the back of my neck and bringing tears to my eyes.
It feels wrong to say that so many good things have come about as a result of George’s death. I mean the man died for goodness sake and in the most horrific way. At the hands of a cold and cruel police officer who knew (although ultimately, to date at least, he was proved wrong) he would get away with it. George is dead. He left people behind who loved him and will forever grieve for him. That is not and can never be a good thing.
But there was a good thing; the world woke up. For such a long time we were sleeping, complacent, managing, getting on with it, doing our best, making it all okay. And then George was murdered and we saw the video. We witnessed the absolute lack of care for a human being, the lack of recognition that he was a human being, and it was like the fog lifted, our eyes widened in horror and disbelief and whatever drug had kept us comatosed and docile was shocked out of our systems. And we began to galvanise.
As communities, we’ve galvanised before. Many many times. But this time was different. The marches, the protests, the rallies and the calls for justice became a global cry, an international outpouring that this had to stop. The need for change became more powerful, almost tangible and it felt like it was everywhere, even amongst those who didn’t and still don’t want it.
As a result, this last year has had a huge impact. You only need to google to see endless lists of online articles and information about the affect George’s death has had. And not just in America. Right here in the UK, symbols of slavery in many cities and towns are being addressed with committees, boards and members of our communities looking at how we remove statues and rename streets with slavery connections; museums are accepting repatriation is long overdue; you cannot watch the BBC on any given night without a programme that either directly or indirectly includes Black visibility; Netflix has a whole Black Lives Matter channel; our sporting celebrities are speaking out – from football to cricket and everything in between; those in the music industry are voicing the racism they have faced for many years and taking a stance in recognition of the role they can play with their influence; many of the more traditional sectors like ballet and theatre are being held to account; the big funding organisations have turned up the dial on grassroots and revamped their processes to get funds to Black and Brown organisations more quickly and with less hoops to jump through; conversations are everywhere and there isn’t a sector in the UK that hasn’t realised that racism has to be included on its agenda.
There can be no doubt that these changes will have a significant long-term impact for future generations. And there is no sign of the ground swell ceasing. Many would have us believe it really all was just ‘a moment’ but when you look at what’s been achieved and what is still happening every day, it is clear that is not the case. No one doubts there is still a long way to go. Our government is still resisting any real change for our education system which is one of the most important, if not the most important, elements for transforming the very culture of our society. Things like the Sewell report, although not yet having much impact, will have ripples that will ultimately impact negatively on everything that has been achieved so far and the government’s steady removal of our democratic rights will only serve to continue the oppression of our most disadvantaged groups.
And that’s where George’s death has had the biggest impact of all, because what has come with all this change, is strategy. This is more than outcry, more than rage, once the tears had dried, we began to strategise. And not only are we strategising, we’re bracing and preparing ourselves better for what the consequences of strategising will mean; in other words, we were learning lessons from past mass galvanisations and acting on them.
Strategising has become the central focus in the fight against racism. Without it, we cannot tear down a system that enables racism to continue, whose interests it is in for racism to continue. When we were all sleeping and making it all okay, what we were really doing was allowing those systems to fool us into thinking multiculturalism, diversity, inclusion and equality were the keys to a fairer society. We were allowing the system to keep diverting us away from anti-racism, so that the status quo of power could stay exactly the same. By shifting the focus, with a clear strategy, we not only put the issue of racism firmly back on the agenda, but we start to push back against a system that has always wanted us to fail.
When Anti Racist Cumbria started, we asked ourselves what was our purpose, what did we want to achieve and what would did we need to do to get there. In other words, we made a plan. Since doing so, we have had to be many things, like being agile, recognising and grabbing opportunities, being resourceful, or making compromises and sacrifices. It’s been a rollercoaster and there have been many ups and downs. We’ve hit major challenges like the said Sewell report and had great successes like our 50 school Ambassadors. You only need to look back over our social posts, our website and our quarterly newsletters to see how far we’ve come and the work we have been doing, so we won’t reiterate it here again, but here’s just some of the impact of George’s death has had right here in Cumbria.
“An organisation like Anti Racist Cumbria would have made such a difference to me when I was growing up here. I cannot tell you how important it is for me to know you are here for me and my kids”
BLACK PARENT OF YOUNG BLACK KIDS ON OUR ANIMATED FUTURES PROJECT
Attended my first Anti Racist Cumbria event today. Great learning for me on my journey in becoming anti-racist. I need to get more comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. Thank you to all panel members and organisers. Safe space to start to think and work through next steps. Encourage people to attend future events.
WHITE MALE ATTENDEE AT THE BUT I’M NOT RACIST EVENT
I was writing some new resources which will potentially be used by hundreds of schools for GCSE preparation. I had a draft list of poems to use I had worked on before I had been to an Anti Racist Cumbria presentation. I revisited the list afterwards and decided I could do better. Now the resources make the most of the diversity in our selection and have 50% authors who are black and and 50% female. The established literary canon is obviously dominated by white men, so this approach requires some thought. It was also important to me that not all poems were ‘about’ being marginalised, although there are some superb poems in the selection on this.”
WHITE CUMBRIAN WORKING FOR A NATIONAL SCHOOLS POETRY ORGANISATION
“George’s murder made me question things in ways I hadn’t before. I wish he hadn’t had to die to make me realise things I should have been seeing before but there was something about the visceral inhumanity of his murder that flicked a switch in my head. Anti Racist Cumbria made me realise that the more I questioned the more I would learn. And the more I did this, the more I realised the answer was that I couldn’t now knowingly keep quiet about other injustices, I couldn’t now knowingly believe these were individual incidents, the whole structure of racism became clear. I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, I choose to speak up, I choose to stand up, I choose to stand shoulder to shoulder.”
WHITE MEMBER OF ANTI RACIST CUMBRIA
“Anti Racist Cumbria has given me the confidence to speak out and bring my truth and my authentic self and not feel ashamed or embarrassed to do so”
BROWN MEMBER OF ANTI RACIST CUMBRIA
“As a result of reading Don’t Touch my Hair (recommended by Anti Racist Cumbria), we completely transformed how we teach the ‘haircare’ lesson in a puberty topic for Y7s earlier in the term. It made us reflect that most PSHE resources on hair care during puberty teach to white pupils – as if all pupils have straight hair – there’s no real distinction for hair care for different hair types (or indeed skin colours when thinking about how hormones change skin during puberty). I had to search really hard to find images showing the different hair types that didn’t show only white people with naturally straight hair. Thank you for making us think”
CUMBRIAN SCHOOL TEACHER
“Anti Racist Cumbria has helped me reconnect with the place I grew up. I had so many unhappy memories about the racism I suffered and there was little reason for me to come back. Being a part of this organisation has changed all that. It’s been cathartic and wonderful”
BLACK MEMBER OF ANTI RACIST CUMBRIA
“You are changing lives and all I can do is say THANK YOU. It seems nothing in comparison to what you have given us.”
PARENT OF A BLACK CUMBRIAN PUPIL
Watching George Floyd’s murder hit me so hard, I remember feeling despair, pain and anger watching the video of someone being brutally murdered in a racist attack. I thought to myself what have I done so far to make a real difference and what more can I do? I decided that I needed to do more, read more, listen more and say more against racism! I’m forever grateful to have become a member of Anti Racist Cumbria. They have helped me understand better, bringing me along in educating me and including me in trying to make a difference. It’s impacted me to such an extent that I now have decided to start a career in diversity and inclusion. I continue to learn about anti-racism every day and realise that I will never stop learning.
WHITE MEMBER OF ANTI RACIST CUMBRIA
Feedback like all the above is just one impact of the changes we are seeing. Add to that the requests for help which we receive almost on a daily basis. From organisations wanting advice, guidance, “training” on issues ranging from an exhibition in a museum to how to promote and manage Black visibility in an authentic and honest marketing campaign. Parents contact us from all over the county about our Ambassador work and the racism their children have been subjected to, asking for our help. As a result, we’ve funded counselling for parents and young people and recruited more schools to our Ambassador programme. We’ve had requests for mentorship of young Black boys, which we’ve been able to provide via our Youth Mentor and Animated Futures project and even been asked to introduce Saturday schools on Black History along with workshops on Black hair for parents who are White. We’ve helped raise awareness on situations like the volcano in St Vincent to what it’s like to be a Muslim in Cumbria during Eid. We receive messages of gratitude for being bold enough to talk about Palestine and Israel and to not shy away from our unwavering support of refugees. In the last week alone, we have received almost 20 applications to become a member of our organisation. And it’s not just Black and Brown people who are part of this incredible movement, we have people of all colours, especially White British people who are a part of Anti Racist Cumbria and more joining every day.
It’s not easy this burning work, far from it, it can be stressful and sometimes sad, much of what we hear and see is traumatic and hard to listen to. We have to be disciplined with our own selfcare especially as a volunteer organisation, but to be honest everyone just wishes they could do more, give more, change more. If anything I feel I need to protect our volunteers from giving too much.
This is George’s legacy. And what a legacy. We are proud to be his voice and be a part of this change. We know our work is far from done. We are really only just at the beginning. But George and all those others who have died at the hands of our oppressors, from Breonna Taylor to our ancestors who were enslaved, have paved the way for change and their deaths will not be in vain.
Rest in Eternal Peace George Floyd