Image above: Protesters in Columbus, Ohio
Bring back the Anti- Nazi League
I have huge admiration for the protesters who turned out this week to protest that Black Lives Matter, here and in the US, at some personal risk, because social distancing isn’t really possible on a demonstration.
When I went on marches with the Anti Nazi League in the early ’80s we felt we were getting somewhere, that we were effecting a change in society which would be permanent. Bigger fools us. Are we more aware of racism? Yes. Is overt racism unacceptable? Certainly. Are we any nearer to understanding the insidious way it pervades our culture in subtle and unspoken ways? No I think not.
The Windrush scandal and the way in which Black women MPs are constantly mistaken for each other are recent examples of how Black people are still undermined and undervalued. When Megan Markle said she felt the victim of racism white people were confused. “I haven’t personally read anything that I could say was based on racism” said ITV This Morning presenter Philip Schofield. “What media have you been watching, what papers have you been reading?” asked his disbelieving studio guest, lawyer Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu.
When a white police officer kneels on the neck of a Black man until he dies, that we can understand as murder and anyone with any scintilla of morality is enraged. When America erupts in protest and social media is flooded with videos images of police firing rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protesters, shoving people over and dragging them out of cars with their hands up, we watch appalled, fearful and helpless.
But let us not think that all in our garden is rosy, because it isn’t. The Anti Nazi League was full of white middle class students protesting racism. And that is what needs to happen again. We need to own the problem of racism.
James Corden gave a very moving introduction to his programme the Late, Late Show earlier this week, which absolutely sums up how I feel about what’s going on in the States, and here.
“White people cannot just say any more ‘Yeah, I’m not racist’ and think that that’s enough, because it’s not. It’s not enough, because make no mistake, this is our problem to solve.”
It made me cry actually. If you haven’t seen it, take a couple of minutes to watch it.
Transcript of James Corden’s introduction
We usually start with a segment called ‘three things to cheer you up’. I think it’s fair to say that we don’t have three things to cheer you up today.
As you’ll all know, on Monday of last week a black man named George Floyd was murdered by the excessive force of the police. If it was a one-off event it would be an appalling, horrific tragedy that should shake all of us to our core, yet this was the latest in a string of killings of unarmed Black citizens by white people. Breonna Taylor was shot by police in her own home. Ahmaud Arbery was going for a jog when he was shot and killed by two men. And sadly there are so many more victims that I could mention.
I’ve been struggling all weekend wondering what to say to you here tonight, because who needs my opinion? Why is my voice relevant? Like, there is not one person in the world who woke up this morning and thought ‘I need to know what James Corden thinks about all of this’. Like, surely this is a time for me to listen, not talk. And then I realized that that’s part of the problem. People like me have to speak up. And to be clear I’m not talking about late night hosts or people who are fortunate, like I am, to have a platform. I’m talking about white people.
White people cannot just say any more ‘Yeah, I’m not racist and think that that’s enough, because it’s not. It’s not enough, because make no mistake, this is our problem to solve. How can the Black community dismantle a problem that they didn’t create?
This weekend we saw many peaceful protesters demanding an end to the murder of Black Americans, demanding the prosecution of police officers who have killed, demanding votes for change, demanding justice. And we saw anger, and of course people are angry. Black Americans have spent hundreds of years desperately making the case for their own humanity and have been relentlessly and often brutally silenced.
And so here we are. Protests across America. These protests, they have to result in change. Because when athletes took the knee peacefully at a football game, the Vice President stood up and walked out of that stadium rather than see that protest. Now a policeman takes a knee to a man’s neck and our leadership hide in a bunker rather than see this protest. And all of this is happening while we are still experiencing the horrors of this pandemic; a pandemic which saw more Black and brown people suffer from the disease yet have less access to healthcare that they needed. And remember it’s those same people who make up a higher percentage of the essential workers helping all of us during this health crisis. So they help society more, but they get helped less. We shouldn’t be just trying to understand the rage, we should feel the rage.
No one wants to see destruction in their cities, it’s frightening and it is hard to watch. But don’t let that distract you from the message of the protesters, who have voices that need to be heard right now. Because the things white people associate with justice, health and safety are often the very opposite for Black and brown people. While white people can generally trust the police to protect and serve them, for Black communities the police represent a painful past of enforcing overtly racist laws such as segregation and the presence of racial inequality, racial profiling, over policing of communities of colour and most glaringly, the use of force on Black citizens – something which is too frequent, often deadly and historically without consequence.
As a white man I am afforded all kinds of privileges as the result of a system that has been built on injustice. I know that I can never truly understand the pain and the fear that so many Black Americans are forced to endure to simply live. But I do know that it’s imperative that those of us with privilege stand alongside the oppressed. To hear, to listen, to take time to be educated and to use our platforms to amplify their voices. But as I said at the start I feel hopeless. I don’t have the answers. I don’t. I have nothing to offer. But I know that I want to do more. I want to learn more and let that be a start.