I have not known what to write or how to write it. I do not know whether it is time for people like me to shut up and listen or to stand and speak as an ally. My words and my heart have been paralysed by the death of George Floyd.
I believe that to write about race, you must first locate yourself within the conversation. I am mixed-race, but I enjoy white privilege. I have never wondered whether I didn’t get a job because of the colour of my skin. I have never experienced someone crossing the road in fear of my blackness. I do not fear the police because of a legacy of being targeted. No one is going to call the cops crying hysterically about African Americans if I ask them to put their dog on a leash. I do not worry about where I go jogging.
If I paid for something with a counterfeit note, the likelihood is that I would have a polite conversation with a police officer asking where I got it.
The colour of my skin means that I would not end up with that officer’s knee on my neck.
I come from a place where white privilege also equates to financial privilege. During the time of Coronavirus, I never had to defy a stay at home order because I didn’t have a home.
I will never experience the oppression that is the reality for my black friends and family.
So, all I can offer is my allyship. A place for my black friends to feel accepted and loved in and for their blackness. I can also offer my whiteness as a catalyst for action. I think that, while the time for listening and learning is still here and will forever continue, the time for silence is past. If you are white and claim to be an ally, you must be actively anti-racist. Not just in the positing of a black square or indeed in the writing of a blog. White people, we must realise that racism is a problem that originates from us. We are the ones with the problem, and we are the ones who have to stop it.
My Facebook has become a bit of an echo-chamber, but even so I’ve seen All Lives Matter. STOP SAYING THIS. If you don’t understand the history of how that phrase has been weaponised against the black community, learn about it. BLACK LIVES MATTER is the only hashtag that is acceptable here.
Don’t stop at empathy.
Write to your MP. Right now, the UK sells anti-riot gear to the US. They have proved themselves incapable of using it and we should stop selling it to them.
We must not pretend this is an American problem and we must force our politicians to address the structural inhumanity in UK society that makes our BAME citizens more susceptible to coronavirus, police brutality and poverty.
I appreciate that people have different levels of need and concerns during the pandemic, but if you can go to a protest, go to one. Kneel in front of your door if you can’t. Feeling embarrassed is better than not being able to breathe. Call out racism where you see it. Ask the people you work with why there aren’t more black people working with you. My theatre family, when we start up again, don’t agree to be in an all-white cast. This should not be a big ask. Entertainment is not documentary. If we can pay some money, go into a highly stylised building, see a curtain rise, eat an ice cream and watch people pretending to be other people, we can cope with a black female Hamlet.
We need to hold our institutions to higher standards. Most police officers are good officers, it’s true, but we are using that as an excuse to stifle change in an institution that needs to change. Chris Rock and Marlon James point out that our society has no room for a bad pilot. No room for a bad paramedic. There should be no room for a bad police officer.
Lastly we need to learn that while the ultimate expression of racism is in the video of George Floyd being murdered by police officers, racism starts in other places. It starts with saying ‘I’m not into black people.’ It starts with stop and search tactics. It starts with ‘what a funny name.’ It starts with the words we choose and the words we allow to remain unchallenged.
Time to stand up and say: No More.
Black Lives Matter.
Image credit: Black Lives Matter protest,
Tooting, South London
June 6, 2020
Jonathan Chambers is a Jamaican writer and actor living in London.