Over a year ago, the world witnessed swarms of crowds marching in protest against police brutality towards Black people, taking a stand against racism, shouting in resistance against the violence that is inflicted on Black and brown bodies every day. So many who, over the years, had dismissed or depreciated the severity of the issue could not look away from what was happening, since all of us were glued to our devices during a pandemic that forced us to stay inside. We had little else to indulge in (besides Netflix) except consuming traumatising content of Black people dying or being beaten and abused by the very same public servants who are meant to protect us.
Before I continue, I’d like to emphasise that the repeated images and footage people were callously sharing on their social media were part of the problem — I understand that some of you may have wanted to share what was going on to further draw attention to the reality many of us wish to turn away from, but those very narratives that were being spread were only hurting Black people and those who face this shit even more. They know what’s going on, they have known for time and they know it because it’s part of their lives. They have to prepare themselves every day for that possibility whenever they step out their front door. It is part of your privilege that you have liberty to feel innately unaffected by the violent content you share because you don’t live in fear of potentially experiencing it yourself.
If you are aspiring to be an ally, be mindful of what you are sharing and who you are exposing that content to. Black people do not need or want to see other Black people being beaten by the police and white folk. (Nor do they have an obligation to vocalise a response to what’s happening). Same goes for queer people not wanting to see a homophobe aggressively shouting or spewing abuse at another LGBTQI+ member, or a Muslim being shown videos displaying Islamophobic sentiment. Instead, a more conducive and effective position I’d encourage you to adopt is to be present for your Black friends and loved ones (that doesn’t include the Black people you haven’t spoken to in years or ones whose only engagement you have is following each other on social media — don’t write to them out of the blue. That “allyship” is capricious and completely vacuous). Check in on them. Listen to them. Allow them space if it’s needed but ensure they know you are there for support.
Like with many social issues, the energy diminished, and people chose to invest their time into restoring some semblance of normality back into their lives, which they can’t be blamed for. COVID-19 has screwed us all over, upside down, back to front and inside out. Personal priorities begin to take form and we focus our attention on the immediate demands of our lives (job retention, money, food, real life human interaction, our sanity…)
Although my own agenda in life is almost primarily driven by my vision of fully realising a utopian society in which racism, sexism, capitalism and every other negative -ism is eliminated for us to flourish as a harmonious and peaceful humanity — yes, a distant dream but I thrive off a challenge — the political and social activism that is deeply embedded in my heart needs to be put on the back burner once in a while. I honestly do not know how far more notable and impassioned figureheads do it, leading movements and marches, initiating petitions and bills to hit back at our racist, conservative governing bodies, educating and sharing knowledge and information across a plethora of media and multimedia platforms. The work of an activist is relentless, taxing and exhausting and I, as an emotional being, struggle to keep my feelings under control when the ominous dark clouds that obscure our path to equality seep back to hinder our progress.
What has bitten and stung me so profusely in light of the atrociously overt racism that the English football team’s Black players have had to endure is not that such vitriolic hatred proceeds to exist, or even that the politicians who spoke against the players’ taking the knee as a symbolic peaceful protest were quick to, hypocritically and not ironically, condemn the torrent of abusive comments, but that in spite of the tremendous difference these players have made to minorities, the impact of their visibility for young Black boys and kids alike and the incredible accomplishments they carry in their track record, all of that holds little to no value in the face of this endemic, pervasive problem entrenched in Britain’s culture and history.
Rashford is 23 years old. Saka is 19 years old. Sancho is 21 years old. They have barely scraped past puberty and already they’ve been hit by a barrage of some of the most despicable racist commentary the internet has seen on such a public scale. These boys, whose only duty to others was to play football and make England proud, have made immeasurable contributions to underprivileged and neglected members of British society. When the government didn’t provide the necessary supplements for children in low-income households to survive during the pandemic, Rashford raised £200 million to feed those in poverty. Still a teen, Saka’s presence in football and on a national as well as international stage has been a beacon of hope and inspiration for countless young, Black kids, and has uplifted and supported local communities. To promote and boost football opportunities, Sancho opened up new football pitches in suburban parts of London, which is no small feat.
Being born in a Black body matures one years beyond their age. The racism that is so deeply entrenched in the fabric of our society and the systems that prevail teaches those who are not white, from as early as an infant, that the world was not built for them. Any young white boy or man in the same position as these young Black men would have never been faced with the same degree of poison, especially pertaining to reducing them to their skin colour.
I see such beauty, so much beauty in each of their faces. I am not a football fan (never have been) but I understand the monumental role it has in the culture of Britain and what it means for so many. The mere representation of including 3 players of colour, simultaneously bringing the team to new heights by being as close to winning the cup as they did after decades since the last time they came as close, is enough to allow other Black boys to feel seen, to feel valued, to feel like they can also be part of a larger picture that has actively attempted to erase and exclude them from.
Most of us have been confined to our homes for the most part for nearly 2 years now and it has forced us to engage with technology, social media as well as ourselves on a deeper, more intuitive plane than ever before. Following George Floyd’s recorded murder, spreading like wildfire across the multitude of spheres within the internet, many had been emboldened to finally step up and be present for Black people, to commit to the work in attaining justice and combating internalised racism and unconscious bias that has been conditioned into our psyche for as long as we’ve been alive. We began purchasing all the necessary books to enhance our knowledge and understanding of racism, the ways we participate or are complicit in its operations, how we have benefitted from those very systems; we assessed our own intimate circles, from work to friends, in-laws to acquaintances, to address if we are inclusive enough where we need to be and how we can expand our periphery of cultures and outlook; we started to critique and develop the skills to call it out when we see it, building the courage to take accountability and speak up.
What we failed to observe amidst the internal work is that, externally, there has been a vast portion of society that’s refused to do the same. While I’d argue that in order for us to overturn and dismantle the structures that warrant racists and bigots to freely hurl abusive language and cement dangerous rhetoric, we need to be focusing in on ourselves and work our way out, but sadly, the outrageous, reprehensible backlash drenched in vitriolic racism is not yet eradicated and still permeates the minds of a great many.
If history lessons proceed to censor the truths of what the British Empire did in their colonies; if we do not police and serve tangible, punitive results for those who dare to harm and oppress, across both macro- and microcosms; if we are not transparent about our privileges and offer clarity in our agendas, and really be honest with ourselves and with each other about them, then the simple fact is racism will never be totally decimated.
The majority are unwilling or unaware that the conditions we live in can be questioned and challenged. We must critically examine the messages we are fed both within the public sphere as well as in our homes. “As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please…” (Noam Chomsky) What specifically dictates how we perceive our environment and the subjects within it? What shapes our optics of this world? What lessons do we learn, both verbal and nonverbal, regarding how we not only see others but how we see ourselves? Corporations, governments and news outlets are primary culprits in cultivating our behaviours and attitudes, enabling racism, sexism, homophobia etc to manifest.
The outpouring of love as retaliation on the defacement of Marcus Rashford’s mural in Manchester (and now more recently, the mural depicting all 3 players in Darlington) has been a glimmer of optimism in the abyss of obscene darkness. There is a great plenty who are disgusted by those who call themselves British and then would voluntarily, without anonymity, spit discriminatory, hateful things at innocent young men, and although I would argue that, unfortunately, part of being British is having an outstanding racist history that remains an integral part of the British identity even now, that that great plenty who object the current racism do not identify with that. Although, if we are to hold any grain of hope to be better and do better, we must take accountability and accept our reality — that racism is still very much alive and can no longer be swept under the rug in the predictable British fashion. Britain is no better than the US, or anywhere else as a matter of fact, so let’s stop pretending it is.
We collectively need to continue doing the work, continue calling it out and continue being present in conversations and discourses surrounding anti-racism and social justice. Just because it’s been a year since many of us took that first, fundamental step in affirmative action, it doesn’t lessen the work left for us to do. We are far from reaching a more tolerant, accepting and kind society, so that doesn’t mean we can switch off when we feel like being an ally and when we don’t. Black people cannot switch off from being Black, therefore cannot switch off when they encounter racism. I know it’s exhausting to be consistent but let’s at least endeavour to maintain vigilance in our efforts to stand in solidarity. Otherwise, we will never emerge from this chasm of polarity and cognitive dissonance that liberates the ignoramus from attacking the most vulnerable and the moderates from escaping accountability and adopting complicity.