Reflections of a Shopkeeper - Black Lives Matter - 6 June 2020

Posted by Louise Humpington on


Oh the wonderful world of Facebook land. Where 'evidence' dredged from an out of context Google search is a rather shady Kingpin, and where every Tom, Dick and Karen thinks that their right to put words on a screen 'entitles' them to spew racist pseudo-intellectual BS under the supposed banner of free speech.

I've found this week mentally and emotionally exhausting and so I cannot even begin to imagine the drain that my BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) siblings have faced.

But I have also been so proud to see how many people have listened to the calls of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement to stand up and make noise, whether as a BIPOC or as an ally. To refuse to pass over the snide comments or the overtly racist ones. To refuse to allow calls of 'but all lives matter' or 'every life is important' to drown out the shouts of 'Black Lives Matter'.

I don't know how many times I have had to say: "No one has said that any life is more important than another." Supporting the Black Lives Matter movement doesn't mean that you are denying the importance of any other life or marginalised group. But as a person cloaked in white privilege it does mean that you don't get to take the moral highground on how others vent their anger and frustration, following hundreds of years of oppression and systemic racial abuse.

You don't get to decide how people choose to raise their voices. The manner in which people protest. You don't get to judge. You don't get to tut and sneer that 'they' are 'hurting their own cause' because 'they' haven't protested politely whilst respecting social distancing.

Until you have walked a day in the life of someone who lives every day oppressed by the colour of their skin, where hundreds of years have been dedicated to shaming, subjegating and silencing your voice and those of your ancestors, where governments have systemically attacked and contrived to create fear based on skin colour. Where lives have been lost, broken and repeatedly abused, you are not in a position to dictate what is 'appropriate' as a response.

The prize for the most obnoxious, entitled and objectionable comment I came across this week (following a whole thread of self congratulatory back slapping between two people who refused to recognise their white privilege because they supported the LGBTQIA+ movement, and then deleted all the comments because calling them out for their misplaced 'outrage' didn't fit their entitled and tone deaf narrative) was this: "I think we should be saying 'black lives matter as well'".

My response was not polite and I got told off for using 'bad language' (!) but here it is in full:

"Black lives as well? As an extra? Or an after thought? Are you actually fucking kidding me. That's some serious othering going on there. That other marginalised groups also suffer oppression is absolutely no reason at all to insist that BIPOC should have to get in line, or join the team, or deny them their space to be angry and demand justice for hundreds of years of targeted oppression. They have a right to speak for themselves on the issues that affect them in a space that they can call their own. Why should their oppression be bundled up with every other form of social injustice? Everyone does deserve equality. Love is love. Life is life. All true. But right now irrelevant to this campaign. You don't hose down every house in the street when one house is on fire. You stand together and shine a spotlight on that house. You help to eradicate those flames. You don't stand and watch and then chat shite about how the house up the road also had a fire once. BIPOC are sick of being marginalised and white people insisting that they step in line and do it their way, the right way, the sensible way, the quiet way, the organised way, the white way. And suggesting that they do is utterly representative of precisely why I railed against this post in the first place. Stand as an ally or step back. I'm actually too angry about this thread to engage any further so I'm out. And preempting any wails of protest that it wasn't what you meant? Then don't bloody say it. If you don't know how to engage as an ally educate yourself and learn. This is not it."

A few days later I am still reflecting on this altercation. I am still processing how someone who apparently supports one marginalised group can't see how homogenising all social justice causes into a single convenient pot is so fundamentally offensive. It beggers belief really. Like some horrendous role call of prejudice and oppression: OK, will all the marginalised individuals in the room please go and stand in the corner together. Form an orderly, socially distanced queue please and we'll give you all a post it note that you can write your concerns on. Then we'll pin them on a big wall, pat ourselves on the back for giving you a voice, and ask you to go back to your day to day lives. And don't forget to be quiet on the way out. We don't want to disturb the neighbours.'

So what is the point of my rant? My diatribe. I guess that it is this. When anger and hurt manifest themselves, particularly off the back of hundreds of years of trauma it is not going to be pretty. And nor should it. Is it any wonder that after weeks of isolation where people are at boiling point already, this justified collective grief has now tipped over into an outpouring of rage and anger? Protesting quietly and sensibly and politely hasn't achieved very much so far despite the best efforts of civil activists over centuries.

My BA dissertation was on whether civil disobedience could ever be morally justified, and as a young, naiive philosophy student I concluded that if you were following strict ethical guidelines that no it couldn't where it resulted in violence and harm. But this isn't about following codes of conduct or philosophical principles. It's about redressing an imbalance in society which costs lives, again and again and again and again.

The suffragettes knew that. They knew that doing it the nice way wouldn't get them very far. But do you hear rounded condemnation of their approach? Does history paint them as anarchists, arsonists, terrorists or worse? Do we look back and say that the end didn't justify the means? No. We don't. We applaud them. We rever them. We commend them for their bravery and sacrifice. What's the difference? Why is this social justice cause not worthy in the same way? Precisely because of the reason people are protesting in the first place. Systemic racism.

The leaders of the suffragette protests were nice, white, middle and upper class women. So we allow them their nasty, violent, direct action campaign and justify it because it was the only way to make the men at the time listen. What hypocrisy is now being spouted? Society hasn't been listening to the voices of BIPOC for generations and yet apparently we expect a nice sanitary version of dissent.

I saw an excellent video this week by activist Kimberly Jones in which she tries to address this. She talks about the social contract which exists to hold society together and how we as a society have repeatedly breached that contract and allowed it to happen. As a former litigator I can engage with that language.

Now is the time for reparations. For giving a judgment that recognises those breaches of contract and the causal link to the damages due. It's well worth watching and a fitting conclusion to this piece which, quite rightly, ends with her words not mine.

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