As we saw in Newbury this weekend, a lot of young people are speaking out about the global Black Lives Matter movement and racism within the UK. Unfortunately they are often met with patronising replies along the lines of “Britain is no longer racist, try growing up in the 70s” or “I’ve never seen any racism in Newbury”.
The response tends to be – ‘look how far we’ve come from having the black and white minstrels on prime time telly, black and minority ethnic people can now do whatever they set their sights on – we are much more tolerant!’.
Yesterday at the ‘Take a stand where you stand – kneel with us in solidarity’ event in Newbury’s Victoria park, during a powerful speech, Waheeda Soomro spoke about the word “tolerance” and the implications of the word. She spoke of not wanting to just be tolerated (put up with) she wants to be celebrated and accepted – she wants equal opportunities. I urge those of you who no longer think we have a racism problem in the UK, to think about this – have you only gone as far as to tolerate? Because if so, I would say: ‘It’s not enough to say you aren’t racist, you must be anti-racist’.
We must go further than just tolerating. We must be active in changing the lived realities of those within our community.
Moreover, clearly very little was done in the 70s to condemn public displays of racism like the black and white minstrel show. When I was growing up in the 2000s, we still had examples of blackface and racialised stereotypes on our TVs (Come Fly with Me is one such example) and these stereotypes will have been just as damaging. Despite us living in a “tolerant” society, they somehow became normalised and slipped through, so that many people saw this as okay. In reality, these shows were completely distasteful, just flat-out racist and no different to the shows of the 70s, just hidden behind a curtain of acceptable comedy created by a band of white males (some females) who had never thought about the very real implications of their unfunny jokes.
Furthermore, if things have been moving forward in the UK then why is it that it is only now that we are having a sudden awakening of and conversation about Britain’s colonial past? How is it that the statue of Edward Colston stood proud in Bristol without any acknowledgement of the atrocities of his role in the slave trade? People have been campaigning for years for its removal but because “Britain has moved on” no one was listening. There is no way you can argue that a country that still celebrates so much of its colonial history in buildings, statues, literature, institutions etc is no longer racist. Britain has always been racist, it’s just that now many people are slowly beginning to listen to the critiques made by black and brown people which have been there all along, and help bring this discussion to the foreground.
At yesterday’s protest in the park, and at Friday’s march through town from the clock tower to the market square, there were many speakers still of school age who all eloquently relayed very real stories of their experiences of racism growing up in West Berkshire, especially in schools.
I urge those of you who believe racism is a thing of the past to listen to those within our community who are telling us otherwise – their stories are so important if we want move forward. I would recommend checking out the @BLMUK_Newbury Instagram page and taking the time to listen to many of these examples of experiences of racism growing up or living in Newbury. If we claim to care about those in our community who have experienced discrimination, we owe it to them to listen.
Newbury CLP member