Sometimes Just Being Black Is Not Enough!

The recent murder of Tyre Nichols by five Black police officers in Memphis Tennessee raises a number of issues that many of us in the Black communities have been aware of; but felt uncomfortable about bringing it to the fore. From the moment Black people started to interact with White people in the West we have had to navigate the nature and quality of that relationship. We came with the baggage left by the residual detritus of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and all of this has had a physical and psychological impact that has endured through generations, diminishing, and confusing our sense of who we are and what we are. Some of this relationship included feelings of inferiority and an overkeen sense to please in our new environment and sometimes at the expense of our own feelings of self worth.

Clearly Racism played its part in defining the rules of the battleground and in places like America the different approaches were personified in the civil right movement by Martin Luther King v Malcolm X type debates. You were either someone who believed in relatively peaceful negotiations or someone who believed that the envelope needed to be pushed at every opportunity where that was necessary as those in power very rarely give anything up unless they had to. However, back in that day, the racists saw very little difference between those two positions, but we in the Black communities were very aware of those who exchanged their compromises for gains that were an investment for personal benefits in the future.

Some of us believed that one of the major issues in our fight against Racism was the control that White people had over the many institutions that affected our welfare as Black people… the answer could be MORE BLACK PEOPLE!!... Whether it was not having enough Black teachers, or not being in control of our ownbusinesses, or not enough police officers or indeed not being in positions of power in any of the major institutions. Yes…we were convinced that one of the big tasks was to get more Black people involved and in positions of power. However, there was one major flaw…..there was not one homogenous definition of Blackness and why should a Black person make life easier for another Black person simply because they are Black….and indeed why should they even care about the needs of another Black person….and if so which Black people! We are living in times where politicians from Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) communities are the architects of some of the most racist policies and practices in a generation…and BME politicians of all political persuasions are simply spectators not wanting to besmirch their reputations…….So who do we trust?

America tried “Affirmative Action” which basically is a set of procedures designed to; eliminate unlawful discrimination and to give Black people access to opportunities previously denied. Essentially it was all about re-examining systems that created all White workplaces and environments and changing the criteria that created this imbalance. In the UK it was called Positive Action….but it didn’t really take off, and as in America many Black people in the UK felt that when they did get a job on merit they were accused of only getting it because of their colour….but in America it did change the racial balance of many institutions but in some cases did not necessarily mean that it benefitted the needs of Black people, especially if those Black recruits were just repeating the racist practices of the institutions they were permitted to be a part of.

So, one of the big questions to be asked is when Black people occupy positions in White organisations, how much do they have to compromise their opinions and behaviours, and how much do they absorb the issues of that institution that made it difficult for Black people in the first place. Some have suggested that when those five Black Police Officers attacked and killed Tyre Nichols at least it wasn’t about Race. Well….I would argue that Race was eminently significant as the organisation they worked for had a culture that did not value Black lives and they were part of that culture…although they were Black!.

There are many of us who have worked for and some who are still working for white organisations and some question whether we are and were doing enough to challenge many of the issues that adversely affect Black communities or were we deluding ourselves into thinking that we had a long-term plan, but how much were we the tools for the perpetuation of that Racism and consciously, sub consciously or unconsciously using our ethnicity to advance our position. I guess the only measure is whether we become too comfortable in the position we have found ourselves in and how much we have consciously parked issues of Race if we feel it may get in the way of our advancement. The only way I got around that was when I realised that many of the activities and actions that I was involved in were things that upset many in the white establishment, and sometimes other Black people in the system,….particularly when it became apparent that I was not looking for any advancement, promotions or trinkets and beads; as a reward for my compliance.

Over the years I have persistently argued that Stop & Search is the thin end of the wedge when determining the relationship between the police and Black communities. Some of us, in the UK, may look at the Tyre Nichols situation and think that it has nothing to do with us and believe that what happened to Tyre Nichols is a long way from the UK experience but let us not forget that this was a consequence of Stop & Search….. and the last time figures were publicly declared by Hampshire Constabulary, over 20% of those stopped and searched in Southampton were Black and Asian and most of those were Black people… why are we not compelling the police to publicly declare these figures?

Furthermore, I would argue that the practice of using Black agents or employees as a defence against accusations of Racism is one that needs some serious examination…..and another question is why should those Black agents and employees be compelled to represent the Black perspective.  The uncomfortable truth is that some people from BME communities benefitted from the White liberal guilt that Black Lives Matter stimulated; but how much did they fight for issues relevant to the needs of Black peoples… The Metropolitan Police stance on rooting out sexist and misogynistic police officers is deservedly underway….should we not have a similar desire to do the same with Racism….. and is there even a conversation going on regarding this!

The Killing of George Floyd did not have the impact we had hoped for…Let’s hope that the killing of Tyre Nichols takes us a little further down the road...