‘When Black Lives Matter All Lives Will Matter’
By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 22 September 2020
Ann Phoenix, Afiya Amesu, Issy Naylor and Kafi Zafar – a teacher and three students discuss the BLM movement in a two-part blog.
The publicity following the death of George Floyd after the white policeman Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck galvanised support for the Black Lives Matter movement. BLM and the attention it has garnered over the last few months has thrown light on the ongoing discrimination and systemic racism that black people continue to face.
Alongside the unprecedented global protests against racism, there seems a new appetite to understand the specificities and ubiquity of anti-black racism and its subtle, every-day materialisations as well as its murderous manifestations. That quest for understanding has seen an extraordinary outpouring of testimonies from black and mixed-parentage people, telling stories of events and day to day experiences that have generally been reserved for insider conversations on microaggressions and discrimination.
It is evident in institutions such as the media and universities that both like to see themselves as progressive but are repeatedly shown to reproduce social inequalities. A crucial issue is how to ensure that current debates and disagreements do not give way to life as normal but lead to real change in the direction of social justice.
In pursuit of that aim, we came together across socially constructed racialised and ethnicised boundaries and across generations as students and lecturer. We aim to put on the agenda issues that have struck us as important from Black Lives Matter and that we consider need to be central to future policies and practices. Together, we argue in two blog posts for continuing to engage in difficult conversations, making a stand against systemic racism, recognising the multiplicity of racisms and thinking through what decolonising means for the nation, not just for education.
Using your voices, using your ears
The BLM movement has called upon all those who believe that ‘Black Lives Matter’ to make a stand in their own spheres of influence to speak about the struggles black people routinely face. Yet, personal experiences and stories shared by colleagues and peers show that a strange nervousness descends and cloaks some individuals when the topic of ‘race’ is raised, as if the word ‘black’ is taboo or offensive. All too often people shy away from discussions concerning oppression and prejudice because they feel uncomfortable and unnerved. Now, however, on a local, national and global level, there is growing recognition that this can no longer be the case. Through this movement we have all been reminded of the necessity to speak out against injustice and listen to previously unheard calls.
We are living in unprecedented times and we must, in such pivotal moments, reflect on our worldview and everyday practices in their social contexts. This reflection can only occur through candid and open conversations. Recently we have been involved in such conversations with people including close friends and university academics. These have caused us to reflect deeply on the power of narrative, of sharing rarely spoken stories with people who stand in different power relations to us. We have, for example, had the experience of explaining to friends feeling apprehensive and fearful about a group holiday in a notoriously racist country chosen by the group. Equally difficult was telling an old school Principal about micro-aggressions experienced during secondary school and the lack of diversity provided in the school curriculum.
When speaking with university lecturers, we have explained the importance of creating an environment made genuinely inclusive through financial provision, mentoring and events targeted at black students. Each of these audiences was keen to hear black people’s experiences and provided spaces for the sharing of such stories. Conversations like these, where black voices are given space and listened to with humility and respect, can be powerful and bridge social differences. It is, however, important to remember that it takes work, courage and re-engagement with pain to tell insider stories of black experience while recognising how difficult it is for listeners to hear. Change is long overdue, and it will only come through ongoing commitments to speak and to listen across differences.
Ann Phoenix is Professor of Psychosocial Studies, Thomas Coram Research Unit, Social Research Institute and Kerstin Hesselgren Visiting Professor at Umea University, Sweden. Issy Naylor and Kafi Zafar completed the BSc in Social Sciences at UCL in 2020. Afiya Amesu has just graduated from UCL Laws.
Part 2 of this post will appear shortly.
Photo: Jenny Salita via Creative Commons