On May 25th 2020, George Floyd, an unarmed African American, was killed by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis.
The killing of George Floyd has sparked protest across the globe, including here in Jersey. At the beginning of June, hundreds of islands gathered in People’s Park for a peaceful protest where they knelt for George Floyd and racial justice.
The demonstration was organised to show solidarity with the global Black Lives Matter movement. "We kneel in solidarity with those who are expressing their hurt and anger towards the racism experienced by America's black community. We join them in demanding better of ourselves and our institutions. In the age of information, ignorance is no longer an excuse." - Nicola Twiston Davies and Jude Kriwald, organisers
The kneel was followed by speeches from activists, politicians and members of the black community.
Imagine your niece coming home from school telling you that her friend said, ‘there’s too many black people in this school now.’ Imagine walking in a local bookshop and the shopkeeper says, ‘excuse me miss, is it illegal in Jersey to call you the N-word?’ I still see this individual to this day.
We live in a global world; we are global citizen. Covid-19 has spread because we are global citizens. We cannot eat imported avocados from America and ignore Americas problems. We cannot wear diamonds from Zimbabwe, eat cocoa from Ivory Coast and import labour from Kenya and ignore their problems.
To Jersey’s senior leaders, our young have organised this gathering because they are hurt and embarrassed by the injustices, discrepancies in our society – we have to support them. To Jersey’s senior leaders, our young people have come to say ‘we see you, your actions, the system has to change it is not working.’ The underlying discrimination, systematic and institutional racism is not only in America but in Jersey as well. And I know this hurts to hear, but it’s the truth.
To Jersey’s senior leaders, we want strong follow up. Training, guidelines, policies, and procedures to investigate racism and discrimination in workplaces, schools, and the wider community. It starts by acknowledging the victim. A lot of time we hear, and we are told, ‘It’s a difficult one to prove.’ Please do not hide behind the facade of it being hard. I personally feel the truth is no one is willing to give this their full attention, funding, and strong support for investigative procedures to be put in place. Hiding behind the complexity of setting these procedures, is that not under current discrimination? I am challenging all audit firms, investment companies and banks in Jersey to give equal pay to our brothers and sisters you are employing straight from Africa. Again, you hide behind the negotiation tactics and say everyone is free to negotiate their pay. How can I negotiate on a lifestyle I have never lived?
To the companies operating in developing countries, you have a moral duty to improve those areas, you are employing their locals - including growing their executives in the same way Jersey inspires to grow their own business leaders. Please set up your companies to fully give back to those communities you are doing business from.
Let’s support our young people. Let’s empower them. They are the future ministers and representatives of tomorrow. Their activism has to be supported for them to keep fighting for what is right. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for supporting all black, Asian and minority ethnics in Jersey and around the world. Please do not let the memory of Mr Floyd be in vain. Let it be the start of having the difficult and sensitive conversation surrounding racism and discrimination in Jersey.
Are you local? A question I’ve been asked so many times in so many different ways. Where are you from? Where are you actually from? But where are your family from? And regardless of the answers I give, what people usually want to know is ‘what kind of non-white person are you?’
My family are from St Lucia, Jamaica. From this point the conversation often leads to ‘Oh I love reggae music’ and ‘Bob Marley is amazing!’ People suddenly begin to assume that my tastes and distastes are defined by a country my mother left when she was four years old and one I’ve never been to. Truth be told my mum loves Reggae, and as both a musician and a black individual myself I value Bob Marley and his work, but I lean a lot more towards modern-day western pop music. My question here is, what do you mean where am I from? Are you asking me because it’s relevant to the conversation or do you need to know so that you can bring into play your pre-dispositions, your false-perceptions and fake facts on how people from specific places in the world should talk, how they should act, what they look like, what music they like, what food they eat or even where they sit financially? If this is the reason you’re asking, then I have to inform you that this way of thinking is systemic racism. It’s racism at a base level. The true fact is that you cannot wholly define who a person is with the question ‘where are you from?' Regardless of how you phrase it. Although you may not realise it, this is just another form of racial profiling.
I’m a gay black man who was born in Jersey. I grew up here, I went to school here, I have friends, blood relatives and illogical family here. This is the place I work and a place I’ve spent the better part of 23 years. I’m not a thief and I’m not some gangster. And no, I can’t do a Jamaican accent. I’m modest but I will also say I’m incredibly intelligent and well-spoken. To be honest, I couldn’t see myself any further removed from what anyone might deem your stereotypical black man. So, the next time you find yourself asking this question, ask yourself first, is it relevant? Why do you want to know? If you truly believe that this one question will somehow help you gain an understanding or a full in-depth image of someone then the question you really should be asking is ‘who are you?’
If you ask me that question, I’ll tell you there are only two things I know for sure and that is my birthday (03/04/1997) and my name (Keiran Brown). If you want to know any more than that, you’d have to spend some time getting to know me beyond your preconceptions.
Today, the weight of the past bears heavily on the present. My son with his bright smile, soft bottom and doughy legs - I wonder at what age, my curly haired boy will learn that he can’t reach his hand out to every stranger?
We live with the legacy of slavery.
No discomfort with people: discomfort with encounters. Our life experiences tell us that we must caution our sons and daughters. We tell them to “reach for the stars but be prepared to be shot down.”
And while he discovers discrimination, I will teach him to ignore ignorance. But that will never be enough to wash the pain away. Because you see, I am a black woman, raising a son, the son my sister coveted but feared having because you know ‘statistics aren’t great for young black boys’. So, for my son I stand for a better future.
We must understand that the lives of black people are slaughtered by much more than the American Police Force.
Before I speak today, I would like to first of all state that I am a work in progress. I would also like to share that I have seen the sharp edge of racism when I served as a human rights monitor in the occupied and racially segregated city of Hebron in Palestine - and it is ugly. We must commit ourselves as an international community to rooting out the poison that is racism and all forms of bigotry, as there is a consequence to us all if we don’t.
What happened to George Floyd is an unspeakable act of racially motivated brutality, but I am not going to repeat the ins and outs of the act of murder perpetrated by Derek Chauvin, nor that it was one of the countless acts of violence committed with impunity by those allegedly tasked with protecting communities, not just in the US but also in the UK. The history of violence against people of colour has lasted centuries and is the result of the deliberate dehumanisation by the European elite so we as ordinary people would accept the brutal oppression of slaves and indigenous peoples, in order to enable the building of empires and an economic system that enslaves, in a different way, all of us.
We also cannot pretend that Jersey itself does not have ties to these crimes, which was excellently highlighted in local writer, Ollie Taylor’s articles on the subject of the slave trade. This dehumanisation is not just a historical issue, it continues today with the messages that are sent out in the media, in movies, on posters. We have drilled into us day after day the message that black people are more violent, more likely to commit crime, to take drugs etc. regardless of what the statistical evidence shows us. We are encouraged to turn a blind eye to the endemic, institutional racism and to blame the black communities for any social issues that have arisen because of this racism and the deliberate dereliction in duty of government institutions. It is no surprise that because these messages work so well, that we have seen a rise in similar messaging being used over the last number of years in respect of other minority groups such as the Romany community, travellers, the disabled and even the working class.
I want to mention something that triggers a lot of people - I am going to be honest and put my hands up and admit that as a female from a working class family, who found herself in Jersey’s Care System, that it triggered me when I first heard it. It is the subject of white privilege. For us that are white, it is uncomfortable to acknowledge it, however, if we are truly honest with ourselves, so it ought to, but as with any irritant it can drive positive action.
Now white privilege does not mean we do, or did not have barriers, what it means is that colour was not one of them. It is not one of the things we need worry about when we have to call the police, when we are at school, when we are applying for a job and if we find ourselves in the criminal justice system. It also does not mean that the system does not also actively work against us as working people, we know we have an economic system that has been deliberately designed by the 1% to pit ourselves against each other and endangers the wellbeing of each and every one of us.
It is not our fault as ordinary white people that we were born white, nor are we responsible for the original construction of the system, but that fact does not mean we are absolved of the obligation to proactively oppose it. We may wish to reject our privilege, but we cannot and thus we need to take ownership of that privilege and use it to amplify black voices, we DO NOT speak on behalf of the black community, but when we can, such as when we are offered a platform, we demand black representation and we step aside. We need to take to heart that the issue of colour is an issue in our community as white people, not of the black community. It is institutions and individuals within our communities that have a problem with the colour of somebody else’s skin. We need to understand that not being racist is simply not enough, we must be proactively antiracist and thus we must call out racism, even when demonstrated by our family and friends each and every time we see it. It means we take time to educate ourselves on the history of colonialism and its impact on other nations and peoples, we educate ourselves on the accomplishments of people of colour and learn that these are many and are at least equal to European accomplishments.
We must proactively do these things as adults, because unfortunately our education system fails us in this regard and thus perpetuates the myth of white superiority. It also means that we demand better of our own local government and send a firm message to our ministers, that there should not be any local politicians attending the president’s ‘prayer breakfast’ until people of colour and other minority groups subject to discrimination are safe on the streets and in their homes.
It also means that we do not give people a free pass when they try to change the subject from the murder of a black man, to “looting is bad”, because if we feel that the looting of a small minority of downtrodden people is more of an issue than the murder of another unarmed black civilian, then we are part of the problem and if people really have an issue with looting, then they are going to be mad as hell when they find out how the treasures in the British Museum were acquired!
We need to understand the full context of what is happening at this moment in history and because of Trump’s response, the implications now if the protestors fail in their demands for justice and equality, I believe that it is no exaggeration to say that it will be the end of civil liberties as a whole. It may start in the US but we cannot afford to be so naïve as to believe it will stay there, it WILL spread and there will be a consequence for us all, even us here in our island of Jersey.
The signs of our descent as an international community into fascism are very visible if you are paying attention, history is knocking at our door, the alarm bells are ringing friends, will we hear them?! We have a choice now, so let us use that choice to envision and then proactively work towards a new, kinder system built on equality and justice that will benefit us all.
Will we hear the call and join our voices with black and indigenous communities around the world and say no justice, no peace! So, I say from the United States to Palestine, From Yemen to Kashmir to Brazil and beyond, Black Lives Matter!
In New York City, 88% of police stop and searches in 2018 involved black people. 70% of those searches involving black individuals were proven to have been unnecessary with no evidence of a crime being committed. This is a clear example of racial profiling. When black people are convicted of a crime, they are 20% more likely to be sentenced to jail time and typically see sentences 20% longer than their white counterparts, for similar offences. We also know that having a felony conviction means, in many states in America, that you lose your right to vote, further entrenching inequality.
Through these two examples you can understand and see the racial disparities and discriminations. Although these statistics are not based in Jersey, they are clear examples of racial discrimination that exist today. This same racism is experienced in Jersey. What we are seeing here is a constant dehumanising of black people and we need to understand what that means, what history tells us it means. When you dehumanise a person, you can justify any crime, action and words placed upon them because they are not ‘human’, and they are not the same as you.
I think it is necessary for all of us to consider and try our best to empathise on how we might experience life in the shoes of those that have been oppressed. To believe that racism is not prevalent in today’s world is to ignore and deny clear and obvious disparities alongside the accounts, reports and videos we can observe on a day to day basis. We must add to the voice which speaks out against injustice, white supremacy and any kind of ideologies that put others in an inferior and oppressed position. Any form of racism is a threat to not only this world but to the world we are leaving behind for generations to follow.
To be silent is to accept this. We mustn't shy away from sensitive issues and ignore uncomfortable truths. When we look back at history and see examples of revolutionary acts, we're reminded that we have a voice, we have the potential and the power when we are united to protest and enforce positive change in the light of racial discrimination.
We must also remember that in the world we live in today which manifests silence through fear and hate through division. love is one of the greatest forms of resistance. and in times like these we must wage beauty. we must find ways to love ourselves and to love our neighbours. For those of you wondering, 'well what can I do?' I think Angela Davis said it best, ‘you have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world’. And, you must do it all the time. We are all human beings and we all deserve the right to live in peace and harmony.
We live in dark times. Whilst the world is engulfed by a deadly pandemic which brings hardship and anxiety on so many, on top of that we also face the horror of what seems like a growing tide of racism, bigotry, Islamophobia, anti-semitism and homophobia, often incited by cowardly politicians and their paymasters in the media and big business, who exploit these divisions for their own self-interest. But we must always remember that we are many and they are few.
The power is in our hands to fight for a fairer society for us all to enjoy, no matter what our background is. Even though we have plenty to feel angry about, I ask you instead to feel determined and inspired.
There are still injustices here we need to tackle. We still have to do more to tackle racism, sexism and homophobia. But crucially we must accept that our freedom from the injustices of racism and prejudice are incomplete with our freedom from economic injustice. Our growing gap between the rich and poor must be addressed as a priority alongside these other injustices.
So I urge you to stay inspired, stay involved, get organised and whilst showing our solidarity with others around the world, make sure you play your part in securing a fairer society here, and I promise you on behalf of Reform Jersey, we will be alongside you every single step of the way.
I want to end with a quote which I hope sums up our sense of optimism though we face these dark times. It is a quote from Martin Luther King Jr, who said “let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radian stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great national with all their scintillating beauty”.