I want to start with an admission, I did not watch the video. The one that went viral, that started what The Guardian is calling the ‘worst race riots since [the] 1960s’. Before you rush to judgement, I’d like to ask a question.
When was the last time that you had to watch a video of someone who looks like you die? Not in a film, but in real-life. Trauma posted to your Facebook feed, shared by friends on Twitter, Instagram and Reddit.
I didn’t watch the video because I don’t want to force myself to watch another video of an unarmed black man killed by an officer and a system that had vowed to protect and serve. Still, the unlawful death of George Floyd caused something within me to break.
It has taken me some time to be sure of what I wanted to put into the world, with everyone rushing to say that they care about black lives, it was important for me that anything I did say would, if not affect positive change, at least encourage conversation that mightn’t otherwise have been had.
I think there is also some guilt; that I have not been as engaged as I should have been in the global community, that I have allowed my privilege to shield me from the myriad of emotions that I’m now having a hard time putting into words.
I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed in the last couple of days and have taken some time to acknowledge that as a mixed woman, I have some privilege that I have allowed to go unchecked. I had not been looking for these stories, of black men and women who have been subject to police brutality – in fact, I would go as far as to say that I avoided them. I was avoiding media that I knew would force me to confront the systemic racism that is still so prevalent in our society, because it’s hard.
It’s hard to have uncomfortable conversations with people that you love, especially when you’re not sure exactly how they’re going to respond. It’s really hard to shoulder the emotional burden of talking to people with opposing views to try and convince them that you are a human too, and you deserve the world just as much as they do. Harder still to have those conversations with friends who make offhand comments that just don’t sit quite right with you; about how you’re ‘not like other black people’.
What does that even mean?!
Have you ever had to try and convince someone that your worth wasn’t lesser, purely based on the colour of your skin? It sounds so simple when you put it like that, but these are conversations that are still fighting for centre stage, competing with the cries of all lives matter.
At no point does the slogan black lives matter insinuate that all lives don’t matter. If you find yourself saying that all lives matter in the year 2020, when confronted with the facts of the overwhelming hostility that the black community faces, you should probably check yourself. Check why you find the idea of black lives mattering to be a personal attack on you and your freedoms.
No one is saying that all lives don’t matter, what we’re saying is that right now, as we continue watching and hearing of more unarmed black people die at the hands of authorities, it’s clear that black lives don’t. This is why we feel like we need to scream it at the top of our lungs until we’re being heard.
On Tuesday, parts of social media held a #tuesdayblackout. Although I expected as much, it still disappointed me that people who spent all weekend posting their selfies, with not a peep about the death of George Floyd or the simple safety of black bodies, still decided to adorn their pages with a single black tile — most without resources or links about how their audience can actually help the black community.
Much of this version of support feels performative at this point.
If you didn’t care about our bodies being trampled until they were trending, it’s time to educate yourself and join the cause, rather than being an optical ally for your followers. Or you can admit that black lives matter less than whatever it is you’re posting this week to make your friends jealous.
I might be overstepping, but I like my racists to be loud and proud, I want to know where they are and I want to be able to avoid them when I’m unable to focus all of my attention on defending the idea that Black Lives Matter – because of course they do.
I don’t want them pretending to be part of the solution, when they’re only involved because it’s trending, and so that years from now when people ask them how they helped to further equality they can say they posted about it.
This is not an attack, I would just prefer it if instead of posting a black square, you could take some time to read a book or an article about what it might be like right now in the world for your black friends.
If that black square wasn’t followed or proceeded by protest, donation, contacting your local representatives, having some hard conversations regarding race, checking on your black friends, promoting black businesses/artists, or otherwise doing something to help the black community, you can get out of here with your black tile.
Among those who have signed up to a week’s trial of Black Lives Matter are a number of companies clearly under the impression that past, racist attitudes and missteps will be forgiven and forgotten on the back of a solitary post of solidarity. This not only reveals a lack of self-awareness in their PR strategy— and a disrespectful assumption that consumers have the memory of goldfish— but more importantly it shows that, for companies that trade on black athletes, black models and black culture, black lives matter only insofar as they affect their corporate reputation and profit margins.
The small bright spark in this are the brands that have posted this week highlighting the work they’ve already been doing, and continue to do on behalf of, and to the benefit of black communities. In this day and age of social justice keyboard warriors, it’s becoming increasingly important for any authenticity to remain that brands not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.
It’s been a hard few days for black communities across the world, but as we know all too well, this is not a novel experience. As we start to see the civil unrest in America boil over, I urge you to look within your own communities.
Is there something more you could be doing to support the black community, not only in America – by donating to bail funds and other organizations that boost the very people that the country was built by, and I encourage you to do this if you can – but in your own towns?
Whether that is educating yourself— by reading literature by Black authors— or by starting to have difficult conversations with your family and friends. I implore you to talk about what you’re feeling with those around you, find a way to talk to your kids to ensure that the ‘I don’t see colour’ narrative is removed and instead acknowledge that colour does have an effect on the way people are treated.
The colour of my skin has always affected the way that I move in the world, and I believe that until we are ready to keep having these difficult conversations, nothing will change.
I don’t have all the answers yet, but nothing will improve if we stop asking questions; so I’m asking you, after #theshowmustbepaused has stopped trending, are you going to go silently back to your life, or are you going to start changing the world?
Kallan Marshall is a freelance talent consultant.
She grew up in London, and has lived and traveled around the world, including in Canada and the US. She tweets @kallaninmars