Now Is The Time!
Updated: Aug 18, 2020
Over ten weeks has passed since it seemed that the world had finally woken up to the reality of the Black lived existence. In that moment of intense anger, raw emotion and heightened intent to make Black Lives Matter, there was a noise that could not be hushed. ‘Black Lives Matter’ became news discussion points, institutions rushed to put out statements distancing themselves from acts of intolerance and ‘conversations’ sprung up as individuals questioned their own complicity in the UK’s racially unjust society. The Black Lives Matter protests were effective. They offered the opportunity to show solidarity with the movement, to express opposition to an inherently racist system and demonstrated a unanimous consent for change. This was a momentous time and one I was compelled to be part of. I attended one of the early Black Lives Matter protest in the UK and witnessed a beautiful gathering of people. Thousands were united in one space, socially distanced and wearing masks - the pandemic was not going to keep them away. More like an event rather than a protest there were speeches, music and aspiration for a non-discriminatory society. As we chanted, in unison, that Black Lives Matter I had never felt so much hope and expectation that Black children in the future would experience a more just society. There was a strength and unity that I had not witnessed previously, as an ambition for societal change was being expressed en masse. My mantra was ‘Now is the time!’ It was a reminder to all who read my social media comments to seize the moment, to harness the momentum and to exploit the energy and the magnitude of feeling that had converged around the cause. However, with each passing week I sensed that the opportunity for evolution was slipping through the very fingers of our raised, clenched fists. With the bedding in of a different normal the ’noise’ that then disturbed out city streets, now seems little more than a hum.
The lockdown is being lifted, pubs are re-opening and the holiday season is upon us. The Black Lives Matter chants are barely audible. Societal attention is distracted by the summer sun which seems to have induced a complacency and quelling of the rage that, not so long ago, looked as if it might rupture the very foundation of our social construct. Back then a fear was generated, companies and organisations rushed to distance themselves from the possibility of being the next to be labelled racist. The protests compelled the leaders in those organisations to critically reflect on their own conduct as well as the ethos of their companies. They implemented more ‘inclusive’ strategies and talked, again, about being non-racist. The Black Lives Matter marches have been effective as the media, news outlets and other institutions continue to tell stories that directly, or in-directly, respond to the issues of disadvantage and discrimination, however the hope ignited in the early stages of the demonstrations seems to be abating.
As local authorities invite protest leaders in to ‘talk’ about the issues and discuss ideas around what can be done to address the movements’ concerns, and as police authorities explain the steps they are taking at a local level to change the culture within their organisations and to improve relations with the community, I grow increasingly concerned. I worry that the skill and level of support these protest leaders have gained in their endeavour to garner and engage the public may dissipate if not employed wisely. The protests were a powerful display of dissenting voices organised by individuals who may now fall fowl of the charm offensive that institutions might employ in an attempt to destabilise the clout of the Black Lives Matter movement. ‘Kind gestures’ offered by institutions under various guises might be perceived as a genuine desire to address inequity, particularly if they also offer to fund particular elements of the cause. However, when the statistics show decades of enduring inequality the question is what is motivating these organisations and their actions? What makes today different from yesterday or previous years? The system has not changed, in fact we are growing accustomed to seeing news story that portray the victimisation and unjust treatment of innocent Black people. Not even being part of the establishment protects one from racist behaviour, as experienced by Dawn Butler MP who was in a car with her friend when she was stopped. The threat is ever present because of the colour of our skin. Unconscious or otherwise, no intelligent reason can be offered to justify consistent attempts to dehumanise us. Seldom do we bite the hand that feeds us, particularly when we are unsure when the next meal will come. However if the true presence of that hand is to cleverly constrain the actions of the protest leaders, and in so doing have the effect of potentially silencing the protestors, then the hand and its offer, must be shunned.
The uprisings of the 1950s, 1980s and 2011 were fuelled by a frustration and anger with a social system that victimises Black people. The McPherson report in 1999 prompted by the killing of Stephen Lawrence, found institutionalised racism in the police force and made recommendations for addressing racism in other organisations. Two decades on and little has changed. Racism persists and the evidence speaks for itself: Kdogg from Bristol was not much older than Stephen Lawrence when a car was driven into him as he was returning home from work. Earlier this year Desmond Mombeyarara was tasered in front of his five year old Black son in a Manchester petrol station. As he fell to the ground the anguish in his little boy’s voice as he feared for his father’s life was heart breaking. The little boy may be emotionally scarred for the rest of his life, whilst the policemen involved ‘had their taser authority removed pending the outcome of the investigation’.
In April 2020 the Runnymede Trust published ‘The Colour of Money’ a report that looked at the levels of economic and racial disparity in England. Not surprisingly they found that ‘all BME groups are more likely to be in the lowest paid work, and to be living in poverty. This is due to lower wages, higher unemployment rates, higher rates of part-time working, higher housing costs in England’s large cities (especially London), slightly larger household size, and the relatively low levels of benefits paid, particularly following the application of the ‘benefit cap’.’ Disproportionality and social inequity has changed little over the decades, the numbers may alter but the disparity remains stark. In 2015 my documentary Making Waves asked whether the implementation of the 1976 Race Relations Act had made a difference to the lives of subsequent generations of Black Britons, the findings was disappointing. Each generation spoke of shared experience of racial and economic disparity that had changed very little despite the forty-year gap.
The Black Lives Matter marches have not completely ceased, so I say again, now is the time! However, alongside the protests a number of demands should now be made explicit. What is being asked of the political leaders? What precisely must be achieved in order to know progress is being made? What is the time scale? These are some of the questions that offer a strategic approach to holding key people to account and ending futile attempts to convince the public that concerted efforts have and is being made. Indeed, the increased number of non-white faces both in front of and behind the camera is a positive move, a commitment by companies to attract more Black people into senior and executive roles suggests decisive action is being taken and allowing more non-white students into ‘elite’ universities might be considered a progressive move, however true equality will only exist when there is little, if any, social or economic disadvantage between Black and non-Black people. Similarly only when there is a distinct absence of persistent insidious conditions, currently creating social and economic disadvantage within Black communities, will it be clear that British society has inherently changed.
It has been a tough year and it is necessary for us all to allocate time to repair psychologically and emotionally. Self-care is imperative. But now more than ever is when the momentum needs to be maintained. Attempts to divide us, distract us and to undermine us will continue in many guises, however, it is important that we stay strong and focussed, that we stay united and that the next steps are carefully considered, elegantly orchestrated and cause a disruption as grand and as unexpected at the last one. Am I deluded to expect a social shift that favours equal terms for all, particularly when our capitalist society thrives on inequality? Perhaps, but my resilience and determination is born from an historical legacy of fighting injustice, and it will not allow me to conceive of an injurious alternative. Now is not the time to give up or to turn away. Now is the time to remain united as never before.
…Now is the time!
 Channel 4 News, 2020. [TV] Channel Four, 31 July 2020.  Omar Khan, 2020. The Colour of Money How racial inequalities obstruct a fair and resilient economy [online]. London: Runnymede. Available at: https://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/publications/pdfs/2020%20reports/The%20Colour%20of%20Money%20Report.pdf. [Accessed 11th August 2020].  Making Waves, 2015. [Film]. Directed by Patcee Francis. Nottingham: Syncopate Media.