Like a lot of black folks, moments like this make me want to retreat. To not watch the videos or write outraged Facebook posts; to try to keep it all at arm's length in the name of self-care. To grieve alone, inside and hidden from view, and to tell myself that like any violent wave it will shake me, but it will pass. I do this because at first it feels like the only option. That to turn towards the wave would mean being washed away. So I push it down and continue to move.
But sometimes our bodies have a different plan. It's when you wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air, or find yourself crying while buttering your toast, you realise that the wave is coming for you anyway. Perhaps letting it wash over you might actually be cleansing.
So I'm writing this, for the black folks who need a lifeline, and for the allies who want to know how to help.
It feels important to remember a few things. The recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, the tear-gassing of protesters and the attempted murder of Chris Cooper have shaken the black community around the world in ways we haven't seen since Ferguson. It’s important that we take a beat to recognise this moment for what it is: a time to once again declare "enough is enough". A moment to get organised and step into our collective power that is too critical to miss. Here in the UK, many of us are taking to social media to protest and share ways of supporting, and that process of expressing our outrage and solidarity is a vital one. But we must force ourselves to look a little closer to home when it comes to challenging racism.
Sarah Reed, Mark Duggan, Sheku Bayoh, Christopher Alder, Leon Patterson, Cynthia Jarrett, Sean Rigg.
These are just a few of many black people who have died in police custody in the UK in recent decades. The United Friends and Families Campaign have been organising for decades to get justice for their loved ones. Black people are more than four times more likely to die of Covid-19 than the white British population, and despite calls for a public inquiry from across the political spectrum, the government has refused it. According to one commentator in the Telegraph, "Campaigners are twisting BAME Covid data to further their 'victimhood' agenda." An article published on Quillette even poses the question: "Do Covid-19 racial disparities matter?"
Even black people who have fought their way into positions of power are subsequently faced with appalling levels of racism. The leaked Labour report unearthed earlier this year revealed the level of racist abuse that black women such as Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler had been systematically subjected to, which barely even made headlines. I could go on and on.
Suffice to say that I, like many others, am often all too comfortable pointing to the US as an example of the worst and most visible examples of anti-black racism. However, contrary to what some may believe, racism in all its guises is alive and kicking here in the UK. As a black woman living in 2020, it feels absurd to have to remind people of that fact, but once the teargas has settled – once protesters have been charged and police officers have not – we will go back to our everyday lives and some of us will feel like we did our bit.
But anti-racism is a daily practice, one that involves constantly reflecting on ourselves and our behaviours, supporting and celebrating people of colour and challenging those in our community to do the same, even when it feels too uncomfortable to bear. As Martin Luther King reminds us, the "great stumbling block in our stride towards freedom is not the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to order than justice".
Below are some offerings for black folks on how to hold this pain, and some words for our allies on how to walk beside us.
Firstly for black people, do whatever you need to right now. Run, yell, cry, sing, dance, just let this pain be in your body or move through it in whatever way feels right. Give yourself space to let that happen. Next, find your people. Surrounding yourself with others who also have heavy bones right now will do the world of good, even if that just means sitting silently (and socially distantly) in green space, or reading a poem together on Zoom. Remember that it's OK to say no to educating others right now. It's great if you have allies who want to support you, but give yourself permission to step back from being the go-to friend for sharing resources or offering leadership. Google exists.
Something else that has really helped me is finding some black joy. I've really loved this playlist and this podcast, but anything that reminds you of our collective power and beauty right now will help with the healing. Take care of yourself by checking out Liberate, a meditation app by and for people of colour, and find some time to just sit with your mind and body. I love Zenzu Earthlyn Manuel’s guided meditation "Revive Your Flight With the Breath". Finally, this article offering self care tips for black people from VICE US helped me a lot too.
"And when you can’t breathe, may you breathe in the next moment, and say, ‘I can breathe.' The very least I can do, is breathe." Zenzu Earthlyn Manuel
For allies, now is the time to seek out and and learn from the mountain of resources that exist for folks looking to support anti-black struggles. This online guide to allyship is a great place to start, but you’ll realise it’s just the tip of the iceberg once you get digging. Don’t expect anything from black people in this moment, even if it’s just a response to a supportive text. We need space to be with this before we can be with you.
If you are looking to help financially, you can donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund to support the bail costs of those arrested for protesting George Floyd's murder, or sign up to support Rachel Cargle and her "Great Unlearn" project – she’s an activist, writer and woman of colour producing resources for black folks and our allies to navigate this time, and her work deserves your money. If you have the energy, step outside your bubble to get a sense of how other non-black people in your community are understanding what's happening right now. If they are not where you are, engage them, share resources and try to bring them into the struggle. It will feel awkward and perhaps even painful, but this is the work.
“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." – Lilla Watson
My hope is that one or many of the things I’ve suggested here might help you to find some peace, or take some action in this moment. But whatever comes next, we must stay grounded in the reality that taking care of ourselves and each other is just one key part of a much wider struggle for black lives that calls on all of us to stand up. Fighting for justice for Breonna, Ahmaud and George is another step on our long journey towards dismantling the systems that teach us black lives are disposable.
We mourn, we rage, we organise and we survive to fight another day. No justice, no peace.