It has been just over two weeks since I attended my first peaceful protest in Hyde Park to show support for the black community in the light of George Floyd’s death. Although some media outlets were quick to depict them as violent, the protests I took part in were incredibly visceral and moving experiences, fostering no violence or aggression, only compassion and understanding felt by all of those who considered it their moral duty to be there. Now, as public demonstrations start slowing down, it’s important we carry on having discussion about systemic racism and injustice. Here’s where we should start.
The discussions regarding racism in the UK I’ve had prior to and in the wake of this global movement have been nothing short of eye-opening. Many people seem to be giving the impression that they are willing to do the work needed to educate themselves on this subject. The response we have seen across social media, in theory, suggest potential change as people are continuing to share useful resources and as books on institutional racism fly off the shelves. This is a start.
However, after speaking at length with a lot of my POC friends, I’ve noticed that while sharing articles and showing support online is important, it must not slip our minds that initiating the real-life conversations on how black people are treated in society is crucial. Listening to a podcast with your favourite celebrities discussing the topic is great, but are enough people going further in questioning their personal behaviours and deeply ingrained prejudices? Spoiler: probably not.
This process isn’t supposed to be easy. Accepting that you are part of a system and throughout your life have contributed consciously or subconsciously in promoting racial injustice is uncomfortable. These feelings and realisations are necessary to invoke a mindset which accepts responsibility and is committed to changing habitual beliefs.
I recall a conversation I had about a month ago with my friend Lutanga, who is both Zambian and English. I had asked him his thoughts on what he thinks white people need to be aware of: “Friends either fear what to say, so they don’t speak their mind, or it goes the other way where they feel too comfortable and think they can say whatever they want or do whatever they want because they have a black friend. Being black or mixed-race has now been qualified as ‘cool’ by some but there are so many everyday racist scenarios that people don’t understand.”
“People make assumptions like ‘oh you’re black, you must be good at this’ or ‘you’re black, you must be not very good at this’. People need to understand that they can’t just say one thing if they’re going to act the opposite of what they actually mean. You might be all buddy-buddy with me until you go home to your parents and then you start making different comments,” he added.
I asked him a question that had been on my mind for some time, one which I think many people will resonate with. How can someone who undoubtedly benefits from white privilege initiate and explore the topic of racism without seeming disrespectful or inauthentic?
“It’s really just knowledge, learn what is acceptable to say and what isn’t so that you understand the boundary and never have to cross it. Understand that mixed-race people come from two cultures; just because I have white attributes that doesn’t mean I’m not black at all. There is no need to assume that everything you’re going to say might offend us, it’s the way you go about saying it. If you’re defensive, I’m gonna be defensive. People only think stereotypes are true through a lack of understanding. If you have a black friend or a friend from another culture, ask loads of questions, in the correct way.”
That’s exactly why alongside signing petitions, educating yourself on the history of white supremacy and attending protests, one of the most useful resources available to us right now might just be our voices. By both speaking up when you hear a racist comment, having constructive conversations and being confident in confronting people’s views, you might be able to further change. As a placard at the protest rightfully stated; understanding that black lives matter more than your white friends’ feelings.
I had to explain to my best friend of ten year’s mum that racism is far more of an issue in the UK than she believed it to be—this is an example of the work that needs to be done behind closed doors. It won’t be easy and it won’t happen by itself. The excuse of ignorance in different generations is not a valid one. It is in these moments which are not shared on Instagram that our dedication to this movement is truly challenged as we must push aside the presence of our ego in order to rip the roots of systemic racism from under the ground.
Are you willing to take part or will you watch from the sidelines?
For a few years now, many have described the generation Z as sensitive, lazy and addicted to social media. While some of it is most definitely true, we’ve recently started seeing gen Z as the one that will change things. Now, as the Black Lives Matter movement carries on protesting in the US as well as in the rest of the world, we wonder if gen Z could actually be the generation that tackles systemic racism.
To answer this, we asked the gen Z live platform Yubo to share a few of our questions with its users. The poll was conducted between 9 June and 15 June and had Yubo survey over 13,000 people aged 13 to 25 years old in the UK. This allowed Screen Shot to get gen Zers’ opinion on the movement of protest that followed George Floyd’s murder in the US.
From the poll’s results, 7 statistics stood out as clear signs that gen Z could well be the generation of change.
In order to achieve any kind of change, we need to accept that there is something wrong in the first place. That’s why we asked Yubo’s gen Zers residing in the UK whether they felt like black people were treated differently than white people. In other words, we wanted to see if they could admit the existence of white privilege.
In response, 4 out of 5 gen Zers said they believe that black people are treated differently, compared to only 2 out of 3 of their parents sharing the same belief. For many, denying white privilege comes from misunderstanding the concept.
Not fully grasping how society privileges white individuals has led many to believe that black people who have suffered from police brutality somehow deserved the blame. In comparison, the new generation has been helped by social media and the internet in understanding where white privilege comes from and how exactly it benefits certain people.
While certain news outlets have made it their mission to depict the many protests that followed George Floyd’s murder as violent, many protesters have testified against these statements. We’ve discovered that, in the UK, 4 out of 5 gen Zers believe that peaceful protests are necessary to facilitate change, confirming that most new gens intend to protest peacefully and not violently. Half of their parents hold the same belief.
With the current movement still going strong, we’ve seen the protesters’ resilience and willingness to sacrifice their time and energy in a cause that is more than worth it. Despite the risk of getting arrested by the police, new gens have admitted they would be prepared to take that risk in order to make their voice heard.
While previous generations have been quick to point the finger at the US, as we’ve seen Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis do last week in an interview with George the Poet, gen Z is also calling out the UK and other countries as being responsible for systemic racism, too. Ignoring the UK’s denial of its own racism is as disingenuous as ignoring the US’ police brutality and racism, and doing so only further perpetuates white privilege in the UK.
These statistics portray gen Zers as strong protesters who are aware of systemic issues as well as willing to take action. But admitting and fighting these don’t come without its toll on new gen’s mental and physical wellbeing.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fight against racism and injustice couldn’t wait. While staying home as much as possible is still strongly recommended by governments, protesters have had to make do with their best tool in order to make their voices heard: protesting.
Just yesterday, police officers in London urged Priti Patel to impose an emergency ban on all protests during the coronavirus pandemic, warning officers were being put at risk by a wave of mass demonstrations. Although wearing masks, gloves, and keeping a two meters distance from other protesters are the best ways to avoid risk of getting COVID-19, many protesters are still concerned about their health. The situation, however, has not discouraged the Black Lives Matter movement from fighting back.
Protesting has never been easy. But now, more than ever, with the constant flow of graphic and harmful content our brains receive through social media platforms, we find ourselves on edge frequently. This has had an impact on gen Z’s mental health. As an activist, looking after your mental health is a necessary step in the fight against systemic racism.
This statistic highlights how much more effort we need to make as a generation. Protests must carry on, yes, but we also need to provide more information to anyone that might feel the need to research how to take action. Only by doing so will we start tackling systemic racism.
These protests are made of passionate, non-violent young leaders fighting for a brighter future. Those who previously criticised the new generation for being too connected, too woke or even too sensitive will be compelled to reconsider their stance soon enough.