June was a laborious month for activists everywhere. I, for one, felt like I was battling three pandemics at once: the coronavirus, the resurgence of the BLM movement and the non-stop intensity of retrogrades, eclipses and new moons. June was frightening and tiresome, to say the least, but nevertheless necessary.
The recent realisation of the ongoing abuse of black people in the US has left many rattled. “How is racism still happening in 2020?” has been the most naive but probed question circulating this year, to which my response has been “what have you done to stop it?” It is my belief that acquaintances, associates and self-proclaimed allies were under the impression that racism was solely a US matter, but it is now obvious that the UK is by no means innocent. So, why now?
Some have posted on Twitter, “Why are people choosing to speak on it now?” and my answer to that is that many have spoken about it but no one truly listened. On top of that, many black people, including myself as a black journalist, were scared to voice our true experiences and opinions out of fear of being ridiculed and minimised by the systematic and inherent racism still prevalent in media industries.
Journalism as a whole is an evolving industry that can no longer be described as traditional, courtesy of social media. With opportunities arising so rarely, I used to shy away from writing solely about black stories, in fear of being labelled “unadaptable and merely one-toned.” During my Multimedia Journalism degree, I remember one lecturer telling me that my idea to investigate Angola and China’s relationship back in 2015 was too big of a project for me and best left to ‘professional’ reporters at the BBC.
In hindsight, it was the instant use of the word ‘professional’ that threw me off. Luckily, that fear crumbled away when I wrote a piece for gal-dem last year about wrongful imprisonment. It reignited my passion for elevating black voices, stories and experiences.
However, over the last few weeks, I received an influx of email responses from editors I had pitched to at the beginning of the year. “Apologies I didn’t notice your previous email but enlighten me?” said one, “Sorry to have missed that one… do send something over whenever you’re ready and I’ll keep an eye out,” said another. In no way, shape or form am I saying that editors are wrong for reaching out. But what triggered me was the underlying pressure to elevate the BLM angle during the peaceful protests.
Tianna, the Writer’s tweet, “Every black person is NOT an expert on race. They can only be an expert on their own experiences,” perfectly depicts my frustration over these pitch responses. I felt as though I was being used to regurgitate the publication’s ethos and amplify the imagery of diversity being showcased. It didn’t feel natural, and it spun me into an inner battle of whether my race played a factor or whether this were an actual opportunity being presented to me due to my writing skills.
Esther Oluga, defender of Meghan Markle and fellow black writer, shared with me her thoughts of the tweet, with which I whole-heartedly agree “Seeing black writers as diverse individuals who have nuanced stories and experiences is key. The problem is that most editors usually only proactively search for black writers when they want them to publish a reactive piece on race relations.”
“It’s important to remember that black writers have stories to be told in gardening, education, healthcare, climate change and food too,” While I’m not impartial to a black narrative, as a journalist, I also love writing music profile pieces, investigating cultural issues or simply working on a think piece. My love for writing stems from the art form itself and not just filling in for a diverse subsection of the month.
Last year, the Guardian published an article titled The journalist as influencer: how we sell ourselves on social media that details the importance for journalists to create a persona using social media platforms in order to ensure opportunities. Creative freelancers would simultaneously nod in agreement that having a following of a thousand plus followers has benefitted them in some form, but when accountability came through and everyone started finger-wagging the responses differed.
Those who didn’t post a black square or engage in the debates were ridiculed for not being woke enough while others branded influencers as ‘too woke’ and ‘joining in the moment’. So how does one correctly balance advocacy as an influencer, journalist or media personality? Through authenticity! Those who are well-versed on the topic should do their best to enlighten their audience as well as create a welcoming space for those with less understanding.
With many people calling for change, and quarantine presenting the chance to do so, Black Lives Matter is finally being given the media recognition it deserves. That’s why, in the midst of the frenzy— editors, collaborators and anyone else with authority reaching out to black writers, please remember to do more to amplify black voices. This can be done in many ways, but as I am speaking to editors specifically, understand you need to give black writers the chance to produce content that doesn’t only link to normative black narratives. Why? Because failure to dismantle the status quo is a form of contribution to racism.
As the global fight against racial injustice gains steam, meaningful change is beginning to materialise. From mayors pledging to defund police forces and racial justice organisations receiving an outpouring of support to a sharp rise in public discussions around issues of systemic racism—evidence of progress trails behind the swelling wave of protest and outrage. It is important to build on this historic momentum and keep the foot on the gas.
What can you do to support the movement for black rights and racial justice?
Taking to the streets to demonstrate remains one of the most effective ways to protest injustice and demand immediate change. Check the Black Lives Matter website, local community websites and social media for information about protests taking place in your area. If your circumstances don’t allow you to march in the streets, you may want to inquire about virtual protests happening, like the one recently arranged by Black Lives Matter London.
Protesters marching in the streets are in need of various supplies, including water, masks, food, and more. Visit the webpage of a protest happening near you to learn about its designated supply drop-off locations, or contact protest organisers for information on how to help.
As a growing number of protesters are being arrested by police forces, bail money is urgently needed for people who cannot afford to purchase their freedom. This Google Doc contains a list of bailout and legal funds categorised by city and state.
Systemic racism has robbed black communities of funds and resources and stilted progress among its residents. Contributing to initiatives designed to empower black communities is a crucial step in rectifying the ravages of centuries of racial discrimination. Black Visions Collective, National Bailout and Campaign Zero are three organisations that work in varying ways to achieve long term improvement for black communities, end their oppression and promote their rights and safety. You may want to research similar organisations operating in your city or state.
Make it a point to support black-owned businesses, restaurants and shops in your area. You should also research which companies are complicit in perpetuating systemic racism and refrain from supporting them—L’Oréal, Reformation and Zimmerman, I’m looking at you.
Immigrants of colour are disproportionately targeted, terrorised, and abused by the government—at the border, in detention facilities, and in black and brown communities repeatedly raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). At the invitation of the NYPD, ICE agents have been infiltrating Black Lives Matter protests in New York City, and have already detained one immigrant. Research and donate to organisations working to protect and advocate on behalf of immigrants of colour.
Queer people of colour are at an increased risk of experiencing violence, exclusion, police brutality and oppression. They are also more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues as a result of what is commonly referred to as ‘compounded minority stress’—being both queer and black or brown. The LGBTQ Racial Justice Fund and the Black Trans Femmes in the Arts Collective are two out of numerous organisations working to protect and uplift black queer people in the US. If you’re based in the UK, you may want to check out UK Black Pride, IMAAN and NAZ Project.
While the focus tends to revolve around national politics—it is local authorities that are often hotbeds of racial injustice. Inquire about your mayor, comptroller, chief of police, and district attorney, demand accountability for their actions, and be sure to vote in local elections and get involved in your community.
Across the US, and around the world, more and more people are demanding to defund the police and invest their budget in community projects and infrastructure and locally-run emergency-response teams. Minneapolis may be the first US city to completely disband its police force, and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti had already pledged to slash the city’s police budget and invest the money in communities of colour. Join the growing demand to defund the police by supporting #8toAbolition, the Movement for Black Lives or other NGOs operating in your city or county.
Challenge yourself with daily and rigorous reflections on how the concept of Whiteness may affect your life; in what ways does it limit or impact your actions, your perceptions, your opinions, your circle of friends? Policies are important milestones in the fight against systemic racism, but they alone cannot herald real, long-lasting change on societal and institutional scales. Slavery had been abolished, Jim Crow laws had been eradicated, and yet here we are still battling the plague of racism. Ultimately, racial justice could only be achieved when we fundamentally change the ways we see ourselves and obliterate the institution and concept of Whiteness.