Black Lives Matter: An Open Letter

Hey everyone,

I haven’t posted in a while because life has been A LOT (I will talk about that in more depth in another post). However, I’ve been reflecting on all that has been going on and it’s been quite a heavy couple of weeks and a challenging year for many of us. On some days I’ve had so much to say and on other days, I’ve struggled to find the words. However, I felt impelled/moved to write, and once I started I couldn’t stop. So, I hope you read this post – in its entirety with an open heart and mind. Perhaps some of you may have similar sentiments and frustrations as me. If not, hopefully some of you will have an increase in self-awareness and empathy at the very least. I am not writing as an expert, but as a humble, exhausted, young black woman who has experienced and directly observed racism and injustice over the years in various forms. Enough is enough.

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Yesterday, I sat scrolling through Netflix and saw that some of the films and documentaries on racial injustice towards black people that were recommended on social media, are now trending. So, I pondered on how interesting it was that these are ‘trending’ now – when some of these films and documentaries have existed long before the brutal murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many others. In fact, as these are based on the true history of our people and the activists, lawyers and freedom fighters from generations before us, I wonder why some of us are only learning about this now? Netflix, YouTube, Blockbusters (for us grown millennials), Google and the internet in general have existed long enough for us to educate ourselves. In fact, even libraries have been open long before all of these platforms and services existed. So, it’s a shame, that millions of deaths had to take place before “non-racist” people took a stand and decided to do their research.

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“A riot is the language of the unheard.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Over the years there has been a shocking level of naivety about the fact that racism still exists here in the UK. Let’s not forget about those who have died in police custody, such as: Smiley Culture, Cynthia Jarrett, Cherry Groce, Sarah Reed, Mark Duggan, Kingsley Burrell and Sheku Bayoh. We also have a history of fighting against injustice and police brutality, as some of these deaths sparked riots in Brixton, Broadwater Farm, Leeds and across London between 1981 and 2011. In 2016, Black Lives Matter protests even reached as far as Liverpool after the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille in the US. Additionally, as recent events have hit many of us deeply, peaceful protests have been taking place again – in London, Manchester and Birmingham over the past week. Although there are mixed feelings about protests during the Covid-19 lockdown, people are FRUSTRATED from talking and being misunderstood. We are exhausted from the lack of change and progression in our communities. You cannot condemn what you fail to understand. How many more deaths will it take before those in denial finally realise and admit that racism is a global pandemic?!

I hope and pray with every fibre of my being that the recent wider recognition of the #BlackLivesMatter movement isn’t just a trend. I also hope that we don’t just merely receive pity as a result of non-black people reading and watching these recommended titles. In fact, I sincerely hope that it will spark a genuine, radical desire to bring about positive change in all industries and institutions across the nation and around the world!

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The UK education system has FAILED its black students for decades! I used to think I hated history lessons, but I have come to realise that it was actually the content that was the issue; due to lack of coverage on African and Caribbean diaspora. History lessons were never representative of the culturally diverse students and were therefore boring and unrelatable for many of us. Yet still, we have been constantly labelled as “disengaged” and “under-achievers” with “poor behaviour”, when the system was never created to benefit us in the first place. Primary socialisation doesn’t begin in schools. It begins at home! We clearly cannot solely rely on the national curriculum to teach us about black history in a thorough, meaningful and consistent way. When I was a child, my parents bought me books and taught me about my culture, heritage and history. Then once I was old enough to buy my own books and do my own research, I did. Now, I’m not claiming to have read every book and watched every film or documentary. However, I am trying to reinforce that Black History Month is not enough. Teaching about the transatlantic slave trade is NOT enough. Furthermore, it does a disservice to the many Black British young people, pioneers and activists – past and present. It also perpetuates the narrative that slavery is the sum of our existence and contributions to this world, when that couldn’t be further from the truth! In this present day, as long as you have access to the plethora of resources on black history and racial discrimination, there is NO excuse to be ignorant anymore! There is also NO excuse to be silent when you’ve been silent for far too long already.

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Also, dear white people: whilst we appreciate the outpouring of questions on how you can learn and make a difference, this is a time for you to show INITIATIVE. We as black people have spoken, campaigned and fought until we were blue in the face! Yet hardly anybody listened or fought for us. WE ARE TIRED! In fact, we are SICK and TIRED of being SICK and TIRED! We shouldn’t really have to educate and give you pointers at this stage, because there is an abundance of resources out there already and it seems rather lazy. It may sound harsh, but I am speaking from a real, honest place. Many of us have had to water down or sugar-coat the inequality we’ve suffered to try and avoid causing ‘offence’ for way too long. However, now –  we’re tired of being silenced or having to speak with a filter just to make you more comfortable or for us to feel ‘accepted’. We have never wanted to give anyone the satisfaction by playing into the stereotypes of the “angry black woman” or “dangerous black man”, which meant our voices were muted out of fear and self-preservation. Please don’t try to gaslight black people by suggesting that we’re “too sensitive” or “over-reacting” in situations where we have been treated unfairly. Racism is very much alive and KILLING. The new racism is to deny that racism exists. It is also even more offensive to say that you don’t see colour. Not only does it minimise our struggles, but it fails to acknowledge the reality of difference and diversity. If you tried to show us more compassion and acceptance, whilst communicating an emotional warmth and safety, it would be truly appreciated and would help to aid our healing.

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Also, just for the sake of clarity, being pro-black does not equate to being anti-white. In fact, we are not anti-police either. We are anti-police brutality. However, injustice hasn’t only occurred within the institutionally racist police force or the Criminal Justice System. We face it every day in education, on our commute, in our places of work, in the NHS, on a casual walk, when we go shopping, when we sit in the park and many other public places. We’re also very attuned to the unconscious bias that our peers and colleagues convey – both in passing and in conversation. Racism doesn’t always have to be explicit in order for it to count. In fact, implicit racism is equally harmful, as it indicates a lack of awareness and accountability for the prejudice that exists in your mind.

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Having worked in various secondary schools, I have seen that BAME students are disproportionately excluded in contrast to their white peers. According to the DfE (Department for Education, 2006): every year 1000 black pupils were permanently excluded and nearly 30,000 received a fixed period exclusion in the UK. In 2017-2018, the DfE published that pupils from black and mixed-ethnic backgrounds had the highest exclusion rates in the country. Obviously, there are many underlying factors, which I may discuss another time, but the fact still remains. I have also worked in a Young Offenders Institute and many of the black males were serving longer sentences in contrast to their white peers, despite the fact that they had committed the same offences. The Lammy Review (2017) also revealed that black men are 26% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody. In fact, according to the Prison Population Statistics (2019) over 50% of the prison population in the UK are from BAME backgrounds. This is not a coincidence! To the fragment of society who have been in denial, do you still believe that systematic racism is no longer an issue?

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As black people, our Mental Health has suffered tremendously due to the emotional, psychological, physical, social and spiritual trauma we have been subjected to over a prolonged period of time. There is a huge proportion of black people who are suffering with PTSD, who may not even be aware of it. Then, to add insult to injury, once we are admitted into forensic mental health units or if we are detained under the Mental Health Act (1983), not only are we subjected to unfair treatment, but we are also more likely to be misdiagnosed; resulting in patients receiving the wrong medication. Furthermore, black people are four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act than white people. Research has been conducted due to the controversy around cultural and ethnic issues in the diagnosis of schizophrenia (although, that is probably a topic for another day). Still, this begs the question: How can one simply choose to ignore or excuse the statistics, articles and graphic videos that are staring them directly in the face?

“Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere” – Martin Luther King Jr.

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Whether you’re a teacher, a leader, a doctor, a nurse, lawyer, therapist, journalist, employer or otherwise – please take some time to reflect on how you treat black people and other People of Colour. Then take action to implement inclusivity, support and unity in your place of work and community. Failure to do so, means you are complicit – whether you identify as being racist or not. Be anti-racist in your thoughts, words and deeds. Spouting or commenting “All lives matter” or “Black lives matter, but…” is totally ignorant, insensitive and counterproductive. It fails to acknowledge the ways in which society has made us feel that our lives are insignificant and of no value in comparison to our white counterparts. At no point have black people said that all lives don’t matter, but for the longest time – we have been targeted and killed without a second thought. We have constantly been oppressed throughout generations. Furthermore, we are rarely acknowledged for our contributions in building infrastructures, or given credit for our writing, research, fashion, art or music. Please stop appropriating our culture. You can’t love the fruit we produce, yet hate the trees. You cannot respect our culture whilst disrespecting us.

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To those of you (white citizens and law enforcers, etc) who have been kneeling and marching beside us, please ensure that you are not simply being an activist in public, but in private as well. To our non-black allies and friends who have been a voice for the voiceless, by staying woke and supporting us in various ways – we truly appreciate you. The world needs more of you. For those who have been silent but have black friends or colleagues, please check-in with them and show genuine concern for their wellbeing. To the ‘influencers’, this is not a time to use the #BlackLivesMatter movement to gain more followers. So, please make sure your social media presence correlates with your offline persona – behind closed doors, when no-one is watching. To use our struggles for your own personal and political gain is shameful, disgusting and egotistical. Please use your position of privilege to impart the knowledge and wisdom you gain from educating yourselves.

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Mere sympathy is insufficient right now; we need empathy and solidarity.

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To my fellow black brothers and sisters, I see you. I feel you; I hear you and I am here for you. May God give us the strength and comfort we need to get through these difficult times, and may He turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh; in order to facilitate justice and healing in our communities.

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The Mental Health Foundation states that racism, socio-economic inequalities and stigma have heavily contributed to mental illness in our communities. It is okay not to be okay right now, after all we’ve endured. Our generation have to eradicate the stigma and break generational cycles of trauma in order to heal and better equip the generations to come. As a people, it is crucial for us to create and access Mental Health services we can trust in order to receive the support we need and deserve. These are some of the reasons why I do the work that I do and why I am training to become a counsellor/therapist. Representation matters. Building trust matters. Empathy matters. Healing ourselves and our community should be a priority.

Self-care

Self-care is important, especially during these times. The constant bombardment of negative news, images and videos can cause even more distress. Please take social media breaks when necessary to re-charge and preserve your own Mental Health. I am also a firm believer and advocate for personal therapy, so please seek support if needed. There is nothing wrong with processing your thoughts, feelings and concerns in a safe and non-judgmental space with someone who is professionally trained and neutral. Also, if you are worried about the lack of representation in counselling and psychotherapy, there are ways you can search for BAME therapists online via the BAATN Directory, Frontline Therapist, the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) and also via the Counselling Directory (all are UK based).

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The race isn’t over yet… Real justice can only be served when the murderous perpetrators are charged appropriately and convicted. So, let’s continue to unite against racism and injustice – regardless of whether it has been your experience or not.

 Lastly, may we ALL be the change we wish to see.

Love, Light & Blessings,

Lily

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Author: Gifted Lily

Creative empath & old soul.

2 thoughts on “Black Lives Matter: An Open Letter”

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