Anything I could say about Black Lives Matter (BLM) and anti-black racism has already been said by Black people themselves, across the globe. I don’t want to add myself to the list of non-black people centreing their own feelings of guilt and helplessness in this discussion.
In my own time, I will continue to interrogate myself and my complicity as an individual, and in my communities, I will make every effort to confront anti-black racism wherever I see it. This includes South Asian communities, Muslim communities, queer and trans communities. It also includes women’s spaces and disabled people’s spaces. Anti-black racism is a problem in every single one of these, and this is a fact. We must confront ourselves and one another, “to face each other’s angers without denial or immobility or silence or guilt”, in the words of the legendary Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde.
What I want to do as your Liberation and Access Officer is to listen, to platform Black voices, and to encourage others to provide the support and resources that Black communities are asking us for. I will list some resources if you would like to learn more, as well as actions we can take to make our commitment to the words “Black Lives Matter” tangible, not a mere political or personal convenience.
Before doing so, I want to highlight some points which I think are incredibly pertinent for us all to think about during this time. Not only during this time, in fact, but every day. It is not to speak for, but only to reiterate words that have come from our Black siblings.
The death of George Floyd was not an isolated incident. We live in a world which systematically oppresses Black people, which is designed to do so. When we discuss diversity and inclusion, it isn’t enough, because Black people are not simply excluded from our institutions, they face systematic death and violence. From law enforcement, to detention centres, to border control, to our criminal justice system. Our universities are part of this, because they provide the ideological tools that allow anti-black racism to thrive. They also invest money and research into arms and weapons that are used to kill Black people all over the world.
Despite what the UK mainstream media may tell us, white supremacy and anti-black racism are not unique to the U.S. Here, Black people are twice as likely to die in police custody than their white counterparts. They are scarcely able to access healthcare, education, jobs and housing, and this is a death sentence. Only yesterday, the UK government tried to suppress the publication of a report which would prove that people of colour are dying of COVID-19 disproportionately.
The University of Manchester may or may not make a statement about Black Lives Matter, as other Higher Education institutions have done over the past few days. To them I say, these words are hollow when you turn a blind eye to racism on campus. When you allow students to bear confederate flags in halls, when you fail to hire Black academics, when you pay those you do hire less than their white counterparts, when you are silent about students blackfacing and refuse to name anti-black racism for what it is.
Our education dehumanises black people every day, and the University has to take our demands to decolonise our education seriously. Without action, if they persist in their refusal to listen, we do not believe them when they say that to them, “Black Lives Matter”. All the evidence is to the contrary.
Our Black students are angry, frustrated, distressed, and struggling. As your Students’ Union we are here to support your wellbeing to the best of our ability, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Advice service, or myself as your Liberation and Access Officer. The University’s Counselling Service is still open for students to access as well. However, I fully recognise my own limitations and the limitations of these organisations in the help they can offer. If the University is complicit in anti-black racism, if all of our institutions are, then it needs to be said that our Students’ Union is as well. Manchester’s African and Caribbean Mental Health Services may be a more appropriate avenue, and here you can find a more comprehensive list of resources for Black healing.
If you want to help BLM, there are various ways you can. Not all of us are able to go out physically in protest, due to the pandemic, due to our disabilities, or for other reasons. As ever, there are many accessible ways of being an activist, and there is almost certainly something you can do to help.
This being said, it is incredibly important to make sure that you interrogate why you are doing what you are doing, and whom it really serves. For example, many BLM chapters have told us that the “Blackout Tuesday” trend, the intention of which was for non-black people to mute their social media and actually listen to Black people, manifested in a way that was incredibly disruptive to them — and not the racist system which is what we should seek to disrupt — because hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, which are used in order to share vital resources and information, became flooded. If your actions only serve yourself as a non-black person, please reflect, listen to Black people, and find ways of tangibly supporting them.
Resources, info, and things you can do:
Sara Khan, SU Liberation & Access Officer