No Justice = No Peace
After months of lockdown in London, I caught up with student activists (and our Plinth models) Solomon Baugh and Isabella Slater, to discover why it was so important to them to join the Black Lives Matter March. On 6th June, they took to the streets (wearing face masks) carrying hand-drawn banners, with Solomon carrying aloft the famous Malcolm X quote, ‘That’s not a chip on my shoulder, that’s your foot on my neck.’ Solomon spells out the reality to me, "It is not a level playing field and I am tired of being thrown into a bracket before people even meet me. I strongly believe that change is achievable and necessary."
Isabella makes clear that this is no time to be passive or silent – most of us have spent months sitting at home wondering what the new normal will look like – whereas she feels that, “the current idea of ‘normal’ must change.”
Solomon points out that rather than just being a youth movement, adults have been doing their part and explains that his mother, “was reduced to tears at the through that her children still had to fight against the same racist injustices that she had marched against decades ago.”
Dr Joanne Entwistle (Cultural and Creative Industries, Kings College London – and Isabella’s mother) also supports this point of view. “I’m hoping this will be the beginning of the change we need to happen. I can’t believe our kids still need to protest against structural racism, prejudice and inequality. We all need to do our part.”
People need to change their views on black people. I feel like black people, especially boys from my experience, are perceived to be trouble and to be 'thugs' in many cases without people knowing them. For example I have experienced people crossing the road when they see me walking, which is a horrible feeling.
Tell me about the Black Lives Matter March on 6th June? Was this your first time taking part in a demonstration?
It was a very empowering and emotional experience for me, knowing it was directly related to my life and my future. I have also been to a climate change march, which was a good experience but felt far less emotive. The BLM march evoked feelings of anger and frustration at how these injustices were still prevalent in today's society. My mum, an Asian woman, was reduced to tears at the thought that her children still had to fight against the same racist injustices that she had marched against decades ago.
Whilst there were lots of very hopeful moments, I also felt a lot of sadness and frustration that the world I am growing up in is still so far from where it should be with regards to race and equality. Me and Solomon both went on a climate change march last year and while it was very emotional there was a clear difference in atmosphere, as the fight for equality has been ignored and swept under the rug, especially in the UK, with microaggression being overlooked.
Would you say this is a youth movement (under thirty), with real diversity?
The march was predominantly people under 30, however I wouldn't call it a youth movement, as adults are still doing their part and it is their responsibility to prompt change in their respective workplaces and industries. On the first day of the march, I was surprised at the diversity of races. However, the following day I was disappointed as there were far less white people than blacks. In the midst of a pandemic, black people, who are more vulnerable to the virus, were willing to risk their health in order to protest against an institutionally racist and predominantly white system. However, far less white people came to the march, despite making up the majority of the population, which to me is part of the problem that some people aren't willing to go far enough to reach change.
I have been really amazed by the reaction to the movement from young people on social media, with people who are white being very active and vocal about their anger about racism, and the changes that need to happen - posting facts about institutional racism and ways to support charities and black-owned businesses, how to confront racist family members or friends and more. In this way I really believe that the Black Lives Matter movement has become a very diverse, youth movement and that social media has aided this in being a place of education and awareness.
'No justice = No peace, our banner makes it clear that until there is justice there is absolutely no excuse to stop fighting, or to be passive. This sort of message was everywhere at the march and really created an atmosphere that the current idea of ‘normal’ must change.
What was it about the BLM movement that made you want to get involved?
The fact that I am a young black boy who has seen and experienced racism and I know that if there is not change that it will negatively affect me and my people for the rest of my life. My mum told me that, as a black boy, i need to work twice as hard and do twice as much in order to be equal. That is not fair. It is not a level playing field and I am tired of being thrown into a bracket before people even meet me. I strongly believe that change is achievable and necessary.
The understanding I came to after a long time of being ignorant; that I am privileged in a way that people I love and think so highly of for many different reasons are not, purely because of their skin colour. I want people to be treated as a result of their intelligence and their different qualities and skills, not by their skin colour as this limits our world so much. I also felt it was important for me to get involved because the movement needs diversity as racism is a problem to be solved by everyone and I think this idea of a shared responsibility is something that has really become understood in the past few weeks.
Do you feel that the lockdown and Covid 19 have highlighted inequality in London (for example - a higher mortality rate for the BAME community) - and contributed to the BLM movement?
I think these circumstances have definitely highlighted the inequality in London. The higher mortality rate of BAME people is sad and infuriating as it highlights the disproportionate amount of BAME people in frontline jobs. Institutional racism prevents countless BAME people from getting jobs in high positions and that has resulted in more BAME people in front line jobs.
I think it really has in many different ways. I find it especially painful to think about the different ways that lockdown has treated a black child in comparison with a white child, as there is such a problem in relation to class and race. The polarisation in education between private school children and state education is worrying as private schools have a majority of white pupils who in lockdown will have had much better lessons and communication with teachers and therefore are at even more of an advantage as a result of this lockdown. This, to me, has really highlighted the inequality right from the start of people's lives.
Do you feel that racism in the UK is the same as in the US? Is it better or worse?
I can't compare it to racism in the US because i don't live there. However, in the UK racism is still very much an issue on a day to day basis. Not to the extent that we are murdered on the street as often as in the US, but there is still institutional and systemic racism that suppresses the black community. Moreover, on a lower level, people need to change their views on black people. I feel like black people, especially boys from my experience, are perceived to be trouble and to be 'thugs' in many cases without people knowing them. For example i have experienced people crossing the road when they see me walking, which is a horrible feeling.
As far as I know, what makes the USA different to here is that there is more police brutality, and the segregation between races is more extreme. However, aside from those things, I think that the UK is just as bad as the US with both countries having elected overtly racist white men and an education system that refuses to acknowledge the reality of British history. I also think that the result of the Brexit referendum has also allowed for people’s xenophobia and nationalism to be expressed more confidently. In addition to this there are so many microaggression experiences in the UK. I'm lucky enough to live in London, where there is more diversity rather than in areas where there is very little diversity, as it means I don’t have to see the real extent of the UK’s racism.
Football is a game for all and the racism in football reflects society... however, it is not a footballer's responsibility to fix deep rooted racism in society. It is up to politicians and every single person to condemn racism and advocate change.
Tell me about the sign that you carried for the March?
My sign was the first one, a quote from Malcolm X, 'That’s not a chip on my shoulder, that’s your foot on my neck.’ Black people are often perceived to have some sort of attitude or a 'chip on their shoulder'. However, this view is only in society due to the oppressive institutional racism against black people that creates this perception.
No justice = No peace (this was held by Solomon’s brother) but I feel that the message is so important as it makes it clear that until there is justice there is absolutely no excuse to stop fighting and be passive. This sort of message was everywhere at the march and really created the atmosphere that the current idea of ‘normal’ must change.
Solomon, you are currently training with a Football Club - do you want to comment on activist footballers such as Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling? Could Footballers do more? or do you think this is the responsibility of Politicians?
I think football does enough in this regard. Football is a game for all and the racism in football reflects society. Many footballers use their platforms to condemn racism, and many use their lucrative wages to fund anti-racism groups. However, it is not a footballer's responsibilities to fix deep rooted racism in society. It is up to politicians and every single person to condemn racism and advocate change.
What still needs to change and what would you like the world to look like in the future?
A lot still needs to change. The various institutions and systems that shape our society need to be more diverse, and people need to educate themselves and to try and promote change in their everyday lives. I would also like for there to be more focus on racism and black history in UK schools, especially highlighting the wrong doings of the British Empire and Britain's role in the slave trade. Also, more education on the civil rights movement and key figures such as MLK and Malcolm X. In the future I would like the world to be a fairer and more equal place to live in.
The curriculum currently taught in schools needs to change: it is no wonder racism continues to live on when real history is essentially denied. There should also be more diversity in business, government and the media. Job applications should not require you to write your name, your ethnicity and in some cases gender, as I cannot think of any reason as to why this should matter to an employer - it just encourages prejudice. I hope the world will be far more accepting and unbiased, and that we do not have to have any racist people in government - especially not Presidents or Prime Ministers.
What would you like to be doing in 20 years time? And what do you think the challenges will be?
The challenges are that Parliament is mostly white and we have a notoriously racist Tory government. In the future, I would like to be a footballer and to use my platform to be a proponent of change against racism; not that it is my responsibility.
I would like to be more active in my sixth form in encouraging conversations about race, but one of the challenges is the lack of diversity in my school, where the staff are mostly white, and not as active as they could be.