‘I CAN’T BREATHE’: We can defeat racism, together!

Government, churches, and British society generally must intensify efforts to extinguish the effects of 400 years of racism and legacies of enslavement, i.e., gruelling racial inequalities in our country. White Americans in almost unprecedented numbers across their country are emphatically calling for justice and an end to racism and racist police behaviour following the gruesome killing on May 25th of African American man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis police. Not since Civil Rights demonstrations of 1960s America have the world witness whites joining forces with black people in such diversity, States, and numbers to plead for justice and freedom. Floyd’s ignominious death focuses the issue there, but black, Asian and minority ethnic people (BAME) in Britain continue to suffer the persistent indignity of racist hate, overt and subtle, and all the ills of systemic oppression, as the government’s ‘hostile environment’, Brexit and Covid-19 have devastatingly revealed.

Indisputably, racism is rife in our country! It can be shown, perhaps metaphorically, that, indeed, we ‘can’t breathe’! BAME communities are:

o more likely to die in prison, police, and immigration custody than white British people; o excluded from the number of clergy and staff when these positions should at least reflect the community they serve; o failed by mainline churches for the history and today’s rampant racism; o twice more likely, to die from Covid-19 than white British people; o high levels of unemployment (9% the highest in 2019, 4% white); o over-represented at almost all stages of the criminal justice process; o disproportionately targeted by the police; o more likely to be imprisoned and more likely to be imprisoned for longer than white British people; o nearly three times more likely to be arrested than white people; o more likely to be stopped and searched than white British people; o a lack of promotion and/or opportunity, education, housing; o Joint Enterprise – Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA), is disproportionately used against BAME communities. Of 500 prisoners around 80 per cent are from BAME communities.

The need for increased political will in church, in government and respect in society is urgent and unmistakable. Despite some progress in Britain’s community relations, e.g., following the racist murder of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence on 22nd April 1993, among others, and publication six years later of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report, BAME people are victims of structural racism and discriminatory attitudes and policies as evidenced in BREXIT, the hostile environment and Covid-19.

Lasting progress can only be achieved when white British people, en-massed, accept that racism prohibits their freedom too, at least psychologically, and join black and Asian people in the struggle for lasting change. No longer must our white counterparts fear that sharing power at all levels in society and defeating personal and structural racism equates with black-on-white retribution. Systems of oppression are built on greed, fear, and abuse over many generations, not on love, justice, and respect. The outpouring of love (not an affectionate emotion), the call for justice and the moment of respect now witnessed across
the world to George Floyd’s last words, ‘I can’t breathe’… ‘mama’ … ‘mama’, signals love as understanding, redeeming, good will. As Dr Martin Luther King reminds us: ‘If we retaliate with hate and bitterness, the new age will be nothing more but a duplication of the old age’ (James M Washington, ed., A Testament of Hope, p.140).

Arlington W Trotman: Former Secretary, Churches’ Commission for Racial Justice (CCRJ); former Moderator, Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME). arlington@awtrotman.co.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *