“I CAN’T BREATHE…” We can defeat racism, together! by Arlington W Trotman

Government and the Church – and British society generally – must intensify their efforts to extinguish the effects of 400 years of racism and the legacies of enslavement, ie. 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 25th May of an African American man, George Floyd, at the hands of the Minneapolis police.

Not since the Civil Rights demonstrations of 1960s America has the world witnessed Whites joining forces with Blacks in such diversity, across states and in huge numbers to plead for justice and freedom. Floyd’s ignominious death focuses the issue there, but Black, Asian and minority ethnic people (BAME) here 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:

  • more likely to die in prison, police and immigration custody than White British people
  • excluded from the number of clergy and staff, when these positions should at least reflect the community they serve
  • failed by mainline churches for historical and modern-day rampant racism
  • twice more likely to die from COVID-19 than White British people
  • suffering from high levels of unemployment (9% – the highest in 2019 – compared to 4% White)
  • over-represented at almost all stages of the criminal justice process
  • disproportionately targeted by the police
  • more likely to be imprisoned and more likely to be imprisoned for longer than White British people
  • nearly three times more likely to be arrested than White people
  • more likely to be stopped and searched than White British people
  • experiencing a lack of promotion and/or opportunity in education and housing
  • disadvantaged by the disproportionate use of ‘Joint Enterprise – Not Guilty by Association’(JENGbA), eg. 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, eg. following the racist murder of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence on 22nd April 1993, among others, and the 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 masse, accept that racism prohibits their freedom too, at least psychologically, and when they 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 equate 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…”, signal love as understanding, redeeming, good will.

As Dr Martin Luther King Jr 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) and former Moderator, Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME). arlington@awtrotman.co.uk

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