Racism is real.
George Floyd wasn’t a martyr.
He was a victim.
This is the final chapter.
‘Grandchildren of the Empire’ is a five-part series of articles that I’ve written relating to racial discrimination in the UK, particularly regarding the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the subsequent discussion it has sparked in Britain.
Whilst writing this series, I feel like I’ve been on a personal journey. It’s pulled things out of me that I never knew I had inside. But I’d like to take this opportunity, at the start of this final article, to go back to the man at the centre of this movement.
I’ll remind you now that George Floyd, an innocent black man, is dead.
This is a fact that virtually everyone knows at this point but, as we’ve sadly grown desensitised to acts of violence over the years, it can be hard think about what this really means on a human level.
It means that George Floyd’s family have had to bury him.
It means that George Floyd’s children will now have to grow up without their father.
It means that a devastating ripple effect will spread through his community as his absence is felt in more and more with time.
And, although it’s crucial to remember that his race was the reason he was killed, just take a moment to think of him as nothing more than a fellow human being. One who, if the world were a better place, would right now be going about his life as normal, unknown to the majority of us who have now found ourselves involved in this discussion.
I’ve recently heard some criticism from certain groups that people shouldn’t hold George Floyd up as a martyr for their cause. These comments anger me to no end because, historically, martyrs are people who intentionally die for their cause (although they don’t always have to do so voluntarily). George Floyd was not a man who died for a cause. He didn’t charge into battle, fully knowing the fate that awaited him.
He died trying to buy something at his local shop.
He died with an officer’s knee blocking his windpipe.
He died calling out for his mother.
And in death he has had the honour of becoming a symbol for a movement that is sure to positively affect the lives of millions. But to suggest that this honour was something that he would have actively sought out in the first place is to prove to the world why the Black Lives Matter movement is so desperately needed.
Every black man can’t be Martin Luther King.
What racism feels like
Whilst putting together this series, I’ve found that George Floyd has had a direct effect on my own life outside of writing, as more BAME people around me are coming forward with their stories. I have no idea whether the issues raised by this event will cause real change, or whether they will be swept under the rug as so many have been before.
However, I know at the very least that I’m not alone.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, it can be hard to determine whether racism in the UK is genuine. I often find myself questioning whether I’m being overdramatic or not. But events like this pull me back to Earth, reminding me that the struggles that I and the other 14 per cent of this country’s population face are very real.
All lives can’t matter until black lives matter, and I’m thankful that the BLM movement has inadvertently opened up the table for me to discuss the discrimination that British-Pakistanis have faced. My group is one that is seldom written about, so hopefully this message will be able to reach more people as a result.
I’d like to close this series by looking at how we can move forward as a nation.
White people often tell us that they don’t understand what racism feels like. These are usually allied white people as well; those who fully believe that they’re saying the moral thing by admitting that they don’t understand what it feels like. Even those who arrogantly claim that they do understand what it feels like will immediately contradict themselves later in their sentence, with their unintentional message speaking much clearer than their conscious one. Other BAME people encourage this admission and, to an extent, I do as well.
But, to an extent, I don’t.
This admission, from the mouths of a few people, can feel more like hands being thrown up in the air. A declaration of ‘I will never understand, so why should I bother to try?’ can seem more appropriate for these people. But I’m of the belief that most white people do understand what racism feels like; it just needs a bit of explanation.
Remarkably few people in our society are born into all the categories of straight, white, male, cisgender, rich, good-looking, fully-abled, physically-fit, mentally well, etc. It’s very likely that, at some point, a white person has faced discrimination for something that was completely out of their control. For example, being teased for having a Northern accent. Or being mocked as a child for being fat. Or perhaps being seen as threatening for having tattoos.
It likely won’t equate to what a non-white person in that situation would feel, but it will still hurt. Just that tiny, tiny bit.
To understand what racism feels like, take that tiny bit of hurt and amplify it as many times as you can. Sit in that feeling, and then stay there for the rest of your life. That’s what racism feels like. And, now that you’ve sat with that little taste, you might fight a little bit harder to stop other people from ever feeling that way again.
For those who want to know what they can do to help in the fight, just take a look around you. Look at what everyone else is doing, and then do whatever you can in that vein. Go to protests. Campaign for a reform of British history lessons. Demand that police officers be held accountable for acts of unnecessary violence. Donate money to the blacklivesmatter.com. Sign every petition under the sun. Whatever you, don’t do nothing.
Also, don’t be afraid to try something new. Like, say … writing a series of essays on the subject of racism in the UK.
I’d highly encourage other people to write about this topic as well. What you put together doesn’t need to be eloquent; it just needs to be legible. We live in a country where there are so few minority voices speaking out, so anything you can add to the conversation would be better than nothing right now.
Above all else, to the white Britons reading, be kind to the BAME people you see in the same way that you would be to anyone else. They aren’t all fantastic people. Just like white people aren’t always brilliant. Some of us are the biggest pains you’ll ever meet in your life. Nevertheless, we’re pains that deserve to be judged independently of our race and colour, and to be treated as freely thinking individuals.
Instead of scowling at us on the train (perhaps unintentionally), maybe just use the same blank and emotionless face that you’d show to anyone else on your soul-sucking Monday morning commute. Hell, I know this might be asking a lot of the UK, but maybe even give us a smile! I can assure you that some of the most threatening-looking black and brown men will see this as the event that made their day, even if they don’t show it openly.
And, for the love of God, don’t just post a black square on Instagram and put up your shoes for the day! I can promise you that, just like with everything else on social media for 99 per cent of people, no-one sensible should see you as a hero for doing so. In fact, I’ve seen many people do this that I know personally and would label as active racists. People posting things about BLM instead of apologising to those that they’ve hurt only infuriates me even more. Is this racism in denial of itself?
Writing this series of articles has been emotionally exhausting. It’s been an absolute pleasure because of how much I enjoy writing, and because of how much I feel that these subjects need to be discussed, but writing them was tiring nevertheless. Feeling the emotions that I have had to feel over this period of time in order to put these words onto paper took a lot of energy out of me, but it’s the least that I can do. After all, I’m one of few lucky enough to have a voice.
And to anyone who has made it to the end of this series, congratulations! I’m sure that you’re also exhausted from having to hear about all these things. Not to undermine my entire point about equality, but this especially goes for white people. I can imagine that hearing about this sort of thing for the first time can be jarring. Specifically when you’ve only just begun to question the system that has benefited you since birth. And I appreciate anyone who has taken the time out of their day to read my work in an effort to understand the struggles of BAME communities in the UK as a whole.
However, these things are even more exhausting to the people that they affect the most. The uneasy feeling that you might get from reading these articles is just a sample of what these people go through every single day, and it’s so important that we fight through the weariness so that we can make it to the other side.
Change is not a dream
I will always believe that change is possible. In fact, it’s inevitable.
Humans hate change, but it’s what they do best.
I just hope that I’ll be alive to see it take place on a significant enough level to fix the problems that I’ve outlined here. It will take decades, perhaps even centuries, but there are more people today fighting for civil rights and equality than there ever have been before.
For every bleak headline, there is a charity fighting to fund those in need. For every terrifying piece of iPhone-recorded footage, there is a bigot who opened their heart and changed their mind. And for every ignorant attacker who wants to go down in history, there is a new child born who won’t remember his name.
We are the grandchildren of the empire. We will lead society into a fairer tomorrow. We understand that the our country isn’t innocent, and we demand change.
Thank you for reading.
If you’ve enjoyed this series, be sure to share it with anyone who you think might like it. I write a lot about social issues and the human condition, so feel free to take a look at some of my other work!