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Solidarity – and taking action

Fay Selvan, Big Life CEO

Usually, I prefer to use this space to champion the work we do and the communities we work in. However, I wanted to share my thoughts on the events in America, which have shocked and upset so many of us. In particular I want to send a personal message to all our black and Asian staff, volunteers, service users and communities. I know the murder of George Floyd may have triggered many memories of harassment and racist incidents. I want to say to you – you are not alone.

The video showing the murder of George Floyd by the US police is perhaps the most shocking yet. If you haven’t watched it, I would advise you not to. It is a video of a black man being murdered right in public view in the street – while he begged for his life and passers-by shout at police officers to stop.

It’s easy to portray this latest murder as a terrible act perpetrated by a racist white supremacist – ‘one bad apple’ and so on. But that doesn’t explain why this keeps happening and why this cop felt it was ok to do what he did in broad daylight, in front of people. The shocking reality is that he did it because he thought he could get away with it. And this is what is most scary – particularly for people of colour.

But it’s not just about America. It seems easy to focus on American police brutality and endemic racism, and ignore the realities closer to home. We in the UK have our own list of names of black people who have died in police custody. Our communities of colour know what ‘Stop and Search’ really feels like. And just last week we saw that more BAME people received fines during lockdown than white people. Why is that not a surprise?

Discrimination in the UK is insidious. The entrenched racial discrimination in our country means that being black or Asian in Britain today makes you more likely to live in poverty, in poor-quality private rented housing, have less healthy years of life, and die younger. These are issues that I was determined to see addressed in our new business plan.

This week, Public Health England reported that being black or Asian means you are more likely to die from Covid 19. While it does not conclude why, one of the reasons is likely to be the numbers doing low-paid jobs such as taxi drivers, carers and retail workers. And the underlying health inequality experienced by black and Asian people is undoubtedly a major factor.

We know that racist cops can kill people. What Coronavirus has made headline news and exposed for all to see is that our society’s endemic racial discrimination also kills people.

This is why Big Life’s work is really important. Our mission is to fight inequality. This means shouting out when we see discrimination in action, redressing the disadvantages people of colour experience and changing services to make them right for all the diverse communities we work with.

It also means standing in solidarity and saying enough is enough. Let’s be clear, black lives matter.

But standing in solidarity has to be backed up by meaningful action and self-education. So, I wanted to share a few links that have helped me to learn more, and contribute to the #BlackLivesMatter cause.

  • If you want to understand more about the roots of the #blacklivesmatter movement in America, the Netflix documentary ‘13th’ is one to watch.
  • If you want to do more than share your outrage on social media then you can donate to a range of causes providing practical support to protesters across the States. One good place to donate to is Act Blue, which pulls together different bail funds for people imprisoned without access to bail
  • If you want to know more about racism in the UK, a good place to start is the book Why I No Longer Talk to White People about Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge.