Patrick Vernon on why Black Lives Matter here in Britain
The resurgence of Black Lives Matter as a result of George Floyd’s murder is now a universal human rights campaign. This time round, more white people are fully embracing BLM and starting to understand that everyday and structural racism is not a figment of black people’s imagination. They are attending the marches, demos, vigils in defiance of the government lockdown due to Covid-19. The debates around white privilege, being an ally to black and brown people and mainstream bodies rushing out statements of solidarity to the Black Lives Matter cause is all welcomed.
The question which all black people are asking is: is this the start of a serious discourse on race relations in Britain? For many years, race was off the agenda – despite Grenfell and the Windrush scandal. However, the removal of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol was a similar iconic moment to when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. The demolition has kick-started a national conversation about Britain’s colonial past and its crimes against humanity which black people have had to endure for the last 400 years.
However, Boris Johnson seems more concerned about protecting statues representing that colonial past than black lives. The government’s handling of both the Grenfell fire and the Windrush scandal is our Black Lives Matter cause: 72 people died in the tower, while the deaths of five people from the Windrush generation have been linked to the traumatic impact of the hostile environment.
Johnson’s response to Black Lives Matter is to focus on the rule of law and announce another commission on race relations, another way of avoiding the issue. This country has had more reviews on race in the last 30 years than the number of weapons in our nuclear arsenal. The review regarding the Windrush scandal, which was published in March with 30 recommendations regarding structural change in the Home Office, is already being displayed in the museum next to Colston statue.
The Public Health Review on BAME deaths and Covid-19 has now become a laughing stock, showing neither transparency or an acknowledgement of the reasons behind the loss of black and brown lives.
It is now clear that despite the attempts by the government to convince BAME health professionals and the wider community that it wants to tackle and focus on high levels of deaths connected with Covid-19, it is just a mirage. The reality is a lack of commitment and a blatant disregard for our lives and humanity.
I am part of a campaign called We Need Answers, calling for an independent public inquiry on Covid-19 and BAME communities. This campaign, like previous ones over decades in fighting for race equality and justice, eventually resorts to a legal challenge to force scrutiny and public accountability for change. We hope the Prime Minister in the context of Black Lives Matter will now seriously consider the issues of racism, tackle head-on structural racism and adopt the UN Decade of African Descent for a meaningful dialogue and engagement with the community.