The World Economic Forum and the Thomson Reuters Foundation published an article by Lola-Rose Avery entitled “Why systemic racism is not just an American problem.”
In it, there is reasonable argumentation around and coverage of the murder or death of George Floyd due to asphyxiation after several minutes with, at least, half of the weight of a police officer pressed on his neck. Subsequent to this, there have been massive numbers of protests against the individuals who suffer under disproportionate police brutality.
Avery said, “As Brits have taken to the streets in protest, many have been vocally disdainful about it because, in their eyes, we don’t have the problem with racism that America has. Ironically, a lot of people have been angry about the anger. Others have likely acknowledged the injustices quietly to themselves but decided not to speak out at all.”
Even as there are proper claims as to a massive decline in violence and in racist sentiment and actions, it can be tone deaf to a particular moment with some of the largest protests of the modern era arguing for criminal justice reform and a direct addressing of grievances as such. Thus, the basis for immediate social actions build on long-term trends with both the inertia of history – not as some inexorable or mystical force – and the ramping up of change in some systemic areas disproportionately impacting blacks is important, especially as modern technology permits open cataloguing of the incidents.
The bar should not be set to what was yesterday, while the bars of prior generations can stand as a point of appreciation as to the hard work, dedication, and moral striving of prior generations because of the civilizing effects upon the societies of the social and civil rights revolutions and movements. Indeed, when we look at the assessments coming from some feminist circles about the need to curb male violence, the arguments by some activists across ethnic groups looking for justice for the murder of black men and women out of proportion to the general population, and the Steven Pinker-Humanist vision of a long-term trend of Enlightenment values infusing the society for the better, we come to the, at a minimum, triplet foundation of mutual disagreement belying a common theme. The disagreement is superficial while the common theme unites them.
When we look at the long-term historical trends, certainly, things have been improving over these periods due to technology, science, and values emergent from Humanism and the Enlightenment and a decline in fundamentalist religion. As well, we continue to see the disproportionate treatment of women in a number of domains, as the brilliant Rebecca Traister shows; in addition, we continue to see, as the illustrious Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson has noted, the disproportionate impacts of black bodies, especially black men’s bodies, by authorities. I will go out on a limb and state, “All three are mutually supportive of one another and integrate to a more coherent framework for comprehension of the issues facing us now, because all three frames of analysis matter and have validity.”
Now, as per the lead of Avery on this, I do not mean to make the argument of the weighing of different negatives, as in the least racist option of several is the best, i.e., no racism is ideal and best, but these arguments require buttressing with a mutual reinforcing tripartite framework provided above, in abridged conceptual presentation, and the facts before us with the possibility with further change now.
“A study published in 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Sociology suggested that Britain is one of the least racist countries in Europe,” Avery said, “But as the rapper Dave said during his performance at the Brit Awards in February 2020, referencing the study: ‘the least racist is still racist.’ He received widespread backlash from furious viewers who said he was wrong and ungrateful.”
As Avery continues to note, the issue isn’t the improving trends; it is the low bars relative to yesterday held. We can be grateful for all advancements for a civilizing effects upon the populations while taking into account the bar should be as high as possible within the context of now. Otherwise, we’re daydreaming, while recognizing the negative effects upon people, by accident of birth, are being discriminated against based on skin colour by racists, whether racist slurs hurled at an individual, racist violence, or discrimination in police brutality in the “use of force” or in hiring.
Avery is very candid about personal experience too, “The truth is that I have experienced racism at every stage of my life. My earliest memories of this are from as young as three years old. This continued into my school years, where increased vocabulary meant that the name-calling ramped up a gear and I was called things such as “Lola the black cola” as well as being kicked and punched on the playground and around my neighbourhood at home.”
Here, we have a country far less racist than its past while still racist by improved standards with verbal and physical violence inflicted upon an innocent and bright woman working hard to find her way into society; indeed, she’s working into one of the most coveted positions in the society, as she notes. For individuals in societies around the world, even those amongst the least racist by historical and current standards, there should be a focus on not only focusing on a rhetoric and social set of action against the least worst mentality and the idea of simply being silent on racism. In that, “silence is complicity,” as Avery affirms.
In many ways, this is true; context is important and discerning meaning & intent in borderline cases is extremely important, but, in general, I would endorse this statement.
“There is a long history of black people being compared to dark-coloured animals. I had my turn when I was compared to a horse on multiple occasions by a group of people whilst I was at university,” Avery stated, “Social media was established by that point and this meant people could also create fake accounts, anonymously messaging me more extreme racial abuse.”
She experienced a series of more covert racism, by her recollection, with comments considered offensive due to direction at specific minorities. Therefore, Avery notes this is not an isolated-to-America issue, but, rather, a larger one. The fact of the conversation happening publicly and open calls for the change in some of the sociocultural, and institutional, contexts for this to happen is a strong positive.
My experiences are a microcosm of the racism we have here in Britain: the blatant, yes, but also the more subtle, which insidiously infiltrates every aspect of our society and which can go unseen by anyone who is not on the receiving end, anyone who is not a black or minority ethnic person.
The systemic racism that lead to George Floyd’s death is also at our doorstep. It’s not an American problem. It’s not isolated incidents.
Being quietly ‘not racist’ is not enough. White people, who are the beneficiaries of this system, must educate themselves as to how and to call it out with the same vehemence as black and minority ethnic people if it is to be dismantled. Silence is complicity.
In these contexts of gratitude for the progress made, with a realization of the overt and covert forms of racism and sexism, and the ways in which to capitalize on positive trends, social movements, and the advancement of the morality of human rights, we can make a better world for all. And why not? So it goes.