As Black History Month ends, Samuel Dawson has been into Soho for Boyz to ask people what Black Lives Matter means to them.
Black, Lives and Matter: Individually, these are three simple words that you wouldn’t think twice about in everyday speech. However, when fused together, these three words send out a multitude of echoes, interpreted differently by each and every one of us. I went to the heart of London’s scene in Soho, to find out what the words Black Lives Matter mean to some in our community.
The year of 2020 has been one of turmoil and confusion. From a global pandemic to political turmoil, there has been a lot of information to digest. One of the incidents to particularly stand out was the tragic death of George Floyd. Following his murder, the Black Lives Matter movement gained incredible momentum. The outcry was heard across the world, with the UK being one of the countries to see its people break lockdown restrictions and protest.
“It (Black Lives Matter) means a breakdown of racial barriers that have been happening for way too long. It’s a representation of things long overdue. Enough is enough.”
“Because it’s a phrase that is so obviously straightforward and uncontroversial, it has become controversial. You have the media like Fox who have taken Black Lives Matter, and turned it into an exclusionary as opposed to an inclusive slogan. It subverts the meaning of the words and it adds an alternative meaning that isn’t there, in a very cruel way.”
Many came out in agreement that not enough is being done for the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in Britain but the Black Lives Matter protests faced backlash for huge crowd gatherings, vandalism of historical statues, and violence against the police. Although the protest’s extreme incidents were a minority in comparison to all the good, they appeared to have been highlighted the most.
For a protest that focused on one group of people, the UK supporters were diverse. This was one of its beautiful aspects and it truly illustrated how far we have come as a country. With this diversity, comes a variety of personal experiences and therefore a variety of emotions.
Vandalism and aggression certainly aren’t positive methods of putting a point across. They are, however, good indicators of how severe the problem is. When the statement Black Lives Matter was made, one of its purposes was to empower people. It wasn’t meant as an attack, as some seem to feel. It’s a reminder, that although you might not be doing the hurtful acts, it doesn’t mean that bad things aren’t happening in the environment that you are a part of. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“To me, it is about people coming together and to stand up for, whether it be a societal system, or whether it just be blatant racism, coming together and standing up for each other’s rights. That doesn’t necessarily mean whether you’re in London, England, or whether you’re in America, the point is that we should all be coming together to support and advocate those rights and make sure people aren’t being oppressed subtly or overtly.”
UK Black Pride celebrated its 15th birthday this year – although due to the 2020 lockdown restrictions the event was transformed into a successful live stream. Despite being an event that aims to celebrate people being themselves, some in the mainstream LGBT community still ask, ‘Why have a separate Pride?’ This goes back to the ‘All Lives Matter,’ conundrum. If all lives really did matter, then there wouldn’t be a need for people to come out and say that their lives matter.
“Being a black guy myself, I’ve had racial names being called at me. So, it’s important for a black guy like me to put that out there. Being black is beautiful and I enjoy being black. I’m proud of who I am, and I know that there are people who might not like that. Like I said, I’ve had people call me ‘n*****,’ or ‘You’re too black’. So, I feel like now is the time to speak out. And if you enjoy our culture, if you love the [hand movement illustrating sass]; then accept us for who we are.”
Similarly, if everyone in the LGBT community felt that they had the freedom to celebrate who they are at Pride, they wouldn’t have needed a separate event where they could. In 2018 Stonewall published a report revealing that over half of BAME LGBT people have faced ‘discrimination or poor treatment in their local LGBT community’. Coming together and striving to listen and support one another is something that we all need to do.