Sounds odd to state something so obvious, yet I feel there are some out there in the world who may need reminding.
Racism is lightyears more horrific than vandalism in every way imaginable. Smashed goods do not compare to the level of misery and pain inflicted upon those oppressed by a society built to favour white people. Racism is responsible for untold amounts of human suffering, vandalism causes damage to property.
A glance at the comments section for any news articles relating to the BLM protests suggests this has been lost on some. A sizeable number of white people are expressing an immeasurable volume of anger in relation to the isolated acts of vandalism occurring on the periphery of recent events. When it comes to the core issues existing at the centre of this movement, however, such rage seems to dissipate.
All of which is incredibly unsettling, as it showcases both complete denial and further proof of the ever present problems plaguing our society. We’re slap bang in the middle of a civil rights crisis, yet an unsettling amount of people seem to be focusing a majority of their emotional and ethical energy exclusively toward acts of materialistic damage. If vandalism is deemed to be more abhorrent than systemic racism, then property is being prioritised over human suffering.
After seeing such ardent words of vandal-focused rage plastered across the comments sections of articles, I can’t help but wonder whether these same individuals experienced equal heights of indignation after learning of the murders of George Flloyd, the 46-year-old who suffocated after an officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes; Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old shot to death in the middle of the night as she slept; Trevon Martin, the 17-year-old gunned down as he was walking home; Philando Castile, the 32-year-old shot by traffic patrol during his drive back from the grocery store; Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old murdered by a resident while jogging; Botham Jean, the 26-year-old shot by an off-duty cop/neighbour who entered the wrong house; or Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy shot by police for playing with a toy gun.
All of these victims showcased no signs of risk during their final minutes on earth, yet due to assumptions associated with their race, those responsible for their deaths identified them as a danger and subsequently took their lives. I wonder how the vandal-focused commenters felt about these acts of brutality. Could they even bring themselves to acknowledge that such events were racially motivated? If so, why aren’t they making reference to them while they vent feelings of revulsion over smashed goods?
How about the emotional response brought about in relation to Edward Colston’s statue? What did the outrage-brigade conclude after news broke of it being hurled into the Bristol Harbour? Was the anger aimed primarily at the destruction of the statue, or toward the legacy of the man himself? Colston was an 18th century Merchant responsible for moving 100,000 people from Africa to the Caribbean, where they were forced to live out their lives as slaves for the British Empire. 20,000 of those souls died en route; their corpses discarded overboard, some of which were thrown into the ocean as they were still dying. Colston is a key reminder of Britain’s grotesque involvement in the slave trade. Although he shouldn’t be forgotten, he should be remembered primarily in relation to this country’s barbaric past, the one that’s seldom talked about.
For several decades, local campaigners worked endlessly to have a plaque installed beside Colston’s statue clarifying that his fortunes were made off of the kidnapping and exploitation of Black people. Every request put forward was refused. Prior to the statue’s toppling, Colston’s image wasn’t being used as an example of Britain’s involvement in slavery, but as a public decoration that symbolically celebrated his legacy. Sure, white people may have been blissfully unaware of who he was. For Black people, however, this statue’s presence functioned as a continuous reminder that their ancestors were kidnapped and owned as property by men like him. In an alternative reality where racism was genuinely a thing of the past, Colston’s image wouldn’t have been used as a decorative commodity, it would have been in a textbook, perched next to a description of the atrocities he committed.
I wonder what these people’s responses were after it was revealed that 2015 was the year in which the British government finished paying off the debt it borrowed in order to pay back the estates who owned slaves. As a result of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, families, businesses and estates who’d made their fortunes off of slave labour lost their unpaid workforce. As a form of compensation, the British Government used 40% of its national budget to reimbursed those very owners. Those who were made to work as slaves received 0% of this money. This repayment plan was paid off just five years ago, meaning that up until the year 2015, British taxpayers were contributing a portion of their earnings to a loan that was essentially a 182-year-old apology to our country’s slave-owning ancestors. Not an atonement to those who were forced to live as slaves, but those who incarcerated them!
Are the comment sections of articles concerning statistical racial bias filled with similar sorts of frenzied anger from the same folk? For instance, one study conducted in March 2015 found that 13% of Black and 9% of Asian people between the ages of 16 and 64 were unemployed. In comparison, 5% of white people from the same area and age group fell into this bracket. Another study conducted by the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College found that job applicants from Black, Asian and other Ethnic backgrounds had to send out 80% more applications in order to receive a positive response from an employer than those who were white. In December 2018, the Guardian ran a series of reports called Bias in Britain which explored a variety of hidden impacts concerning everyday racism in Britain. One entry found that between April and September of that year, 40% of all taser related incidents carried out by the Metropolitan police were inflicted upon members of London’s Black community, despite the fact they only made up 19% of the city’s overall population. A study published by a government think tank in 2019 reported that 14% Black, 18% Asian and 10% Mixed households across the country fell into the low income bracket of families earning 60% less than the UK’s median average income. In comparison, 8% of white households fell into this bracket.
In 2014, the Runnymede Trust think tank examined overcrowded accommodation trends in the London Borough of Redbridge. They concluded that 13% of Black and other Ethnic groups lived in overcrowded accommodation compared to just 4% of white households. Data from the 2011 census showed that Bangladeshi households and Black households were 63% and 75% more likely than white households to suffer from housing deprivation. In another study conducted in 2011 by the Institute of Race Relations, it was concluded that although 26% of Wolverhampton’s overall population were of a Black, Asian or other Ethnic background, they made up 40% of the city’s homeless population. These are just a snippet of statistics relating to racial bias within the UK. A quick Google search will serve up thousands more examples similar to these; each one painting a disturbingly grim picture of a country that disproportionately serves Black, Asian or other Ethnic communities in comparison to their white neighbors.
I wonder how those venting rage toward vandalism would react upon discovering just how much control white people have over the power structures running the modern world? A 2016-2017 US study found that 100% of the top ten richest people on the planet, 90% of US Congress, 96% of US Governors, 100% of top military advisers, 91% of the US presidential cabinet, 90% of book publishers, 85% of news editors, 95% of music producers, 95% of the top 100 highest grossing film directors, 82% of teachers, 84% of university lecturers and 97% of football managers were white.
The UK is no different in this respect. A 2017 Guardian report found that out of the top 1049 most powerful and influential jobs in Britain, just 36 of them were held by people from a Black, Asian or other Ethnic minority background. The rest were white. There were no News Editors; three Government Ministers; two NHS Trust Chairs; one Police Commissioner; no Police force heads; one Metro Council Leader; no Metro Council CEOs; one Premier League manager; two Top Accountancy CEOs; no Top Mandarins; one Borough Council CEO; four London Council Leaders; one NHS Trust CEO; no Political Party leaders; one CEO of a Public Body; two directly Elected Mayors; no Arts Leaders; and no Law Firm leaders amongst these 36 individuals. That’s a heck of a lot of white minds steering our society.
As a white person, I’m beginning to realise some of the mental gymnastics we perform throughout our lives to try to justify the status quo. We struggle to acknowledge how much we benefit from a system that treats others so horribly, because deep down, such truths make us tremendously uncomfortable. Nor do we like to acknowledge that our actions or behaviours contribute toward these systems of suffering. It’s far more comfortable to convince ourselves that everything is fine and the problems of the world have nothing to do with us. This is why so many like to claim they don’t see race, or that racism isn’t the problem that’s at play. We simply do not like to admit to it.
The uncomfortable truth is, white people both benefit from and contribute toward systemic racism. White people growing furious at vandalism while remaining indifferent to civil injustice is just another way of ignoring the existence of racism and refusing to take responsibility for the part we play in a failed and deadly system. It’s a distraction from the larger problem. It’s also another way of seeing Black people as less than human; less vital than actual objects. It’s racism in action.
Our society is designed to cater to white people on every conceivable level. The stories we consume, the newspapers we read, the governments we elect, the schools that teach our children, the universities which shape future leaders, the employers who decide our earnings, the forces responsible for policing our streets, the doctors who treat our wounds, the lawyers who write our legislation and the academics who compile our history are primarily made up of white folk. We’ve been raised on a diet of white supremacy, which is probably why so many find it easier to focus on damaged goods than the victims of racism. It sustains the illusion that there is no racial injustice, that there’s just vandalism to worry about and nothing else.
Except there is something else. Racism is real, and denial will keep it alive and kicking. It’s for this reason we need to take responsibility and recognise the role we play in the messy world we were born into. We must reevaluate our relationship with everything going on and try to teach ourselves how to do better.
I hope those out there who remain fixated solely upon materialistic damage can learn to step back and take in the bigger picture. If any of those people happen to be reading this post, I urge you to try and shift your focus. If you keep telling yourself that racism isn’t here anymore, or that you can’t be racist because you have Black friends, or that you “don’t see colour”, remember that this is how systemic racism works. It’s operating under the surface, influencing behaviour and actions that you can’t always see. It doesn’t matter how much we tell ourselves we detest racism. If we’re white, we’re capable of it. We’ve been raised in a white supremacist world, it’s second nature. Which is why we need to open our eyes.
We need to listen to the Black lives who are calling out for an end to oppression and understand their experiences. Read their books, listen to their podcasts, watch their films, seek out their academics and try to see the world through a different lens. It isn’t too late to refocus that anger so it works toward fighting for a better world. Trying to uphold a system that doesn’t work won’t solve anything. This misery and suffering has lasted too long. The world in its current form is a burning mess with a power structure that’s beyond broken. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can start learning how to move forward.