In our quiet corner of Surrey where there is little ethnic diversity it may be hard to relate to the unrest taking place across the USA. But, however, distant we are in both miles and life experience, the parish stands with those who are reminding us – in increasingly urgent voices – that Black lives matter.
The reason is the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died last week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when Derek Chauvin, a white American police officer, kept his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, during which time Mr Floyd was gasping that he couldn’t breathe. For the last almost three minutes George Floyd was unresponsive. He died. Derek Chauvin has now been charged with murder.
This is the current background to the call that Black lives matter, but the background could just as well have been the death of Eric Garner or John Crawford or Michael Brown Jr or Tanisha Anderson or Tony Robinson or Michael Dean or Jamee Johnson or Yassin Mohamed or Finan H. Berhe… the list goes on and on. They were all black and they were all killed by police officers.
These were in the USA where the Black Lives Matter movement began, but the background is also the disproportionate number of arrests of Black people in the UK (three times higher than for white people)1; it is also the fact that Black workers with university degrees earn 23.1% less on average than white workers1 ; the fact that a survey found that 38% of people from ethnic minorities reported being wrongly accused of shoplifting between 2013 and 2018, compared with 14% of white people, with Black people and women in particular more likely to be wrongly suspected2. It could be the greater impact of coronavirus on Black people than on white people in this country which has highlighted longstanding inequalities in health, incomes, housing and employment3.
These, and many more reasons are why Black Lives Matter, a phrase that has sparked a campaign which is here in the UK too (blacklivesmatteruk.com/). There will be people who say“but all lives matter” and, of course, all lives do matter, everyone is equally important. And that is the point. When there is a group of people being treated unfairly, even brutally, when there is a group of people which is discriminated against even to the point of being murdered, then it is up to us all to say “enough!”
What does it have to do with this parish in north Farnham? Most of us will claim not to be racist. We also claim to be inclusive and to be so because we follow Jesus. But we have to put that into practice. We have to remember that Jesus responded to need where it was. When someone was on the margins and asking for help he didn’t check that the more privileged were OK first.
So what do those of us who are white do? For a start, don’t just listen to me, a white woman. Instead, you and I must listen to the experiences of Black people, we must look at ourselves and our own actions, and we must see where we can change and where we can stand against racism and for our Black brothers and sisters. We must ask what our faith challenges us to do – what Jesus, whom we try to follow, would call on us to do.
We need to listen to people like Siana Bangura when she tells us that “being anti-racist is a verb, a doing word” and that “Guilt has little use now, we need to see courage and action. In the same way that you love black culture, you need to show up for our struggles too.” We need to listen to British man Rakeem Noble who spoke on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show this week (1hr, 50)and explained why the UK is not innocent. And we need to read the Gospels.
As Lesley Crawley says: “The Black Lives Matter campaign is so important because there are such gross inequalities between the way Black people and white people are treated, not just in America but here too. It is of central importance to us as Christians because Jesus, time after time, stood on the side of those who were marginalised. He stood up for lepers, for Samaritans, for the disabled, for women, for the poor… the list goes on. If these passages were removed from the Gospels then there would be very little left. Our heartfelt prayers are for an equal society, and until we get there, we lift our voices with those from whom justice is denied.”
Let’s add our voices to those calling for justice, for George Floyd and for all Black people.
Note: I have capitalised the word Black because I have been following the guidance of Lori L Tharps, Black woman and journalism professor, who wrote: “Black with a capital B refers to people of the African diaspora. Lowercase black is simply a color.”
1 Race report statistics, Equality and Human Rights Commission www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/race-report-statistics
2 Robert Booth, Aamna Mohdin, The Guardian, December 2, 2018. www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/dec/02/revealed-the-stark-evidence-of-everyday-racial-bias-in-britain
3 Haroon Siddique, The Guardian, May 27, 2020 www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/27/call-for-coronavirus-uk-race-equality-strategyCMP=share_btn_tw&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialSignIn
Photo: George Floyd memorial. Picture: Wikimedia Commons