Culture wars dividing the West

| NewsAfrica | Opinion

One of the major world events during the Covid-19 pandemic was the eight minutes in which Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck.

A harrowing eight minutes that was blasted across social media and crept into conversations everywhere.

It became a conversation icebreaker – and killer – simultaneously.

‘Did you watch the George Floyd video’ was usually followed by ‘all eight minutes?’

And, in many cases, too, pitted people against each other depending on their take on Black Lives Matters movement.

It brought up conversations regarding justice.

It also brought up the question of the role of policemen in a society.

Are they to be custodians of their citizens or are they above the law?

The key question raised was why those in authority often did nothing to make sure those responsible were held to account.

Was it because black lives didn’t matter?

More videos of police injustice started to surface and more stories of the justice system going against black people in America started to make the rounds on social media.

It resulted in violent protests in the US, while, in the UK people defied lockdown to protests against the injustice.

It resulted in policemen in the NYPD taking a knee during the protests.

To most black people in America, it was a miracle this had never happened before.

The charges against Derek Chauvin and his colleagues were upgraded to second-degree murder as protesters’ tempers flared.

Some people also set out to sabotage the protests and make them violent.

The next conversation that came from this was why there were still statues of slave owners in various places around the world – a stark reminder that slavery was seemingly still being celebrated to this day.

In China, videos began to circulate on social media of government officials marching African migrants out of Chinese cities.

They blamed Africans for the Covid-19 pandemic.

While, in March, the media in the UK started reporting that the country’s black and Asian minorities were four times more likely to die of coronavirus than the white majority, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

The findings led to social media users blaming ethnic minorities for ‘spreading’ the virus.

A lot of critics argued that such statistics were unhelpful and risked fuelling racism – that a virus was creating a stigma around black people.

Zubaida Haque, the deputy director of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality thinktank, described the findings as alarming at the time saying: ‘We cannot ignore how important racial discrimination and racial inequalities, for example, in housing are, even among poorer socio-economic groups. These factors are important but are not taken into account in most statistical modelling of Covid-19 risk factors.’ 

A further look at the data then showed that the reason the virus seemed to be impacting ethnic minorities more than the white majority in the UK was due to the fact that hospitals and care homes have a far higher percentage of non-white employees than the UK population as a whole, which meant they were more likely to contract the virus and pass it on to their family members.

This was largely hampered by the UK not having a proper, functioning testing system at the time.

In the UK, the key question Black Lives Matter has brought has been ‘is the UK racist?’ and that answer changes depending on who you ask.

Some would argue that the UK is one of the most diverse and inclusive countries in the western world – Black and Asian children are much more likely to go to university than their white classmates in the UK.

Others, though, say racism in the UK is more ‘institutionalised’ as opposed to it blatant and in your face. 

This could be backed by statistics from the Home Office internal data which shows that black people are 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in Britain.

Meanwhile, a performance on the TV show Britain’s Got Talent – which portrayed the murder of George Floyd – received 24,000 official complaints, with many white commentators feeling the routine was unnecessarily political.

Another recent report showed that during the weeks of the Black Lives Matter protests in the UK and USA, there were 17 interviewees on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, and none of them was from a minority ethnic background.

This then begs the question of how can someone speak on issues that they have had no first-hand experience of.

This shows the paradox of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black people are being misrepresented in all forms of society and not being given a voice.

Critics of the movement argued the term Black Lives Matter meant other lives, by implication, do not.

And although many supporters of the movement have tried to clarify that all lives matter, it seemed that black lives were dispensable in almost any circumstance. 

There have been positives from the movement, such as big tech companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook recently vowing to increase the diversity of their workforces.

This month is Black History Month in the UK, which makes now the obvious opportunity for everyone to reflect on the state of black people in the diaspora, and how best to create a more inclusive society.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and we are all aware that this is the beginning of that journey. 

One thing we can be certain of is that we can see change happening and that is due to these tough conversations taking place which were previously left to the fringes of society.

If you have an issue with fighting for the rights of others regardless of race, the question you should be asking yourself is am I part of the problem perhaps? 

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