The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement: Now is the time to stop and learn

Reading Time: 9 minutes

The Black Lives Matter movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of an African American teenager, Trayvon Martin, in February 2012. Since then, the movement has demonstrated against the deaths of numerous other African Americans by police actions and/or whilst in police custody. It has now gained international attention due to the tragic death of George Floyd, which has resulted in tens of thousands of people around the world protesting against the violence and systemic racism towards black people.

I am a white middle-class young woman. I have never experienced racism. Misogyny, yes. But I’ve never had to worry about being harassed, arrested, beaten, or killed because of the colour of my skin or country of origin. It’s important for us all to realise that we must start to educate ourselves and recognise how deeply we’ve internalised our culture’s values, whether we agree with them or not.

A huge part of the Black Lives Matter movement is centred on education; it calls for people of all races, ages and genders to educate themselves on Black history and how racism manifests itself in society. If you want to help the cause, become a better ally, better understand the experiences of Black people, and proactively make a change in society then you have come to the right place. This blog will detail the ways in which I have been increasing my awareness of the issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.

Get the terminology nailed

Before I started delving deeper into the movement, I wanted to make sure that I fully understood what I was learning about. Language can be difficult at the best of times, let alone when language relates to such a sensitive issue. In order for me to engage and support the Black community, I needed to learn the definitions of the words I would undoubtably encounter in my research.

I would urge everyone to look up the ‘buzz’ words surrounding the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, even if you believe that you already know the meaning. I had previously considered myself to be quite ‘in the know’ but I was often surprised by the true definitions that I uncovered. The glossary found on the racial equity tools website was a great help!

Online resources

My first point of call was the official Black Lives Matter website. If I wanted to learn more about the movement, then this would be the best place to start. There is a diverse range of information available from infographics to current news that’s easily accessible for all.

Podcasts to listen to

If you’re like me and are constantly on the move, then a podcast could be the perfect solution to finding the time for education. Here are some top recommendations that I’ve received from the students of Manchester University:

  1. Intersectionality Matters‘: Hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights advocate and leading scholar of critical race theory.
  2. The Echo Chamber Pod‘: Hosted by Ez and Jade who discuss issues from their perspective as black, working class women
  3. Good Ancestor‘: Hosted by Laya F.Saad who interviews change-makers and culture-shapers exploring what it means to be a good ancestor.
  4. Growing Up with Gal-dem‘: Hosted by Liv Little and Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff who are committed to voicing the perspectives of young women and non-binary people of colour.

I am currently enjoying listening to ‘Growing Up with Gal-dem’ and hearing the special guests reflect back on their youth. The series kicked off with Candice-Carty Williams, who was the author of the seismic hit novel ‘Queenie’, as she reflects on the pressures of facing depression as a young Caribbean woman. I was addicted from day one!

Books to read

If podcasts aren’t your thing and you prefer to read a book, then why not try one of following texts which have been recommended to me from fellow students at the University of Manchester:

  1. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism’ by Robin DiAngelo: This book provokes uncomfortable conversations on what it means to be white.
  2. Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire’ by Akala: The author takes his own experiences and widens them out to look at the social, historical and political factors that have left us where we are today.
  3. Afropean: Notes from Black Europe’ by Johny Pitts: An impassioned author illuminates a black world that for many would have remained unseen.
  4. Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World’ by Layla F Saad: This book will take readers through a journey of understanding their white privilege and participation in white supremacy.
  5. Why I’m No longer Talking to White People About Race’ By Renni Eddo-Lodge: An award-winning journalist writes about her frustration with the way that discussions of race and racism in Britain are being led by those who aren’t affected by it.
  6. An American Marriage’ by Tayari Jones: A novel that focuses on the marriage of a middle-class African American couple, whose lives are torn apart when Roy is wrongfully convicted of a rape that he did not commit.
  7. How To be An Antiracist’ by Ibram X. Kendi: The authors concept of antiracism reenergises and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America and points us towards liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.
  8. Black, Listed: Black British Culture Explored’ by Jeffrey Boakye: The author explores ways in which people with darker skin are located in language.
  9. Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘: A love story that articulates political statements about the human cost of military conflict and effects of globalisation.
  10. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou: An autobiography describing the early years of American writer and poet Maya Angelou and how she overcame racism and trauma.

I am currently working my way through #5 ‘Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change’. This book assists readers in understanding their own privilege so that they can stop unconsciously causing harm towards people of colour. This book has me completely invested in its text and my journey of self-discovery, reflection and rejuvenation.

Educational documentaries and programmes

If you are more stimulated by a TV programme than a book or podcast, then I have some great recommendations for you:

  1. ‘Sitting In Limbo’ on BBC iPlayer: A drama inspired by the Windrush scandal whereby Anthony Bryan is wrongly detained by the Home Office and threatened with deportation.
  2. ‘13th’ on Netflix: An American documentary which exposes the ‘intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the US’.
  3. ‘Strong Island’: A true-crime documentary film that centres on the April 1992 murder of Yance Ford’s brother, a 24-year-old African American teacher in New York.
  4. ‘I Am Not Your Negro’: A documentary film that explores the history of racism in the US through reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King KR.  
  5.  ‘Who Killed Malcom X?’ on Netflix: A documentary series that follows the work of Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a historian and tour guide in Washington, who for more than 30years has been investigating the assassination of Malcom X.
  6. ‘Dear White People’ on Netflix: An American comedy-drama television series that follows several black college students at an Ivy League Institution, touching on issues surrounding modern American race relations.
  7. ‘When They See Us’ on Netflix: A four-episode depiction of what led to the wrongful 1990 conviction (and eventual exoneration in 2002) of a handful of teenage boys from Harlem in the violent rape and assault of 28-year-old New York banker Meili.

After watching the first episode of #9 ‘When They See Us’, I was hooked. It will make you question the current justice system and what role race has in incrimination. The emotional impact of this series should not be underestimated and will take you on a journey of enlightenment.

Diversifying social media

The more I learnt, the more I realised that we all need to start diversifying the online content that we are exposed to on a daily basis. Instagram is meant to inspire. It’s a place to consume content that is full of things we love and it’s a space that we spend so much of our time in. We follow accounts focused on fashion, gaming, beauty, business, music, activism, finance, and everything in between. But how much is the content you see curated by people of colour? Diversifying our social media feeds will impact not only our online selves, but our ‘real life’ selves too.

Here is just a small pool of accounts that the students of Manchester Univeristy have been following on Instagram:

  1. @theconsciouskid: Provides ‘education through a critical race lens’.
  2. @candicebratwaith: Sunday Times bestseller & Founder of ‘Make Motherhood Diverse’.
  3. @Monachalibi: A British data journalist who uses infographics and multimedia on her feed to educate her followers on various trending topics including the Black Lives Matter movement.
  4. @Sonyareneetaylor: An American author ‘committed to radical self-love as a path to liberation’.
  5. @Adrienne_Idn: Host of the ‘Power Hour’ podcast, she provides inspirational posts that will gear you up for success.

Ways you can make a difference

All this new information I had attained started to seem a little redundant. What was the use in acquiring information if it wasn’t going to be utilised in a productive way? Below I have listed just some of the ways in which I have been putting my newly obtained knowledge into action:

1. Opening up difficult conversations with friends and family

Fostering conversations with friends and family about racism may seem a little daunting at first but raw and honest communication about the impact of racism is extremely powerful. It’s often difficult to know where to start but the more we have these discussions, the more normalised it will become.

I have started many conversations by referencing a certain piece of news or resource I that I have found useful. By recommending a book or news article to read, it gives you something specific to talk about. During these conversations it’s important to be a respectful and active listener but also ensure that you share your own feelings.

2. Supporting people of colour in their professions

Buying from black-owned businesses is a great way to support the Black community that goes beyond hashtags and Instagram posts. Here are some of my personal favourites:

  • Home Jewels Co: Vegan soy candles, hand poured and high scented, to fill your home with delightful aromas.
  • Y Fit Wear: Purpose-led sportswear brand that specialises in fitness and ath-leisure wear.
  • Bespoke Binny: A British-based brand creating homeware and gift items made from West African cloth.
  • Kiya Cosmetics: Haircare and skincare products that are packed full of truly natural ingredients.

3. Donating to anti-racism charities and funds

There are plenty of UK initiatives that are tackling systemic racism which would benefit from your monetary support. Here are just some of them:

  • Show Racism the Red Card: An anti-racism education charity that uses workshops and training sessions, among other resources, to educate on and combat racism
  • Runnymede: A registered charity that aims to ‘challenge race inequality in Britain through research, network building, leading debate and policy engagement’.
  • Stephen Lawrence charitable Trust: Named after Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager who was murdered at the age of 18 in a racist attack in southeast London. The trust is an educational charity, which was created ‘to tackle the inequality in all forms’ and is committed to ‘transforming the life chances if young people an improving the world in which the live’.
  • Stand Against Racism and Inequality (SARI): An organisation that provides support for people who have suffered hate crime.
  • Kick It Out: An organisation in England that uses football in order to promote equality and inclusivity
  • Stop Hate UK: An organisation committed to supporting people affected by hate crimes across the UK following the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
  • Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER): The initiative is dedicated to combatting racial discrimination and harassment across the country.
  • Discrimination Law Association (DLA): The association works to improve equality law by bringing together a range of individuals, including discrimination law practitioners, policy experts and academics.
  • Black Lives Matter UK: The collective of Black liberation organisers across the UK strives to ‘dismantle capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and the wider power structures that disproportionately affect Black people in Britain, form colonies, and around the world’.

4. Signing petitions

For those unable to donate, signing a petition can be the next best way to support the movement. I’ve listed just some of the petitions that are currently in circulation below:

  • Justice For George Floyd: This petition has already gathered over 10 million signatures which demands the police officers involved in his death are arrested and charged with second degree murder.
  • Justice For George Floyd: The petition demands the immediate arrest of the three officers who were present when Mr Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck.
  • Stand with Breonna: The petition demands justice for Breonna Taylor, the black emergency medical technician who was fatally shot in her apartment by the Louisville Metro Police Department.

5. Writing to local MPs demanding action

By exercising your right to hold your political representative to account is one of the quickest and most influential ways to make your voice heard and ignite meaningful change. An email will provide MP’s proof of public opinion which can be used to put pressure on the government. Change will not happen without pressure! Here is a list of templates that you can use to contact your local MP:

  • Demand the UK takes a stand against brutality and racism by using this email template.
  • Write to your local MP and demand the suspension of UK exportation of crowd control weapons to the US using this email template.
  • Ask for them to support further investigations into Belly Bujinga’s death using this email template.
  • You can help to make black history mandatory in the national curriculum using this email template.

6. Using social media platforms to raise awareness

Social media presence is a powerful tool that can be used to raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement. Whether you have 100 followers or 1million followers, don’t underestimate the influence your  platform has on others.

7. Calling for change within studies and profession

In addition to writing this blog, I have been a part of a group of dental students at the University of Manchester who are striving to bring about change at the dental school within the curriculum.

Without action there will never be change. It is our civic responsibility to acknowledge the injustices within our own educational system and future careers, and then call for change. Never underestimate the power of your voice and opinions!

People all over the world are waking up to the injustices that the black community has faced for decades and raising their voices to support the movement. I hope that this blog gives you the tools to do the same.

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