2020 has been a mentally trying year. Aside from enduring the global pandemic, the viral nature of the Black Lives Matter movement really pushed the Black community to the edge.
The brutal public deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were deeply traumatic and overwhelming to comprehend - the grotesque proudly public nature of George’s murder was deeply shocking. The global outrage over the murders felt hypocritical in a world where everyday racism are micro-aggressions against Black people are largely ignored, tolerated and worsened by white people. For example, a white person asking a Black person where they're really from - this assumption that if you're Black, you couldn't possibly be from the UK, is really triggering.
As Black people, we are taught from a very young age how to keep ourselves alive in a society where we’re at the mercy of white people, especially when it comes to law enforcement. I have become desensitised to the continual poor treatment of my community by those in authority; watching George Floyd die was traumatic, but given that white people have asserted violent domination on Black people since the colonial days, it was sadly unsurprising.
Having to constantly remind my white followers during the BLM movement that they had to do the work, not me, was exhausting. The onus fell to me time and time again, and I was bombarded with covert, passive aggressive messages where I was asked to teach my followers how to unlearn racism as if it was my duty – despite there being a wealth of information online.
Instead of self-educating and taking an introspective reflection on their internal bias, privilege and racism, they palmed it off onto the very people affected by it (the Black community). I was left with no choice but to turn off my direct messages and limit my Instagram engagement to preserve my own mental wellbeing. It was both frustrating and stressful.
I always knew my Blackness mattered. It was reinforced by my family growing up that my melanin was one of the most beautiful and powerful things about me and that no-one could take that power away from me - regardless of how Black people are portrayed and treated in the world.
I have grown to love myself even more through my work as a plus-size model and activist and by being unapologetically myself. I am a beautiful, strong, tall, defiantly big bodied Black woman in a space where these things are not celebrated. I am making a difference and carving out a space for myself and minority bodies like my own, in a time where white people have tried to erase Blackness.
This year, Instagram repeatedly removed nude pictures of me, a clear indication that being a fat Black woman is somehow offensive, whereas slim white women are seen as the blueprint of what’s acceptable. This is a perfect example of the micro-aggressions, covert racism and the attempted erasure of Black people that needs to stop. As a Black person, society tells us that we're permitted to be seen, but we must know your place and be silent, as our ancestors were forced to be.
My security in the power of being Black and my resolve not to be blinkered by pretence, performativeness or fragility, allows me to live my life to the best of my ability, with the knowledge and understanding of how the world works - because when it comes to race, there isn't a level playing field. A lot of white people shield their ego by pretending that racism doesn't exist or choose to soothe it by doing a single act and then blinkering themselves once again.
White people often try to shy away from discussions by redirecting ownership of racism and the duty of dismantling systemic racism to Black people - they use their inherited ability to hide behind their white privilege. The fact that Black people were demonised and said to be ‘spreading the virus’ during the BLM protests (a hypothesis that never came to fruition, as cases did not rise as a result), while a lot of people were breaking lockdown protocol, flooding to Britain’s coastlines, showed how unwilling the media were to face the issue of racism openly and honestly.
There was little focus on the measures that the protestors took to protect themselves and each other. Those who protested for fair racial treatment, for the end of 400 years of discrimination, handed out face masks and water, and encouraged one another to follow the guidelines and socially distance as much as possible. It was a perfect demonstration of modern systemic racism – instead of looking at why the protests were happening in the first place, the focus was turned on the removal of racist statues, such as Edward Colston in Bristol. Systemic racism thrives in situations like this; the focal point is redirected onto every other issue other than the one at hand.
The roots of racism are deeply and tightly knotted around each aspect of life, culture and in societal views. Its branches are far-reaching - consider the fetishisation of Black men and women and the disenfranchisement of young Black people. Think about the introduction of colourism in Black culture and the erasure of Black history in schools. Young Black men in London are 19 times more likely to be stopped by police than the general population. In England and Wales, they are also five times more likely to be murdered. Black women are more likely to die from complications surrounding childbirth than white women. These figures and issues are just the tip of the iceberg.
There has to be an acceptance that Western wealth and growth was built on the broken backs and manipulation of Black people - the responsibility of dismantling everything that came after that, is on white people, not Black people. Living through everyday racism as a Black woman is hard enough, without having to constantly explain what is and isn't racist to white people, who are adamant to tell me that my own experiences aren't racist.
Unfortunately, this year has proven what Black people have known for a long time -when it comes to race, exploitation will always take priority over progress. BLM served a purpose to allow white people to ease their guilt and appear ‘woke’, without having to actually do anything about why they made that post or took a selfie at a protest. Until racism is addressed meaningfully, until the white community practice what they pledged in June, real change is a long way off.
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