25 June 2020
Letter to the Editor
Black Lives Matter
from Natasha Broke
Any number of recent (and not so recent political) events – 2016 certainly feels like a lifetime ago – have led me to take solace in my bubble. However, I used to take pleasure in being challenged by the different viewpoints expressed in the Shaw Sheet, whether further to the left or further to the right of my own. Unfortunately that pleasure has moved through discomfort to a point where I have decided to stop subscribing. Before I leave, I thought I would explain why.
Your edition number 237, which addressed some of the events around the Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd, appalled me.
In “Bobbies Off the Beat”, Linda Goetz writes that “Most of us do our best to avoid [racism] in all its forms”. I am not sure how hard she was trying when she described George Floyd as “a career criminal”, “a black thug”, an “undesirable specimen of humanity”. She refers to him being “in and out of jail” since 1998 but, conveniently, omits that he had been out of jail since 2013 (and making amends). I cannot help but wonder whether the police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes also thought he was an “undesirable specimen of humanity” and took matters into his own hands. Did Ms Goetz pause to think about the world George Floyd grew up in? Where no doubt white police officers saw his “thuggish looking mug” and not his humanity?
She then moves on to “riots in the UK”. There were undoubtedly riots in the US but in the UK there were predominantly peaceful protests with a small minority of trouble makers. These were not riots. The UK may not be the US and our police force may be organised differently but in 2017 David Lammy produced a report of the systematic discrimination experienced by people from ethnic minorities at every level in the UK justice system. The latest report from the Ministry of Justice shows how far we still have to go to address the disparities. We should not look across the pond with any degree of smug self-satisfaction.
She talks of “mob rule” and an “ignorant mob” pulling down the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, Again, this was not a mob. This was a group of calm and well educated people who had tried for years to get an offensive statue removed or to get a plaque erected which properly acknowledge the evils of the slave trade in which Colston was involved. It is particularly patronising to write that statue of Edward Colston was not erected to honour him as a slave trader or owner but to fail to consider what it says in modern multicultural Britain, what it says to black people in Britain, that it was not even possible to have a plaque erected to acknowledge the complexity of his life.
And then to John Watson’s article “The Slave Trade, Not my fault” with its “ad absurdum” argument. The article misses the point that the legacies of empire, the legacies of the slave trade are not simply racial prejudice but also an imbalance of power. It is that the absence of that imbalance of power that makes the diversion taken by Neil Tidmarsh into tales of British slaves irrelevant (“Bristol’s Fallen Idol”). Ms Goetz seems mockingly to refer to “what some academics and activists would call ‘white supremacy’”. In common with Ms Goetz and Mr Watson I have been born on the privileged side of that power imbalance. I profoundly believe that it does “matter a damn” what our ancestors did: not so that we should feel guilty but so that we should understand the impact of their actions, the consequences and be open to understand, for example, what it might feel like to live as a black person in a City which honours its slave trading “benefactor”.
Linda Goetz is right that most of us do our best to avoid being racist. In this edition of the Shaw Sheet I fear that neither the contributors nor the editor were trying hard enough.