In Memory of George Floyd
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
I had a blog planned for this week but considering everything that happened over the last 11 days, it just felt wrong for me to put out another positive classroom management post.
I don’t feel cheerful. And I want to be open and transparent with you.
Even as I am writing this, I feel tears well up in my eyes but they are trapped in my eyeballs, pleading to come out. The image of George Floyd has been playing on social media, the news and now sears my mind’s eye.
A tall handsome man, bound on the floor, like a farmyard animal, being sat on by 3 grown men, gasping for air while a monster of a human being crushed his windpipe under his knee with a mixture of determination and enjoyment. The other cop walking listlessly around like he was at a yoga retreat while the screeching passersby pleaded with him to stop his colleagues.
For 9 minutes, George begged and pleaded to breathe, even calling for his deceased mother to help him. 7 minutes in, George passed out and the offender STILL pressed on his neck almost like he wanted to make sure that there was no more life in him.
The brutality of it shocked even the hardest of hearts, and sent shockwaves around the world, hitting the black diaspora, after we are still reeling from the one-two punch of COVID19.
The point is that most black people around the world realise that George Floyd could have been them.
He was grabbed and thrown to the floor like many young black men have been thousands of times over our country.
If you are honest and asked most black people in the UK, I could bet you £1000 that they have been either racially or physically abused. This is so normal to us, we talk joke about it with other people in our communities. Gallows humour helps.
But That’s America’s Problem - Britain Is Not The Same
While looking over the social media landscape, I have heard some commentators say that “George Floyd, was American, we’re in England. We're not the same.”
You have missed the point.
1992 Stephen Lawrence. Murdered for the colour of his skin at 18 years old by 6 white youths. It took 25 years to bring just 2 of the killers to justice. The other 4 got away with it. The case was closed. He was only 18 years old.
2005 Jean Charles de Menezes - executed by the special police after they thought he was a terrorist. The officers were taken to trial but acquitted. The case was closed.
2017 Rashan Charles - chased and choked to death by a police officer because they suspected him of having drugs. It was only paracetamol. The officers were acquitted and the case was closed. He was only 18 years old.
And the list goes on and on. To be honest with you, we have become so used to these murders, we have become numb to it. It's just another day. Another life. Another headline. #pray for _____________ and then we forget.
White people have also died under suspicious circumstances with the police but extremely rarely do criminal charges get put forward. There are police officers who work hard to serve and protect their communities and are crestfallen at this tragedy.
But an institution that makes it that easy to murder people of a certain race and get away with it must be questioned fiercely and unrelentingly.
The roman poet Juvenal once wrote “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” which from Latin means “who watches the watchers?” Who holds the lawmakers to the law? There lies the problem.
This is not about Individual People but a System
George’s death, along with COVID19, has been the last straw for people of colour who have seen so much injustice, indignity and unfairness occur for so long.
This is not having a go at white people. I personally know many wonderful white people who have helped me, taught me and made me the man I am today.
And I also know that they are equally as disgusted and heartbroken over what is happening in the world. You are not personally responsible for the ways things are. Unless you are Count Dracula and have lived for 1000 years, you didn’t lay the foundations. None of us did.
But know we must acknowledge that something our society is broken. And it is breaking us.
Now, most decent people don’t go around using the N-word, making monkey noises and killing black people. But there are other more insidious ways that we are made to feel ‘othered.’ And here are a few:
Making racist jokes and calling it ‘banter.’
Minimising any complaints about race and saying you are using the ‘Race Card.’
Not hiring black people for a job saying that their ‘face don’t fit.’
Staying silent when a colleague, friend or neighbour is being bullied because of their race.
Acting surprised when we speak well telling us we speak ‘like a white person.’
The assumption that we are all ‘from the ghetto’ or we take drugs.
Locking your car doors or clutching your possessions when we walk past you in the street.
Being made the representative of every single black person that has ever walked the Earth.
Assuming that all black people like ‘chicken’ and ‘hip-hop.’
And so on.
From that BAME children enter secondary school, they are well aware that they are ‘different.’ My black and brown students over the years, with pain and frustration, have asked me why when they do something wrong they are called “thugs.” When a group of brown and black kids hang out together they are called a “gang.”
And why in their history they were “slaves” and “servants” but never scientists or explorers. And lastly, why they only have one month dedicated to their past and then for another 11 months it is silent.
These things hurt our kids.
Society tells them that they are garbage and you wonder why they don’t aspire to greatness? It’s not rocket science.
We're told that we are rappers, singers or footballers and that's all we can be. And those are the main reference points of blackness in the media. Our careers' brochure is so tiny.
Even when I wrote “The Action Hero Teacher,” I was warned by a teaching colleague not to write it because as a ‘black man I would never be taken seriously.’
That made me mad and it still does. Why does my voice get disqualified merely because of the colour of my skin?
I wrote 'Action Hero Teacher' because I believe that ALL voices are valuable and everyone needs a seat at the table. But as a black person, you are told that “you have to work twice as hard to get half as much.” That is not fair and it needs to be changed.
So what are the solutions?
I am not a politician, nor an activist - I’m just a humble teacher trying to get by like you. But from my own life experience, here’s what I suggest:
1) Go and have conversations with black people
We have now gone past the “Obama-I-don’t-see colour-phase.”
Have those conversations. We are not aliens, we are just like you. Some of you feel too embarrassed to talk about these things but we have to move past that.
Racism is an infected wound. It needs a lot of air and antiseptic to clean it. Talking and listening is the remedy that is needed. It may get uncomfortable, it may hurt but it has to be done. The wound has turned gangrene - we are in danger of losing the whole limb.
Black people, please let us not shut down the people who are trying to understand and partner with us. We will ALL have to work together to make any progress.
2) Get Educated.
I mean this in two ways: if you are unsure, study institutional racism for yourself. Also, we need to adjust our education system to include a rounded view of black people. Not just slavery and colonisation. There are millions of resources out there, but here are a few:
Anti-racism resources for white people
Hannah Wilson, Teacher Trainer and Former Executive Headteacher wrote a wonderful blog about resources for those in Education. Please read.
In 2017, the Conservative Government under Theresa May ordered an extensive report looking at the racial inequality in the UK. It was damning. None of the promises to 'even the playing field' have materialised either.
3) Speak out.
I don’t know George Floyd. I am sure that he wasn’t a saint. I heard that he may have had some scraps and made a couple of wrong turns in his life. I am sure that there are people who didn’t like him while he was alive.
But no human being deserves to die the way he did.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 -1945) was a German theologian who resisted Hitler at the height of his reign in the early 1940s. Despite barely making it out alive to reach America, Bonhoeffer’s conscience pushed him to return to Nazi Germany to help those that were suffering there in 1944.
He helped to assist various resistance groups and smuggled many Jews to safety. He was caught and sent to Flossenburg concentration camp. He was hanged in April 1945, one month before Germany surrendered. Bonhoeffer’s letters and writings stretched all over the globe and reached the hands of a young pastor called Martin Luther King Jr - the rest, as they say, is history.
Bonhoeffer in one of his letters stated:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Let me not mince my words. The way minorities are treated on a systematic level is repugnant. You would not want this for your children.
We don’t need allies. We don’t need advocates. We don’t need people to speak for us.
We need partners. We can hold our own if we are given the chance. If you see evil - because that is what racism is, you all have a moral obligation to challenge it.
You don’t have to march and protest. You don’t have to change the international judicial system. You just have to be a good human.
* If someone is getting picked on, check if they are OK.
* Be inclusive - imagine that you entered a space where you were always with people that didn’t look like you & think like you. It’s isolating, right? That’s the black experience every single day. Smile, make a conversation, ask about our lives. It helps.
* Where you see an injustice and it is within your power, highlight it to others that can stop it.
* Challenge your own and others' stereotypical assumptions.
* Respect other people’s cultures and don’t assume that if others do it differently they are wrong.
* Believe and listen to those who have to face these problems daily.
*Actively support anti-racist policies in your work/school/community. It can be as small as signing a petition, suggesting activities that promote diversity, exploring & acting on ideas from people that come from different communities and viewpoints.
If you want to march, then do it by all means - it would be welcome. But please don’t think that your everyday actions are irrelevant. It's a long journey, but we have a chance to run a good mile. Let's get our trainers on.
This all adds up and makes a difference. This will not go away overnight. This will be difficult and painful.
But remember, your kids are watching. My kids are watching.
This world is awful - let’s make it better for them. Or live trying.