By Amplify Stroud
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and the resultant protests across the U.S, displays of solidarity have been taking place worldwide. Orientated around the Black Lives Matter message. In Stroud, a series of peaceful deonstrations in front of the Subscription rooms served to show solidarity with the African-American and British BAME communities and hopefully provided a reminder that the UK is explicitly not exempt from issues on race and police brutality.
In response to demonstrations – local, national and international – many have taken to Facebook and on other social media, regurgitating the all too familiar ‘All Lives Matter’ line. In Stroud, a Conservative councillor for Chalford responded directly to Amplify’s footage of the event in outside the Sub rooms, tweeting:
This provides a stellar example of a misinformed rhetoric that seems to be growing increasingly prevalent online. While the councillor may be unaware of the history and context surrounding this phrase, this is a manifestation of the issues surrounding our discourse around racial prejudice. Ignorance of these factors from someone in a position of power is, therefore, deeply concerning. Even notoriously oblivious Boris Johnson, in an uncharacteristic act of self-awareness has shown nominal support for the Black Lives Matter protests.
The phrase All Lives Matter, at its core, is an attempt to deny the existence of any issue of race or racial injustice. The initial use of Black Lives Matter was in 2013, during protests against the acquittal of George Zimmermann for murdering Trayvon Martin. The phrase and movement became exponentially popularised in 2014, in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. All Lives Matter emerged spontaneously as an easy response for those unwilling to engage with or acknowledge the problem, a defensive response manifested in catchphrase form. The phrase attempts to pave over and ignore the issue at hand. Superficially, the statement is hard to argue with as equality for all is surely the objective of the progressive movement.
The initial claim that Black Lives should not be exceptionalised appeals to a malformed sense of universal equality. However, this implies that black communities are not actually subject to the massively higher rates of police violence that both historical and contemporary statistical evidence would show is true. Never having taken race into account, is often an argument offered to try and discredit any conversation around issues of race in order to avoid acknowledging one’s racial privilege. Which is, from the outset, an absurd statement to make and is indicative of an endemic white ignorance. An ignorance that Charles Mills notes as ‘active, dynamic, that refuses to go quietly’, serving solely to protect white privilege and silence the voices of people of colour.
The two conclusions to be drawn from this statement, therefore, are either that the speaker is a faultless paragon of virtue, not subject to the same psychological flaws of prejudice that the rest of us are, or that conversations about race are overreactions to a problem that they do not believe exists. The denial of police prejudice, or structural injustice, is often used to propagate the narrative that issues facing minority communities are caused by innate faults of the communities themselves.
An incredulous amount of debate surrounding the issues facing black and minority communities in the U.S revolves around the supposed need for personal reform. Prominent Republican Paul Ryan blamed rising black unemployment as a ‘tailspin of culture’. Other political figures, including Barack Obama, have regularly attributed violence in Black Communities to a lack of role models and father figures.
There is also a strong unwillingness to acknowledge that these issues exist in the U.K. at all. It might be true that our police force hasn’t been subject to the same degree of obscene militarization as in the U.S. but the racial disparity in police violence, and deaths at the hands of police, is painfully present. The Windrush scandal proved beyond a doubt that huge swathes of the country view the citizenship of people of colour as conditional. That white, Anglo-Saxon Britishness is the only authentic form of Britishness.
According to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, 8% of deaths in police custody over the last decade were black individuals. However, when compared to the 2011 census this shows that black people are around twice as likely to die in police custody. Stop and search figures provided by the government’s website state that ‘’between April 2018 and March 2019, there were 4 stop and searches for every 1,000 White people, compared with 38 for every 1,000 Black people’’. BAME people are significantly overrepresented in the prison population at 27%, whilst making up just 13% of the population, according to a parliamentary briefing document. Black individuals are also more likely to be remanded in custody, and face harsher sentencing. The Lammy Review alone provides excellent insight into the problematic relationship between the law and BAME communities in the UK.
The councillor’s statement, while perhaps just parroting a popular phrase felt to be more in line with her beliefs, nonetheless embodies a vehement denial of the validity in calling attention to racial injustice. Furthermore, it plays into a long standing narrative that racism in the UK is either much less of an issue than in the U.S, or a non existent one; that we don’t see colour. This is demonstrably untrue. Even the video in question shows a woman giving an account of the racism she has experienced here and explicitly stating that ‘all lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter’. To disavow structural racism as an entirely American issue does as much harm to us as to deny it entirely.
But what is the end point of this denialist logic? That the Black Lives Matter movement is a hysterical overreaction, having no basis in reality, and part of some conspiratorial effort against white people? It is hard to grasp what possible disadvantage there would be to anyone if significant action on racial inequality was taken, without straying alarmingly close to some dangerous ideological territory. The act of denial is to portray any solution as illegitimate. It is especially pernicious when an elected representative espouses to deny equality for all members of their community. To deny the existence of these issues, at its heart, is to shirk our responsibility as a nation and as a society to do the best by everyone that is a part of it.
We reached out to Councillor Young for a comment, but have yet to receive a response.