Yes, this is another post/blog/story/conversation about Black Lives Matter.
No, we are not being “oversensitive” or “imagining things” or “making a big deal out of nothing”.
Yes, people with brown skin are in physical danger.
Yes, systemic racism exists.
I think many people are confused by the phrase “Black Lives Matter” because they think it aims to privilege the lives of Black folks over theirs. This is not the case. To do that, Black folks would need to be treated equally. We’re not. My point is this: all lives do not matter if Black lives are in more danger. I know, there are folks who want to keep pushing the “all lives matter” message while we’re trying to show people that Black folks globally are subject to discrimination and violence because of the colour of our skin. Would you arrive at a cancer walk with a sign saying “all terminal diseases matter”? Probably not because a cancer awareness walk or fundraiser is focused on cancer and not to the exclusion of other terminal diseases. It’s the same here. No one is saying all lives do not matter; what we are saying is that Black lives are under attack and we ALL need to do something to change that.
Now I know some people think racism does not exist or that systemic racism does not exist. This is false. Racism exists and we live in a world with systems built on racism. I’ll give you an example. I travelled to Mauritius for a work trip with some colleagues. Carel and I were walking together after collecting our bags and heading to clear customs. I was pulled aside. Why? No reason was given. When I asked why, I was told to wait. Fine. My bag was taken through a scanner endlessly. A manager was called. More scanning. I asked what the problem was. Again, I was told to wait with a vague hand gesture. Fine. More scanning. A second person is called. More scanning. I’m now asked to open my bag. I ask why. No reason – I must just open it. Fine. Then I am subjected to the humiliation of a strange man shoving his hand through my suitcase. I ask what he is looking for so I can remove it. He tells me to stand back and wait. He finds a pair of wedged heels. He taps them as if there’s something hidden inside. They scan my shoes.
Yes, they put my wedges through a baggage scanner. They scanned them together and then one by one. Repeatedly. Again, I ask what the problem is. Again, I get a vague hand gesture to back off. Finally, they decide they cannot see anything. Now they can speak to me. They ask why I’m in Mauritius and I explain that I am there for work. What work? I explain. Do I have proof of this? Well, I have accommodation at a Club Med resort and I can use the airport WiFi to open those emails and show them the conversations from my work email showing that I would be in Mauritius doing work for Club Med. No, that will not do. Ok. I ask how I can prove that I am in Mauritius for work. I’m told I need to produce a business card. I don’t have one. Now I am starting to feel helpless and alone. No one wants to tell me why I have been singled out and they don’t want to accept what I have to prove that I am in Mauritius for work. So, I ask why I have been singled out and why I am being subjected to such intense scrutiny. No one can answer me. I offer to get one of my colleagues, i.e. Carel, to come and vouch for me. I suggest they check the airport transfer to the resort to verify my name. No, they say, none of those things will do. Ok. Now what? I am met with silence and then they whisper between themselves. Again, with slight annoyance, I ask why I have been singled out and what exactly it is they hope to find in my luggage or on my person. Silence. Eventually, one of the managers decides there is nothing they can find or do and they allow me to leave. When I ask what they were looking for, I am told to pack my stuff and leave. That’s it. No apology or explanation.
Why was I singled out? Why did they choose me? I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is that as I was walking past customs I was the only person with brown skin that I could see. Except, of course, for the customs officials who also had brown skin.
It seems that my big offence or “suspicious behaviour” is the colour of my skin.
What can we do?
I know this feels overwhelming and it seems too big a beast to defeat but we can defeat it. It is up to us to build a better future for the generations to follow us. If we stand together, ALL people of ALL races, against racism we can change the systems that oppress us. When we see racism, we need to call it out. When we are confronted with our own racial prejudices we need to work through them and do better. Each of us has a sphere of influence and if we use that to make this world a better place, we can save the lives of millions of people and we can create opportunities for people of ALL races. For generations of all races.
We all have a voice and we all have an opportunity to make a difference – whether we’re raising awareness, donating money to organisations, supporting Black-owned businesses, hiring Black staff, or calling out racism when we see it. We can ALL make a difference.
This is a movement and not just a moment.