I remember when Barack Obama got elected. I was 13 and didn’t consciously follow the news. Back then I would only ever catch glimpses of the news when my parents watched it each night at 10PM, and I’d easily find something more interesting to do.
But I do remember Obama being elected as America’s first black president, and feeling very happy about it. It seemed almost as if racism was losing.
Now I’m 25 and it’s clear that racism isn’t losing, I was better off not following the news, and the real loser is me.
The reason I’m a loser is because I always seem to be on the losing side. I’ve voted in three general elections, and the party I’ve voted for hasn’t won any of them. I voted in a referendum and was again on the losing side. I’ve protested against various things I’ve thought to be wrong, but they haven’t changed. And most recently I’ve joined the bandwagon and shared the hashtag #blackouttuesday, but I don’t actually expect it to change anything.
Perhaps the saddest thing about being a loser is that I know so many others. I reckon if you’re reading this and you’re a friend of mine then there’s a high chance you are as much of a loser as I am, for the same reasons I am. You might have only just realised though.
So, what are we going to do about it? Tear down the system? Fuck the police? More hashtags? More solidarity?
I’d rather not.
Whilst I’ve been encouraged by pictures/videos of a policeman being protected by protestors, a Sheriff addressing the problem head on, and donations being made to community bail funds (very necessary given the absurd US policy that requires someone arrested to pay an immediate cash bail to not be imprisoned BEFORE trail), I remain pessimistic that the protests as they are will lead to positive change.
In order to achieve positive change, we need to be more strategic. Here are my thoughts on what we need to do:
- Protest FOR something. Not against something. It’s so easy to highlight a problem, such as racism, and protest against it. But if we want to change a problem, we need to do more than highlight it exists. We need to come up with achievable and pragmatic solutions, and to achieve them we need to do more than hashtags and placards: we will need to engage in dialogue with those in positions of power, who we are protesting against. It isn’t easy and it takes time, but it’s the only way things will change. Hashtags and numbers on the street peacefully protesting with placards are necessary, but change doesn’t come that easily. Or does it? Someone please tell me if I’m wrong.
- Accept that police and government are necessary, and that whilst racism no doubt exists within the US police and the UK police, there are a lot of very good and essential cops protecting people. I spent much of last year in Hong Kong witnessing a peaceful protest escalate into a violent one, and the situation now is that the majority of people in Hong Kong have no respect for the police at all – which is terrifying and won’t end well. Can anyone tell me of a functional society where there are no police at all? Or no government? The police and government are necessary, and we need to focus on reform – not overthrow.
- Don’t expect a problem to be solved overnight, no matter how wrong it might feel to you. For me, and for a lot of the people I know, it seems unimaginable how anyone can be racist. But they are, and they won’t change just by telling them they’re bad.
…Ah, having typed up this out it’s dawned on me that I’d be a hypocrite not to apply it to the problem of racism within the US police. After all, I have now joined the #blackouttuesday bandwagon and disrespected it slightly for lazily highlighting a problem without highlighting a solution.
So here it goes:
The problem: Police in the US are racist towards black people.
The solution: Not easy. I’m going to have to break it down slowly by asking myself a few questions. Here’s my train of thought:
Why are the police racist? Were they ever not? Black people arrived in America as slaves, and the punishments for challenging white power were harsh and terrifying. How many Americans today believe black people are inferior to white people, and should therefore be treated differently? The sad reality is that the number remains high.
Statistics show that black people in America are far more disadvantaged than white people. To name one: Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, although white people are actually slightly more likely to possess it. But there are loads more. I should gather a bunch of statistics to show that the specific police department I’m targeting (it is important to target) is racist towards black people.
To make my case stronger I should ask black people in the area for testimonies (I’m white) of police mistreatment and highlight to police officers in the police department I’m targeting that there is an issue of racism within the department. To do this I need to resist calling them all racist, and I need to ask them if and why they think the department is racist.
If the officers I speak to think there is no racism in their department, I need to provide the statistics and testimonies to show otherwise, and I need to listen to what they have to say about them. With my statistical, testimonial, and even visual evidence (it was this evidence that really triggered the current protests) that racism does exist within the department, I need to target as many police officers as I can to realise it is a problem. I can’t only have a few conversations and make my judgement based on that.
But will that do? I need to figure out who in the department has the power to change the current mistreatment towards black people. I can find this person through conversations with police officers. Once I have identified who has the power to change to problem, I will target my questions to this person. I need that person to recognise the issue, and I can now add testimonies from other officers within the department to make my evidence stronger.
Now I must peacefully campaign for a conversation with the person in power. It takes a long time and a lot of persistence, but I should be able to get my conversation, and present my evidence. The person with the power recognises that racism exists within the department. Now we need to work out what can be done to end it.
Perhaps the entire police department require educating and training on the issue. The first step is to build a healthy relationship between the police officers and black people within the community. There are various ways to achieve this. A police-hosted BBQ open to the public could be a start. The officers need to understand why black people in the community feel mistreated, and the black people in the community need to understand that the police officers are there to protect them. If they fail to do so, as Derek Chuavin did, then they will face punishment, as Dereck Chauvin has.
The protests cannot carry on as they have over the last week. There is only going to be more violence, and more death. Obviously the solution is not easy, but even the train of thought I’ve just gone through, in 15 minutes, seems to have provided more of a solution than a hashtag or placard. We have to think more about what we’re aiming for and we have to be patient. This is important, we can’t be lazy.