Reading the news every day has been difficult. The images of a man struggling for breath as a white police officer pins him down are not easy viewing for anyone. How many more times do we have to see this? Why does it have to happen in the first place?
I don’t know the answer to the first question. In an ideal world I would say ‘Never Again’, but I have said it before, too many times.
With regards to the second question, I have an idea. You could talk for days about the reasons why white police officers are targeting and killing innocent black people, you could discuss various areas of influence and often the observations will be correct. This is because the reasons stem from the very foundations of western civilisation.
It is fair to say that racism and racial inequality are two sides of the same coin. Both feed each other and ensure that neither can be removed. This is deeply ingrained in society, but how? Well, the clue is in the title.
In my experience, life is very much a postcode lottery. So much of your future can often be decided from where you grow up. The problem is, it is incredibly difficult to change your circumstances, though, not impossible. Of course, many who have started off life in difficult circumstances have managed to lead successful lives, raising their social position so their own children do not face the same problems.
A few years ago, I read an article about a Liverpool gang being imprisoned – I instantly recognised most of them as childhood friends who I had grown up with before moving away. Recently, one of them – the one who I would call my ‘first friend’ – had absconded from the open prison he was serving his sentence in, it made me wonder.
What if my life had been different? Had my mum not married a soldier who was stationed away from Liverpool, if my stepdad didn’t exist – would I have been in the news article too? It is something I will never know, but all of these gang members living in the same area does highlight how influential your surroundings can be.
The lower down the pecking order, the more you must do to be noticed. No matter who you are, if you see that the odds are forever against you, it can be difficult to motivate yourself and one small error as an adolescent can stay with you forever. We are much more impressionable as children and can become a product our environment.
Various studies have shown that poorer people are more likely to commit crimes – often for financial reasons. Couple this with the fact that social classes live together and you begin to see that crime rates are higher in certain areas. The postcode lottery strikes again.
You may wonder, what has this got to do with black people being killed by the police? The sad truth is it has everything to do with it.
According to the 2011 UK Census, 3.3% of the population is made up of people from a black ethnic background with 1 in 5 black people living in some of the most deprived areas of the UK. This figure rises to 27% when looking specifically at crime figures. Hardly a coincidence.
I suspect that some will look at this and say, “you can’t blame capitalism for people’s behaviour!”. Well, I can and I will. Why did countries like the US and the UK prosper? You can answer this in one word: slavery.
While the slave trade has long since vanished, it was once one of the most profitable endeavours one could partake in – both for the slave trader and owner. The prosperity we see today was not developed overnight, nor was it morally attained – towns and cities prospered because of the slave trade, the ‘wealth creators’ saw their profits soar – capitalism in action, right?
Slavery didn’t then end with a bang, it was eased out to ensure the pockets of the rich weren’t affected too much – they were compensated for their lost “property”. Anyone who wants to suggest that white people ending slavery absolves centuries of oppression needs to understand that, clearly, the wrong people were helped.
Immediately, they were at a disadvantage. For centuries, they had been treated as property and not humans. You could argue that even the poorest in society were led to believe that, even though they may not have the privilege of being rich and powerful, they were still white. As you can imagine, the perception that being black meant you were ‘sub-human’ persisted and, shockingly, is a belief still held by some people.
Time and time again, it is those at the top who are ‘rescued’, regardless of their behaviour. We saw the same in 2008 when the financial sector was saved from collapse, while the rest of us were left to carry the burden. Capitalism only acts to protect financial interests.
The capitalist society naturally builds walls to prevent social mobility. We see continuous privatisation of public services, reduction in community investment, leading to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
Perhaps attitudes would be different if, after a “moral epiphany”, more was done to compensate former slaves. Sadly, attitudes towards black people at the time made people assume that they were somewhat less than human, that even the poorest, unluckiest white man could still be happy that at least he wasn’t black. Shunned by the rest of society, groups come together to survive.
I stated earlier that poorer people are more likely to commit crimes – deprived areas are often the most likely hotspots for crimes and when black people make up higher percentages of the local populations, they have a higher chance to fall in with the wrong crowds.
In 2017, black people were 3 times more likely to be arrested than white people. In 2019, black people had higher stop and search rates than any other ethnic group measured. These figures are striking because it suggests that black people are more likely to be assumed to be a threat.
We are a product of our environment, it is true, unfortunately generational prejudices have not shifted. They see what they would call “black on black violence” as an issue. If you look at the situation regardless of ethnicity (we never say white on white violence), you see that this is actually caused by social inequality.
It is painful to think that some people will never be swayed from their racist opinions. People die because we never question the status quo – that some people are just better off than others. This is the reason why a black child is immediately disadvantaged from their first breath.
There are those who accept the history of the west as “glorious” and “triumphant”, dismissing any notion of criticism because “times were different”. It is true, history is gone and we can’t change it. But we should learn from our mistakes and accept that we cannot continue on our current trajectory.
Humans aren’t naturally racist, systemic convention makes people racist. Racial inequality is not natural either. Your enemy is not those who look different, but those who are laughing at all of us. To those that feel inconvenienced by the recent demonstrations, to those that are fed up of seeing #blacklivesmatter on their news feed, I have one thing to say – educate yourself. You are part of the problem.
This is not “black vs white”, this is the people vs the status quo. This isn’t about the death of one person, but the continued oppression of millions. Educate yourself and see that it is our economic system that prevents change.
Even if we do see more people defying class barriers, governments still place increasing pressure on the poorest in our society. Black people are targeted because of generations of racial inequality due to the capitalist viewpoint that stifles opportunity.
Black people have far more in common with the white working-class communities that have often been hostile to minorities. The difference is that a person of colour will always be looked at more suspiciously than someone who is white. The diverse working class all want to achieve the same thing – equality and prosperity. We don’t get this by playing the game of capitalism, it is rigged in favour of the elite.
Racial equality means driving up standards, not driving them down. The postcode lottery that capitalism creates can’t continue. Only when a working class black kid has the same career prospects as an Eton educated white kid should we then be happy.
In an ideal world, I would like to say ‘never again’. If you want to see an ideal world just remember, the system won’t change things until you change the system. To paraphrase Marx, “You have nothing to lose but your chains”.