Dear America: As A Black British Woman, Your Pain Is My Pain

Photo by CRAIG LASSIG/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Trigger warning: This article contains details of assault and police brutality.
"Being black is having a good day and then seeing another black person was killed for no reason. Then you have to think about/talk about that all day. Or don't and numb yourself," says the writer and actor Quinta Brunson. "It's a constant emotional war."
This year has been painful. Not only have we had to mourn our friends and family members who have died from coronavirus but we've also been forced to watch black people gunned down in the street, threatened or choked to death. My heart is heavy. The truth is, I'm tired. I'm tired of seeing yet another black life trending on Twitter, another news report, another article. And I'm tired of feeling so powerless to stop it.
This week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 46-year-old George Floyd was killed in the street when a white police officer held his knee on George's neck for eight minutes, cutting off his oxygen. A video of the incident which circulated online shows George pleading with the officers to release their hold. "Please, please, please, I can’t breathe," George begs, echoing the words of Eric Garner, who died as a result of police brutality in 2014. "My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Please, please, I can’t breathe."
George died in hospital that night.
His death has sparked outrage in both the United States and the UK, attracting public outcry and prompting Black Lives Matters riots in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Memphis. Hauntingly, another incident occurred only 12 hours earlier and 1,200 miles away, when a white woman named Amy Cooper dialled 911 to report a black man simply asking her to leash her dog in New York’s Central Park. "I’m going to tell them that an African-American man is threatening me!" she shouted hysterically as Christian Cooper (no relation) stood calmly filming her. The viral video shows a white woman weaponising her position to put a black man at harm. Christian could have met George’s fate that day.
Both incidents have once again thrown the issue of racial inequality into the spotlight. If you’re black, you never truly know if you’ll return home. Watching George Floyd struggle on the ground reminded me of that traumatising scene in American History X where a black man is curb-stomped by a Neo-Nazi: George, an innocent black man who was murdered in cold blood, had the very same fear in his eyes.

If you're black, you never truly know if you'll return home.

I often see his expression in my brother's and father’s eyes, in my uncle’s eyes and my grandfather’s eyes; hell, I often see it in my own. It’s the fear of existing as a black person in the world. While the majority of police brutality cases are in America (we recently saw the public execution of Ahmaud Arbery, which only came to light because a video was leaked online), I, too, feel America’s pain. As a black British woman, I share America’s tears, cries and calls for change, because in the UK we feel it too.
In 2018, statistics showed that black people are disproportionately more likely to have force used against them by police officers, especially guns and tasers. While not all those who have lost their lives in police-related incidents in the UK were shot, they still died in police custody or at the hands of white people. We’ve mourned the tragic deaths of Rashan Charles, Edson da Costa, Darren Cumberbatch, Shane Bryant and of course, the racially charged murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. How many more black lives do we have to mourn?
The same racial injustice that is happening across the pond happens here, too, only it is quieter, said in hushed tones or through very pearly smiles. Racial bias and institutional racism are languages in which black people are fluent. Injustice often comes in the form of being the only black woman in your office, or yoga class, or university. It’s shown through covert, sneaky and harder to pinpoint microaggressions which can be mentally draining and demoralising, such as being mistaken for the other black woman or someone patting your hair. It’s being underpaid, undervalued and brushed aside for opportunities. It’s being tokenised to tick boxes. It’s constantly having to mute or tame yourself to fit in so you’re not seen as angry, defensive or confrontational. It’s also being told we’re 'playing the race card' when we try to fight injustice, such as when we called upon the government to investigate why black people are four times more likely than white people to die from coronavirus.

Racial injustice in the UK comes in the form of being underpaid, undervalued and tokenised to tick boxes. It's constantly having to mute or tame yourself to fit in so you're not seen as angry, defensive or confrontational.

Watching African American women stand by their men as they fight to keep them alive, fight for justice and fight for equality, we share what they are feeling because those men could be our brothers, fathers, boyfriends, husbands or sons. I cried when I saw the video of 21-year-old Tye Anders lying on the ground as white police officers in Texas pointed their guns at him, because you can see Tye’s 90-year-old grandmother, leaning on her cane, wearing her pink housecoat, approaching her grandson to protect him.
James Baldwin, the great author and civil rights activist, said in 1989: "What is it you want me to reconcile myself to? I was born here almost 60 years ago. I’m not going to live another 60 years. You always told me it takes time. It’s taken my father’s time, my mother’s time, my uncle’s time, my brothers' and my sisters' time, my nieces' and my nephews' time. How much time do you want for your progress?" How many more years must I and my brothers and sisters have to suffer, witness and experience so much trauma?

If you love us and enjoy our culture, our music, our style, our hair, our bodies, our movies, then you need to pull up when we're under attack.

The disease of racism infects us all and spreads via ignorance, malice and thoughtlessness and while we can swarm the streets with our Black Lives Matter signs, shouting at the top of our lungs, or post and share the names of the black lives that have been lost to police brutality, the action needs to come from those who benefit from white privilege. The late Toni Morrison taught us: "If you can only be tall because somebody else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem."
If you love us and enjoy our culture, our music, our style, our hair, our bodies, our movies, then you need to pull up when we’re under attack, Elaine Welteroth points out. This is your moment to help us progress and move forward to create a world where black people no longer have to look over our shoulders, walk on eggshells and fear for our lives.
Dear America, your trauma is our trauma. This week has been tough for us, but your pain is our pain. But I always live in hope that one day, a change is gonna come.
You can sign the petition demanding justice for George Floyd here and donate to his family here.

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