by Sonia Sodha
Guilty on all counts. The verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd sent a ripple of relief reverberating around the world. It’s the first time a white police officer has been convicted for the murder of a Black man in Minnesota, but it will take much more than a single, if historic, conviction to address the profound racial injustice faced by Black people living in the United States to this day.
One in three Black boys born today will spend time in prison during their lives; for white boys, it’s just one in seventeen (google the criminal justice stats on the NAACP’s website). African Americans are six times more likely than white Americans to be incarcerated for drugs charges, despite using illegal drugs at around the same rate. Chauvin’s conviction is a significant step forward, but there will undoubtedly be steps back to come.
Here too in the UK the arc of the moral universe is jagged, and the Government’s publication of the Sewell Report on Race and Ethnic Disparities moved us backwards. “Don’t be so angry, read it properly, can’t you see it’s not as bad as you think?” chastised the ideological centrists who pride themselves on their detached rationality. Read it properly I did.
What made the report so insidious was not its mostly uncontroversial recommendations but the fact that process sought to undermine the major British step forwards in anti racism – the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry – by diluting the definition of institutional racism. It caricatured decades of British anti-racist discourse beyond recognition, even as it assumed the form of caricature itself: cherry-picking statistics and misrepresenting rich research literature on educational, health and employment inequalities to support its un-evidenced belief that people of colour mostly do worse because of their individual failings rather than structural discrimination.
PHOTO CREDIT: DEIDRE OLSEN
Another month, another revelation about how Conservative ministers have assisted their wealthy business friends in trying to make a quick buck out of the British taxpayer. The Greensill scandal encapsulates so much of what’s wrong with political lobbying: the chummy texts between the Chancellor and former prime minister turned corporate lobbyist, the private drinks with the Health Secretary that were never officially declared; the senior civil servants working for companies seeking government contracts even while they were on the Government payroll.
So even though I know and care little about football, my goodness it was refreshing to see the ordinary fans win out against the billionaire owners for a change. The Super League (of top international clubs) lasted a matter of days before it embarrassingly crumbled as fans, players and managers lined up to take it apart. Football is often a negative metaphor for politics, as in PMQs being described as “too tribal” or the NHS “being used as a political football”. But from Greensill to Dyson, Jennifer Arcuri to dodgy PPE contracts, we could really do in Westminster and Whitehall with some of that spirit of grassroots accountability that spelt the demise of the Super League.
First drink in the pub, first haircut, first meal out: the last couple of weeks have been about cramming in as much social activity as I possibly can after interminable weeks of lockdown. For me, it’s been a lovely and much needed social reawakening. But I felt a bit sorry for Keir Starmer on one of his first pub visits: no whiling away a sunny afternoon in a pub garden for him, but an unfortunate clash with the co-owner of one of the establishments visited on a campaign walkabout, who lambasted him for supporting social restrictions in a global pandemic. Starmer handled the awkward run-in OK, and in truth it could prove to be the least of his problems.
Expectations for Labour are uncomfortably high in May’s elections: if the party is to be seen to have any chance at the next general election, it must comfortably hold the Hartlepool by-election and make advances in the local and Scottish elections. Yet Starmer has had a tough first year. At the best of times no one’s interested in hearing from the leader of the opposition barely a year out of a general election defeat, let alone when there’s a global pandemic. Plus he isn’t exactly oozing charisma. If Labour stands still, or sustains losses, expect perceptions of Starmer to take a hit.
My absolutely favourite story of April was the tale in London’s Metro newspaper of two female best friends – 25-year-old Chiderah and 30-year-old Deidre – who pledged to love one another in sickness and in health and tied the knot in Berlin – platonically. They describe themselves as soulmates who want to build a life together. I emailed the piece over to one of my dearest friends, J, who like me has been going through a bit of a post-romance phase in this year of lockdowns and social distancing. “If I was going to do this, it would be you!” I said. It’s certainly the closest I’ve ever got to proposing to anyone. Happily, she said she felt the same way. Who knows, maybe in a decade we’ll find ourselves living a life of platonic marital bliss. For myself I’d hazard a guess it would be a lot simpler than negotiating the ups and downs of life and love with a male partner. But I suspect the onset of summer will reawaken a thirst for romance in many of us
Sonia Sodha is chief leader writer at the Observer and a Guardian/Observer columnist. She also presents analysis documentaries for Radio 4