Are the times changing at last?
The killing of George Floyd, in police custody, on May 25th, in Minneapolis, USA, sparked worldwide demands for change. Harrowing footage of Mr Floyd pleading for his life whilst an officer knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes galvanised the Black Lives Matter movement. High profile personalities from all walks of life ‘take a knee’ to demonstrate their support.
In the USA and across the globe, statues of historical figures known to have been involved in the slave trade and other racist acts have been pulled down. In the UK, demonstrators threw a statue of slave trader, Edward Colston, into Bristol harbour.
Even the iconic Parliament Square statue of Winston Churchill, who during his lifetime expressed racist and anti-Semitic views, was daubed with paint before being temporarily boarded up. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, an admirer and biographer of Churchill, subsequently wrote on Twitter that it was ‘shameful’ that this national monument should be under threat of attack. He acknowledged that Churchill ‘sometimes expressed opinions unacceptable to us today,’ but that ‘he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial.’ He concluded: ‘We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history.’
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The current Prime Minister also has a history of using racist language in public (including words such as ‘piccaninnies’) but he did concede that ‘we do need to make progress,’ when he chaired the first meeting of a new Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities in July. His words were timely; racist acts and cases of racial profiling by police and others continue unabated.
Also in July, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, apologised to black British sprinter, Bianca Williams, after she and her partner were handcuffed during a stop and search incident. And Edward Enninful, who is black and is editor-in-chief of British Vogue, was told to ‘use the loading bay’ by a security guard as he arrived for work. These and many more incidents are happening now. Today. We cannot pretend a different history, but can we forge a different future?