My biggest concern since George Floyd’s death and the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests, is that so many of us ‘white folks’ just do not understand the disparities that exist in our society. There is very little understanding of ‘white privilege’, especially among older generations.

Many people have taken to social media, not in outrage at racial injustice but in defence of the status quo. There is little understanding of people of colour’s daily lived experiences and unfortunately, mostly, an unwillingness to learn. Rather than asking what we can do to make things better for black people, many dig their heels in and write in defence of our heritage. I would argue that our heritage and our future are not mutually exclusive. Moving statues of Slavers to a museum does not erase history, it allows us to place that person in the context of his time and analyse all aspects of his life accordingly. This is ‘making’ history- drawing a line underneath a time of acceptance and forcing us to reconsider which people are given public veneration in memoriam and why.

The social media posts are tone deaf, but they are mostly rooted in fear: fear of change, fear of loss, fear of soul searching (and thus acceptance that some of their beliefs and actions may have caused upset to others). Humans are creatures of habit and we often go into defensive mode when we are forced to examine our behaviours and misconceptions. It is difficult, but if we are to end disparities and discrimination we will all need a little introspection. Some of the things we have taken for granted have been causing others generations of pain.

Many people seem to be concerned that they will lose access to their favourite shows on Netflix. Rather than acknowledge that some actors may have employed stereotypes such as ‘blackface’ (which has a history rooted in mockery and oppression), they are raging about ‘where will it all end?’ It will all end when we have all ended discrimination, and removing those shows is a small step in acknowledging that we are moving towards that goal. No one is losing out. Shows are taken off Netflix all the time, and we all have the option of purchasing the DVD. This fear of loss and change is huge, especially among those who do not have many interactions with people of colour, but it will pass.

In Cumbria we do not have the diversity of population that many bigger cities do, and many white people live their lives without coming into much contact with anyone other that white Brits. So it is understandable that many of us will not be aware of the negativity that our fellow citizens are experiencing. Our county has some of the most deprived areas in the UK and the remoteness of our communities exacerbates the difficulties we have accessing services, so many find it hard to understand that they may, in some respects, be privileged. They point to celebrities such as Beyonce and ask ‘How can I be privileged when I don’t even own my house?’ But 'white privilege' doesn't mean that black people can never be successful and whites get all the economic benefits. It means that whatever problems you may face as a white person, and whatever disadvantages you may experience, none of them will be due to the colour of your skin. Black people don't have that privilege.

Unfortunately, the daily experiences of Cumbria’s ethnic communities can be extremely negative. My friend in West Cumbria told me of the insults his partner endures as she goes about her care job::
-in Workington, in uniform on a call, gets out of car to hear a man shout "f*** off home you black bastard"
-in Maryport, a small boy holding his fathers hand shouting "fuck off Paki" as she drove by (again, in uniform)
-more than once, going to new clients to be told "get yer f****** black hands off me" and "are you legal?" .
“you wonder why we have protests.. really” he exclaims in exasperation.

I have my own experiences which have given me a shocking insight into the abuse others have to endure. On a night out down Botchergate I was told that I was ‘lowering myself’ by dating a Bengali man. He received much more vehement abuse. I learnt from him that the staff in the takeouts and restaurants never ventured out alone, and if they did they did so by taxi if possible and phoned a friend on arrival at their destination to let them know they got home safe. Shameful.
Another friend worked in a nightclub. He would be spat at, insulted, threatened, even physically attacked... just for being there to do his job.

Education is key to change. Critical thinking isn't everyone's forte. Some people repeat what they've seen elsewhere and struggle to think around an issue. Some cannot put themselves in others' shoes with ease. We will beat these misconceptions eventually, if we all work together in doing so, and acknowledge that by just calling people racist (even when they are) we entrench people in their views. Knowledge and learning are much greater tools than insult. This is why local events such as Culture Bazaar and Unity Festival are so important. People can come and meet others who differ from them in some way and realise that the old adage, ‘we have more in common than that which divides us’ is true. We still have much to do before the dissonant chant of ‘all lives matter’ isproperly understood as a dismissive statement covering up disparity. There are some uncomfortable truths ahead.

These BLM protests have been a real eye opener in so many ways. What an amazing, accepting, and understanding county we can build on the back of them!

Fiona Goldie