Thousands join march as protests spread to UK
Could the virus help kill racism? The high number of black victims of Covid-19, together with the murder of George Floyd, has focused people’s minds on a history of shameful injustice.
For two weeks, London’s Hyde Park had been the scene of mass sunbathing. But, yesterday, under a grey sky, a very different scene unfolded.
Thousands of people of all colours gathered for a rally to show support for protests in the US against the killing of George Floyd. Many were dressed symbolically in black or red; others carried placards with Floyd’s desperate last words: “I can’t breathe”.
The demonstration was not just about one man’s murder: it was about the mistreatment and deprivation of black people in general. And it was made more passionate still by a new report on UK deaths from Covid-19.
It found that while the disease had doubled the mortality rate for white males, it had quadrupled it for black ones.
An earlier report established that BAME people accounted for 72% of deaths among British NHS and care workers, though they made up 44% of the work force.
It is feared, too, that a disproportionately high number of minority ethnic people have lost their jobs because of the lockdown, and will do so in the coming depression. All this starkly highlights a state of inequality that has long existed, but is too often overlooked.
In the World War I over 15,000 men from the Caribbean joined the British army. African troops and labourers also played key role containing the Germans in East Africa.
In World War II there were 500,000 black African soldiers in the British army. generally paid one third the rate of their white equals in the ranks, according to a recent article in Al Jazeera.
Slogans and symbolic images have always played a vital part in changing attitudes. It may be that the words “I can’t breathe” and the widely shared video of George Floyd’s arrest will have that effect.
The writer Ben Okri suggested yesterday that being in lockdown had made people aware of what it meant to have their freedom restricted. “And I think the pandemic itself – which is about the very issue of breathing – helped to strike a chord […]. This is a very profound issue, not only of justice, but of what it means to be a human being.”
Could the virus be a turning point in the fight against racism?
No. Sadly some of us can always be defeatist. The obstacles to change seem just too huge. It is easy to feel that nothing is going to make much difference.
Yes. It is a great opportunity to make a lasting difference. The pandemic has forced people right across the globe to alter their way of life, and think about what kind of world they want to live in when it finally ends. The death of George Floyd, and the sacrifices made by BAME hospital staff, have steered us in the direction of racial equality.
- When did you first hear about racism? Did it happen to someone else or to you?
- Should the different ethnic communities be proportionally represented in Parliament?
- Design a protest placard for a Black Lives Matter march.
- Write a letter to your local MP about the way black history is taught in schools.
Some People Say...
“No one is born hating another person…People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African politician
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Only after the wave of immigration, which began in 1948, was the need for laws against racism recognised. The 1965 Race Relations Act made it illegal to turn away people from places, such as pubs, because of their colour, or to refuse to rent them houses. Three years later, discrimination by employers was outlawed and, in 1976, all forms of discrimination were illegal. Public bodies, such as the police, have been legally obliged to ensure equal treatment for all since 2001. But none of this has eliminated prejudice.
- What do we not know?
- Why exactly people of colour have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. It could be because many live in the most deprived areas of Britain, which have twice the mortality rate of the least deprived, and in overcrowded households; or because they have very exposed jobs, such as health workers and security guards. Physiology may play a part: black and Asian people are particularly prone to diabetes, which is a factor in many deaths. The community most at risk is, in fact, the Bangladeshi.
- Hyde Park
- A large open space in the centre of London covering which was once Henry VIII’s deer park. For 150 years, people have had the right to air their views at Speakers’ Corner on a Sunday.
- Multiply by four. A baby who is one of four born together is a quadruplet.
- Black, Asian and ethnic minority.
- Privy Council
- The body through which the king or queen ruled from the 14th Century onwards. In the 17th Century, it gave way to the smaller Cabinet.
- Ignatius Sancho
- A British composer, actor and writer (1729-1780), who was a leading campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade.
- Dislike or aversion. It derives from a Greek word meaning “feeling”.
- Ben Okri
- A Nigerian novelist and poet who won the Booker Prize with his novel The Famished Road. The Memorial Gates in Hyde Park, which commemorate soldiers from the British Empire who died in the two World Wars, bear his words: “Our future is greater than our past”.