Sirwin
Sirwin

Blackface, Fetishisation, police brutality and the structural pandemic that is racism...


Here are a few pictures from my local Black Lives Matter peaceful protest against the police brutality that led to not only George Floyd's death (re my last post), but all of the deaths at the hands of the police over the years and all of the ways in which people of colour are STILL, to this day, being treated in a way that dates back to eugenics style thought; that people of colour are sub human and worth less than whites.

 

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It was heart-warming to see so many people from so many different backgrounds and communities; black, white, Asian, Eastern European, gay, straight, trans, middle and working class, young and not so young. All standing up and saying the same thing; no... enough is enough. Personally, I don't think George Floyd's murder was anymore (or less) shocking than the murder of so many others, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor etc. (the list is endless, please research yourself if you are unaware of the names and numbers). There are countless, upsetting and harrowing stories that show clearly that structural and institutional racism are alive and kicking and in the US in particular (also the UK and Europe but in a different way) black people are being murdered with impunity because the system protects white murderers and rapists more than it protects innocent black people, women. A system that has sympathy for that internal instinct of a white police officer who takes it too far because it (the system) understands how that can happen, how a police officer might be drawn towards excessive violence, might draw their gun instinctively to a person of colour, where they wouldn't with a white person in the same situation. Just like that same system also understands how a man might just get carried away and not be able to stop himself raping a woman... especially if she acted in a way that is viewed by that system as being corrupt.

I say again, as I did in my last post. It is not enough for us, as individuals to unite in anger against this incident. There needs to be a thorough investigation done into the system. There needs to be a dismantling of the system. There needs to be an understanding into how that system not only came to be like this but is also maintained. And unfortunately, that involves a deeper level of introspection in people, in everyone, especially in white people, than just simply; well, I'm not a racist. I hate racism and racists.

When I touched upon the idea of white fragility in my last post, I was aware of how those words can and do land with a lot of white folk. I didn't go into it in full detail but I think we are way beyond pussy footing around the subject. Largely, when I have had conversations with white people about race and racism, I am met with a desire within them to show me that they are not racist... Well... I'm sorry, but the reality is, that unless you have spent a lot of time and energy unpicking it, you will have a degree of racism within you. Because unless you've been living in a cave, never watched the TV, engaged with media, politics or the rest of the world, you will be a product of this culture of white supremacy we have been living amidst for centuries. It would be much more useful and actually real to look at where your biases might lie and what you can do to unpick those. This I’m afraid is not a one off lesson, it will be something that will be and should be a continuous effort and endeavour.

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I tried having a conversation like this with a white friend from a few years ago. He had a 16 year old daughter. I asked him to be honest about his reaction if his daughter bought home a black guy. He laughed and said he would feel over protective whoever she bought home. Yes yes, but... Would your reaction be more protective, different if the guy she bought home was black, as opposed to a white guy. His response was classic. It was almost like he forgot who he was talking to, forgot the purpose of the conversation. It was almost like it was a no brainer; OF COURSE he would be more concerned if it was a black guy, because, you know, black guys are more violent really... He clocked my look and then felt he needed to remind me that my violent father was black, that my first rapist was black (never mind that his white father was also violent and that my second rapist was also white)... Then he threw it back at me. You telling me you wouldn't be more concerned if one of your daughters bought home a black guy... Mmm... Yes, that was exactly what I was telling him. He looked ashamed, apologised, tried to pull it back but really, an apology is not appropriate in that situation. It changed how I viewed him and how close we were.

My last relationship broke down for reasons that are too personal and nuanced to go into but one of the big arguments towards the end was around race. A practice in his culture, that of Zwarte Piet, in Belgium. It is basically a practice that involves locals dressing up in blackface and parading around the streets. It is deeply offensive on so many levels and I was shocked to find he defended it to me.

This weekend, on the weekend of lots of British people protesting about George Floyd's death, he contacted me to let me know, 6/7 months later, after this discussion, that I was right... He send me some posts, one from The Washington Post and apologised, which of course is a good thing. But the reality is, a) it's not simply that I was right (I didn't need telling that) it's that he was wrong, subtle difference but an important one. And b) it was not enough for him to be told by me that this practice was wrong. He needed to be told by a white voice in white words with white validity. My feelings were not valid in themselves. My expressions and explanations were not enough to move him. 

Now, some of y'all out there reading this may think I'm being pernickety. At least he realised he was wrong and apologised, why does it matter who/what persuaded him? Because dearest allies... this is all part of how racism works in its rawest and most effective form .. Those internal, subtle biases that make us pay more attention, give respect, credibility to someone because of certain identities they inhabit and then also mistrust, not believe, not hear, not validate, not pay attention to the voices of someone else because of identities they inhabit. When shit like this goes unchecked, unnoticed even, it helps to prop up and maintain systems of racism, misogyny and all forms of bigotry.

Apparently, black women in the UK (yes, UK, not US) are 5 times more likely to die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth than white women, regardless of class. There are a number of reasons for this but one of them boils down to how black women are perceived within the healthcare system, perceived and treated. This goes back to slavery times, where black people were viewed as being closer to animals than human (thus justifying their treatment), so therefore not as sensitive to pain as white people and their cries of pain would not elicit the same response of empathy and care as the cries of pain from a white person, because, well, white people were taught to not feel a human connection and affinity with blacks.

No, people (most people) don't consciously see things in these terms nowadays but really it wasn't that long ago that there were signs on the doors of pubs and lodgings that read 'No blacks, no dogs, no Irish', not that long ago that  multimillionaire and international superstar Eric Clapton talked openly about getting the 'Wogs out' and keeping Britain white, not allowing it to become a 'coon colony' (read my letter (2nd one out of 3) I wrote to him about this here) and actually, it was only a few years ago that our current Prime Minister made comments about black women having watermelon mouths or that Muslim women looked like letterboxes or bank robbers. I mean really, is it any shock that within the healthcare system, there is still a prevailing attitude that has been passed down over the years, of racism? If the police force can be a racist institution, because it is a product of a racist society, then so can the healthcare system, so can schools, so can just about every establishment and institution you can think of.

In my mind, the idea of tackling and dismantling racism from the top is a daunting one. Much as I write lots on this topic, I don't think I have the energy to directly tackle those institutions and bring them down myself, brick by brick. Most of us don’t. But...what I was saying earlier about self reflection, introspection; this is stuff everyone can do. To think deeply on and reflect on your own biases and also engage in education. Educate yourselves, as Amanda Seales so eloquently explains here; 

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1960897430708252&id=667406426724032

Because whether you are black or white, we all need to engage in the process of educating ourselves. About race, politics and how oppression works. This makes it harder for us to be manipulated by the media and will make that process of introspection easier too. If you can imagine for one moment what kind of world we could live in if enough people were fully in touch with and comfortable with ideas of how racial bias can and does present, not just in themselves but in others too? How hard it would become for institutions to continue to get away with murder, for example. If every time a black man died in custody, or on the streets, this was the worldwide reaction. The officer/s prosecuted, his superiors investigated, removed from post for allowing officers so obviously racist to slip through the net. On the other end of that spectrum but equally as valid, if the  words of someone like me, a black woman, telling it as I see it, were taken as seriously as those of a white person saying something similar and heard as something other than simply aggressive or as me having a chip on my shoulder... What kind of world could we live in?

Case in point to end on; years ago, I had written a poem called Fetishisation, about how racism can sometimes present in a way that is almost couched as being a compliment, as flattering, when ultimately it’s just another form of othering. It caused a stir within my Instagram audience... I was told it was offensive, that I was labelling white people as racist, which was racist, that it was aggressive, etc., etc. ad lib to fade... One white, middle class Australian woman I knew on there really liked it, said it shook her up, admitted that she herself was guilty of this kind of thing. She posted it on her Instagram. Not only did she get 100's of likes (I had received about 15) but the comments she received were all very open minded and accepting. Interestingly none of those people then followed me...

Basically, my words presented through the funnel of white, middle class acceptability was digestible, able to be heard. From me, it just sounded angry and aggressive.

My ex could not take it in, me saying that the practice of blackface was racist and offensive because, I, as a black person was saying it. But from a white voice, white friends, white media, it was more acceptable, palatable.

Black women in maternity units in the UK are 5 more times likely to die because they are not listened to, their pain is not registered as real, valid.

George Floyd’s cries of 'i can’t breathe' were ignored for 8 whole minutes. If he had been white, I imagine something in Derek Chauvin would have kicked in and made him remove his knee...but that something was not present for George Floyd, because he was black.

George Floyd’s death did not occur in a vacuum. This is the world we live in and we, all of us are a part of it. We all have a part to play. YOU, my beautiful white allies, are also complicit unless you are actually doing something. Again in the words of the AMAZING Amanda Seales...because yes, just because we cool, doesn’t mean you are free of the stain of racism. You need to work at that shit and work at it hard, otherwise you are part of it... Consciously or not.

Peace and out...

Xx

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(S)llew la Wulf
(S)llew la Wulf

Yet another artist screaming (colourfully) into the void. I like to dance. I write. I do self portraiture and i draw... I cover topics ranging from racial bias to female sexuality to capitalism to rape culture and of course, love ❤️


Llewella_la_femme
Llewella_la_femme

Some of my more political writing and art...

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