Sunday. Oxford Circus. London. 9:30am.
I stood waiting outside the station with a group of friends and a large crowd of strangers. Not much gets me out of bed that early on a Sunday morning- especially in central London -but there I was. Everybody was there for one reason: the Black Lives Matter march. The one held last Friday was a resounding success and now it was our turn. Forty minutes later, we set off down Oxford Street towards the American embassy, back down Oxford Street then onto Marble Arch and Hyde Park.
As the day went on the crowd grew bigger and bigger, almost like people dumped their shopping to join us. It was amazing to see. We were loud, we were proud, we held up traffic on Oxford Street (not something I thought I’d ever say) and we were peaceful. People of all backgrounds, ages, races and cultures- people who might not speak to each other at any other time were marching side by side on that rainy Sunday.
Bus drivers beeped their horns in solidarity (though I’m sure some of them wanted us to just get out of the way). An old woman gave everybody two thumbs-up while sitting upstairs on the bus. Some people we walked past gave us approving nods- very British.
Eventually we left after four hours with the several-thousand strong crowd still chanting and protesting as they walked down Park Lane, past The Dorchester hotel- again, not something I thought I would ever see! Instead of heading home, I had a little wander around London for an hour or two and saw that the protesters had made it to the Houses of Parliament. No rain or terrible British summer (because this is definitely the worst summer this country has ever had) could put them off as they stood there, while bewildered tourists wondered what was going on.
The next day I discussed the march with a couple of friends. They wanted to attend but could not make it, then one of them declared, ‘I don’t see the point of protesting. What’s the point? Nothing is gonna change anyway.’ I was disappointed by his reaction but also unsurprised. If he had that attitude throughout life, I argued, then what’s the point of getting out of bed in the morning? What’s the point of going to work to pay for your car? You might as well give up. The point of the protest was to show solidarity in the aftermath of the terrible deaths/unlawful killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in America, as well as highlight the injustices towards black people in this country and worldwide. It was to show that any injustices perpetrated in future will not be taken lying down. It was also to (literally) demonstrate that we are here and we are as important as everyone else.
There is a long-standing debate concerning the tagline ‘All Lives Matter’. Some people feel that by having the Black Lives Matter movement, it is encouraging a new kind of segregation and racism, to which I reply: No. As one placard said at Sunday’s march: ‘Pro-Black does NOT mean anti-White’. I wish some people would realise this because it’s not that hard to understand. I have friends and family of various races and religions and I am very proud of that fact. Of course all lives matter- that is obvious. Everybody matters on this planet. But I am also proud of my colour and my heritage and there is nothing wrong with showing that.
The problem is sometimes, underneath the banner of All Lives Matter, black people can tend to be forgotten, unheard or even misrepresented. This may be due to certain people being pushed forward as the voice of our community who, let’s face it, have nothing to do with us. People who think they know everything about us and our culture because they’ve been around us for longer than 10 minutes. Too many times we have seen people represent us who are not of the same colour or, even worse, those who describe themselves as ‘politically black’. Where on earth did this nonsense come from? You CANNOT (and never can be) politically black- you either are or you are not. Being black is not a piece of clothing that you can throw on or off whenever you feel like it.
It was fantastic to see so many people come together in London and across other cities in Britain (Birmingham and Manchester respectively) to show solidarity, love, peace and positivity while also shining a light on the issues that black people have to face here and around the world.