The fierce urgency of now – we must make sure Black Lives Matter

Acting regional secretary Tim Roberts turns to the Black Lives Matter movement in his latest blog

Despite the lockdown, a new energy has swept over the UK since George Floyd’s death in the US.

Was there ever a more tragic, a more real physical representation of white power than a white police officer kneeling on the back of a Black man, slowly suffocating him over eight minutes and 46 seconds?

But the real anger we’ve seen on the streets of Britain hasn’t just erupted because of events across the Atlantic.

Black communities in Britain know how deeply our own society is scarred by deep and pervasive racism.

Black men are nine times more likely than white men to be stopped and searched. Black people are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be charged, more likely to be found guilty, more likely to be given a prison sentence – and that prison sentence is on average longer than that faced by white people.

Just 3% of the UK population is Black. However, 12% of the prison population is Black and within young offender institutions it’s nearly 50%.

But it isn’t just the justice system failing Black people.

Of course, the over-representation of Black people in our prisons is clearly linked to our over-representation in dole queues and zero-hours contracts.  Structural racism and poverty are inextricably linked.

TUC research has shown there’s an ethnicity pay gap of up to 25%. And we can’t just blame historic educational inequalities for this — when Black students work their way through university, they still face a pay penalty of 17% compared to a white graduate.

Black lives won’t matter until we address unemployment. They won’t matter until we address how Black people are disadvantages at every stage of the job market — from recruitment and training to redundancies.

And the institutional and systemic discrimination suffered by Black people has been thrown into sharp focus by Public Health England’s suppressed reports into Covid-19.

If you are Black you are twice as likely to die from Covid-19. PHE suggests historic racism may have meant Black people were denied personal protective equipment.

UNISON Hertfordshire’s Sandra Okwara speaking at a Black Lives Matter in event in Welwyn Garden City

In the words of Martin Luther King, we are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.

“This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

On both sides of the Atlantic people clearly understand this urgency. This groundswell of opinion must force the government to change tack.

But we must also remember that whatever power our communities can exercise on the streets or in the workplace, the place where the change will be happen is in Parliament.

Our politicians will either implement change or resist it.

So, to really make Black Lives Matter, anti-racists will have to decide who our politicians are.

That means registering to vote and using your vote.

Leaving the parliamentary process to others will only delight those politicians that want to resist change.

It’ll delight the politicians that created the hostile environment, sending vans around the country telling Black people to “go home.”

It’ll delight the politicians that deported members of the Windrush generation after decades building this country and making it their home.

And above all it will delight the prime minister who describes Black people as picaninnies with watermelon smiles.