‘Black Lives Matter’ should not be a controversial movement. The movement does not dismiss the lives of others. Its purpose is to make non-black people and those in the position of power understand that black lives have been suffering, are still suffering, and this is unacceptable. The UK is not exempt when it comes to the suffering of black people, and while it is still seen as taboo to call out its institutionalised racism, the black British community can testify to how this plays out in their daily lives.
From microaggressions to police brutality, racism spreads between both private and public spaces, from homes to schools, and these places are made hostile to black people. A common experience for black people, especially black women, is being told at one time or another that their hair is “unprofessional” or even “against uniform policy”. Many black people can also attest to having a non-black person touch their hair without permission. Far from being just hair, black hairstyles can become political, used to oppress even from a young age, just as author Emma Dabiri shows in her best-selling book, Don’t Touch My Hair.
As a young black British woman who has experienced and witnessed such examples, feeling unwanted by prejudice attached to my hair is an understatement. Feeling trapped by stereotypes attached to me as a black woman is underemphasized as I get looked and labelled as the ‘angry black woman’ in discussions I am passionate about. Consider your privilege if you never have to worry about having your hair in its natural state in fear of it being called ‘unprofessional’ and ‘unkept’. Have you felt the need to use dangerous chemicals on your hair to make it look more ‘presentable’ (read: white)? Prejudices directed at my people and our hair are intertwined in the discussion of race, they are not trivial issues.
I have personally witnessed police mistreat my friends and such interactions can have a traumatising impact.
This prejudice can be attested for in the UK on gov.uk: between April 2018 and March 2019 Black people had the highest stop and search rates in England and Wales. As you can see, this behaviour is not limited to the police in the US. There are cases in the UK that we are aware of like Mark Duggan and Stephen Lawrence whose stories sound very similar to the cases in America. But the Black Lives Matter movement has shed a lot of light on the hidden or ignored stories of injustice in the UK. In 2013, Julian Cole suffered a broken neck and a severe spinal injury after he was “taken to the ground” by police outside a nightclub in Bedford. These officers were sacked for lying about the situation but received no criminal charges. Before this, Julian was an athlete playing for the Watford FC academy. There is now a petition calling for these officers to be held accountable, which I urge people to sign. Unfortunately, Julian is just one of many. I have personally witnessed police mistreat my friends and such interactions can have a traumatising impact.
These interactions with institutions and people should be held accountable, which is why non-black people that are within our private and public spheres should stand in solidarity and help eliminate and reduce the harm caused. For all lives can’t matter until black lives matter.
The UK Is Not Innocent is a Boundless Ideas commission for 15-25 year olds to write opinion led pieces that speak to themes of Politics, Identity and Theatre.
Olamide Taiwo is 18 and writes and speaks about political issues, especially topics that resonate with her life. I co-founded @icfreeuk – a UK campaign led by young black and brown London students aiming to end the decriminalisation of Black and Brown youth in the criminal justice system and the education system. The founding of this campaign has increased her involvement with Black issues.
Olamide would like to draw attention to FillInTheBlanks a UK campaign led by students from former British colonies seeking to mandate the teaching of colonial history. They have created a link that has many petitions, reading lists and information needed to support the Black Lives Matter movement.