This is America — and the Rest

Like so many others around the world, I have been touched by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis last week. The video footage of the police officer, with his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck, of George Floyd screaming ‘I can’t breathe’, of three other police officers able, but unwilling, to help, whilst being difficult to watch, is important, and has sparked something within me. The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t new, but I will be the first to admit that it had somewhat passed me by until now. It was never a revelation to me that black lives matter — of course they do —, and it wasn’t news to me that in the US, systemic racism was prevalent in all areas of society. What hadn’t struck me, until now, was that it exists here in the UK too — and elsewhere across the world. The extent to which racist sentiments have spread in our society — in the police force, in government, in education, in the workplace, in the street, in our unfounded and often subconscious biases — is so often overlooked by those who it doesn’t directly effect. White privilege, after all, is characterised by our blatant unawareness of its existence, and of the infinite number of injustices it protects us from every single day.

I have taken the opportunity to educate myself: to read, watch, listen. Sometimes it’s unbelievably hard. Often it makes me feel uncomfortable. But for millions, this oppression, systemic or the work of individuals, isn’t something to consider once or maybe twice a year, when Black Lives Matter hits the headlines. It’s a daily struggle, a daily fear of prejudice, of injustice, of being discriminated against, stereotyped, judged, killed, because of the colour of their skin.
I have worked to amplify the voices of black people, here in the UK, in the US, and around the world. I have signed petitions and open letters, shared resources, and done my best to put myself in the shoes of others, and to then fight for a better world. I’m ashamed that it has taken me this long to acknowledge the racism of the society in which I live, but, alongside millions of others, I am determined to stand in solidarity with black people around the world, and use the privilege I have to secure a better, fairer world for them.

Without detracting from the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, I wanted to talk about America. The American Dream, like that explored in ‘Of Mice and Men’, and ‘The Great Gatsby’, is one thing: the dream of success, of achieving happiness, self-sustainability, and of a good life. The Dream of America, if you will, is something quite different, and yet all too similar in its end result. Even as a Brit, America represented something glorious. Wherever you’re from, reaching America is pretty much used as a universal measure of success: you’ve made it to America, you’ve made it. The glamour of LA, the buzz of NYC, the innovation of Silicon Valley — whether it be sport, music, acting, literature, academia, science, America was the dream, and all steps led, ultimately, to its distant shores. I’m not, of course, endorsing this: it represents the Americanisation of almost every industry, threatening cultures, languages, and economies around the world. It pushes artists — of whatever type — to produce increasingly American-friendly pieces, literature which suits American taste, music which speaks to Americans in their native language, films which scream Hollywood louder than Hollywood itself. But like it or not, America was the ultimate goal, the place to be, the place to aim for, the

Disillusionment came next. Maybe it came with age, and the loss of blissful ignorance. Maybe, since my birth in 2001, the symbolism of America has shifted to something darker, something less glorious, Gatsby’s ‘green light’ turned suddenly red, a sign of danger, and of things less idealistic than they once appeared. The ‘Land of the Free’ suddenly became the ‘Land of the Oppressed’, inequality so embedded into the system that it seemed, and indeed still sometimes seems, impossible to dismantle. As a Brit, I can’t exactly criticise: racism was, arguably, born in Britain, and exported by boat to America, like the thousands sent there by boat as part of the slave trade in the years and decades to follow. And, as in the US, it still pollutes our public authorities, our government, our biases and prejudices.

The American Dream, for me in any case, is ruined, it’s glory and hope blotted out by the discrimination of all kinds which dims the light of a better tomorrow. Racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, transphobia, and more. Each a bucket of water on the glowing flame of America, dimming it, in my eyes, to mere embers.
But then, if the USA — land of hope, of dreams, of success — can’t get it right, how on Earth can anywhere else? The rulebook which was used as a guide to the perfect society, the perfect culture, the perfect country, has been torn to pieces and burnt in the uncontrollable flame it aimed to tame and improve. Perhaps, then, the realisation is this: there is no rulebook. There is no example model on which to base a truly fair, equal, and sustainable society, one without racism, discrimination, and pain. There is no country at which we can point and say, ‘well, if they can do it’.

This isn’t an excuse to give up. It serves as motivation, as a need, to create such a society, such a country. To be the example, the place which made it work, and which makes it work still. There’s a long way to go — longer than any of us can even fathom, I think. But if that serves to put us off, we’ll never make it. So the sooner we start, the sooner we’ll get there.
The killing of George Floyd, and of the many, many other defenceless black people who have been the victims of police brutality and oppression this year, last year, and in the decades and indeed centuries before, must not be forgotten. There will be no peace until there is justice — how can there be? Black lives matter — not just today, or tomorrow, or so long as Black Lives Matter stays in the headlines. Black lives matter every day, regardless. It’s our duty to fight, in any way we can, using everything we have, to make public authorities, government and, undoubtedly, ourselves see this.
Change starts with us.

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