Politics, pandemics, protests. 2020 has been an eventful year. As the world came to terms with new threats and challenges posed by an infectious disease placing the livelihoods of many on standby and resulting in the tragic loss of life, we soon learned about the spread of another pre-existing societal disease that has had a somewhat similar effect. This disease, however, isn’t called coronavirus. It is called racism. Much like a virus, it can spread in social or domestic settings such as in households or workspaces. Someone can infect their family who then infects their friends who then infects their work colleagues and so on and so forth. Again, much like the virus, its symptoms can go unnoticed and untreated for a long time whilst it continues to spread and harm others.
Racism is a form of prejudice that is present in almost every western society. It varies in type and in context, but ultimately has one core characteristic which is discrimination based on race. Humans throughout time have often resisted change and difference, and this has led to many conflicts and struggles since the beginning of time. Naturally, humans as social species have been used to living in closely knitted circles where individuals share a common sense of belonging, language, religion and culture. Globalisation has brought prospects of a more interconnected world exchanging capital, trade and cultures; however, this has come with its own advantages and disadvantages. Concepts of race and identity however have continued to be controversial even in the wake of the 21st century.
‘I can’t breath’
2020 saw the sudden rise in anti-racism protests triggered by the brutal murder of George Floyd; a 46-year-old African American man killed by a white police officer in the United States. Images of the policeman kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes whilst he muttered the words ‘I can’t breathe’ spread across social media and sent shockwaves around the world. For black people particularly in the US, this feeling was all too familiar. The final words of George Floyd brought echoes of the murder of Eric Garner; another African American killed by a white policeman in a chokehold whilst he gasped the same words: ‘I can’t breathe’. Both men did not display any evidence of significant wrongdoing.
Black Lives Matter
This brutality against black people has a long and complex history particularly in the US but also around the world. Institutions such as the police have long failed to tackle problems of racism, and in many cases have participated and contributed to it. The black experience of life is simply not the same as other people. Black people continue to face widespread prejudice and discrimination which has stemmed from years of oppression, violence and persecution. This discrimination is often enforced by stereotypes against black people and has provoked feelings of marginalisation, fear, anger and frustration within black communities. This paved the way for the civil rights movements that emerged during the segregation years in the US and the more recent Black Lives Matter movement which began in 2013.
I had the privilege of designing a research resource for the Drive Forward Foundation on the care system as part of the charity’s 10-year anniversary and I also wrote a section on the relationship between race and the care system in the UK. From the research I conducted I was surprised to understand the significant ethnic inequalities within the care system, particularly in care admissions. Statistics by the NSPCC show that as of 2019 you were more likely to be taken into care if you were black and male. Other studies found that most black and ethnic minority groups were likely to be taken into care at higher rates than the white population.
The studies concluded that it is difficult to understand the reasons behind this due to a significant research gap on the topic. However, some studies point towards a misconception of black families and lack of understanding of cultural differences. Could it be that misconstrued biases of black people play a role in the care system as they do in other aspects of society?
Gaining new perspectives
I presented the findings of my research in a webinar attended by nearly 60 corporate partners of the Drive Forward Foundation on the 30th July 2020. Overall, my experience was very insightful particularly after hearing the following discussion between other members of the Drive Forward Foundation Policy Forum in regards my findings. The topic I had researched opened up my perspective on this area and I ended up becoming very eager to investigate it further. I have been in touch with some of the researchers involved in the studies I cited in my presentation with the intention of possibly doing a PhD on the topic after I finish my masters at Sheffield University.
The Blacks Lives Matter movement, also known as BLM, is evidence that race relations in 2020 still remain complex. More needs to be done to understand how we can work collectively as a society to develop a ‘vaccine’ to combat the racism virus and its effects on others. But until we can have open discussions on race and particularly new forms of institutionalised and systemic racism as a nation, then I foresee the issue will continue to be a pertinent subject of debate for many years to come.