No man is an island. That is a phrase I was often told in my youth and as a child. I found it hard to navigate the fine line between being independent and self-reliant versus accepting help and support when I needed it. It was not congruent to another phrase that I was also repeatedly and concurrently told – You were born alone and you will die alone. That is a heavy weight to carry. As an adult, it is still something that I struggle with navigating. We often hear that if you want something done right then you should do it yourself.
So lets break this down. No man is an island.
In the most basic of senses, I understood that no-one is ever truly 100% self sufficient. As a child I had an unhealthy obsession with watching the news, and as an adult not much in that regard has changed. I have always felt too much. Watching the current state of affairs in the world, namely America, these past couple weeks (not discounting all the years of struggles and oppression) has weighed heavy on my heart. It hurts. The pain is relentless. There is a stain on my heart and a void left on this earth from the loss of every black life prematurely and violently taken due to racism.
I am black. The world, at face value, looks at and treats me the same as it does you, due to the colour of my skin. I always say black is black. There is no option for me to decide that I am not, nor is it something that I would change even if I could. I recognise that while the world sees me as black first, America sees me as British first and that is a privilege I do not dismiss or take lightly. I have been aggressively stopped by police in New York only for them to hear my accent and then witnessed the entire tone of the interaction change faster than they can say ‘oh you’re British!’. But I still see your struggles and still feel your pain.
My obsession with watching the news has brought the following headlines from my peripheral vision, out to front and centre:
Viral video of black man’s arrest sparks outrage – CBS News. 6th March 2020
White driver guns down unarmed black man following car crash, police say – Fox23 News. 7th May 2020
Fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery is being investigated as a federal hate crime – Metro. 26th May 2020
What the arrest of a black CNN journalist on air taught us. – The Guardian. 31st May 2020
The world is watching with me as all of this is unfolding. International press is reporting what is happening. But that is not what brings it to my doorstep. I have a favourite cousin, she is American. I come to America EVERY year to visit her and celebrate her birthday with her. I have aunts, uncles and other family members in America. I have friends across America, and it is a constant worry for me that I may one day turn on the news or open a newspaper and see one of their names in the headline. But even without these bonds and connections I still worry and hold concern for every black person in America today.
No man is an island.
I have shared the news articles and posts in relation to the racism, oppression and injustice that African-Americans experience everyday on all of my socials and was shocked at the aggression and abuse that was directed at me as a consequence. I was told that my concern and empathy were not real and that it was essentially an American problem and none of my business. My American friends and family are some of my favourite people on this spinning globe we inhabit. It is ignorant and counter productive to tell me that my outrage at black people dying as a consequence of rife racism is fake or disingenuous. You would have to be a racist or sociopath for none of it to affect you.
Before I knew that my support would enrage some African Americans, I tweeted the following:
“Black people are magic. Do you know how unstoppable we would be if we just stopped fighting each other?”
I did not choose to be Black British, any more than you chose to be African American. In 2016 I witnessed Black British people assemble and march to demonstrate against the deaths of numerous African Americans by police actions, including those of Bruce Kelley Jr., Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Joseph Mann, Abdirahman Abdi, Paul O’Neal, Korryn Gaines, Sylville Smith, Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott, Alfred Olango, and Deborah Danner, among others. I saw first hand the power in unity, and began to fully comprehend that while we might not live on your land or in your country, when your hearts are bleeding, ours are too.
There can be benefit in the addition of international awareness and pressures. Throughout history nations have gathered together to enforce change. Just look at the Nuremberg Charter, international sanctions have always been utilised to defend against threats to national security interests, protect international law and defend against threats to international peace and security.
To conclude, all that I ask is the next time you see a black person who is not American sharing posts and trying to bring awareness to your struggles, that you don’t abuse or ridicule them. If what they are doing is not constructive or conducive to your cause please show them with kindness and manners. You can certainly tell us that we would never last a mile in your shoes, but if we are asking to try, LET US WALK.
Yesterday in the UK, thousands of activists marched on the US embassy in London demanding that justice be served for George Floyd. 23 Arrests were made as a direct result. We are with you, you are not alone. The UK has long since been an ally to the US. On the 6th June 2020, they will march again down to parliament in peaceful protest against racism and police brutality in the UK and the US.
If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. Tell us what else we can do to help.