I’d like to preface this follow-up with a thank you to everyone who has supported with comments on my previous article.
The initial piece was a personal perspective and was not intended to be a full socio-economic study of the issue of racism. However some of the feedback I’ve received from friends and family members about the article has inspired me to write a follow-up to address some of the points I feel I’ve missed.
After submitting the article I received a lot of positive feedback from friends. But one thing I noticed, was that none of the feedback was coming from black friends and family. Except one. A friend of mine from university I’d lost contact with.
Obviously, it wasn’t my intention to alienate my black friends and family so I asked him for some feedback. We talked for an hour over the phone about issues he had with the article, and I learned a lot from him.
As I stated in the previous article, I’ve grown up as a mixed race man in the beautiful town of Newbury, and never personally experienced any overt racism towards me. On the other hand, my friend had grown up in a high crime-rate area of London, and had distinctly different perspective to my own. Even while at the same University, he’d received overt racist abuse from random people on the street. This is an alien concept to me.
Similarly, I’ve never been stopped by the police for any reason. But again, my friend has, unjustly too. He told me about a policing practise I was completely unaware of called ‘Intelligence Led’ Stop and Search, which allows police officers to stop and search individuals without reasonable cause if they’re in a high crime area as my friend was. He recalled one of the various times he was on the way home on his bike and they’d stopped and searched him, afterwards stating that he didn’t fit the profile.
My friend also pointed out another intelligence failure, that the street level drug dealers in his area were white, exactly because they knew that black people would get stopped and searched more than they would.
That’s an alarming practise that I can easily see leading to racist abuse at an individual and systemic level. My friend said that he wanted community policing back, because the police officers took the time to learn who the residents were, and their backgrounds. Policing is by consent of the people and must be trusted to do so. But if any community is being policed by people who don’t understand them and the different issues they face, then to me its understandable that they’d feel misunderstood and take to the streets in protest. Presently, just under half of police officers working in London live outside of London.
Further to this, my friend also pointed out that gentrification, and drastic cuts to community centres in his area contributed further to this issue, with many young people forced from the community centres and in to crime.
Another friend laid out a scenario that brought it home to me. I’ve been searching without success for a career relevant to my degree for the last two years. She asked me whether she thought my name had ever caused me issue and it had never occurred to me that that might have been the case. I’ve only ever met one other André in my entire life, it’s not a common name here. Hypothetically speaking, if my CV was lined up against others with names more common in this country, and the person viewing the CVs has heard a lot about crime in the black communities or has been personally subjected to it, how good a chance do I stand against the others? I’d hope equal, but it’s almost impossible to tell for sure. But the friend from University works in recruitment and said that he’d seen this kind of discrimination happen first hand.
My mention of the prolific black conservative Candice Owens was also viewed as an issue, and in hindsight I can see why. Candice is commonly rolled out in the US media as representing a minority within a minority: a black conservative. Her views revolve around her wishing not to be viewed as a victim, however her views combined with who she is, are commonly weaponized by American conservatives in an attempt validate their views on ethnic minority topics. While she is perfectly entitled to her opinions the same as myself and everyone else, I should have made it clearer who she was when I was referencing her opinion.
Candice stated that George Floyd had a history of crime and that he was in possession of drugs at the time of his arrest. The police were called to the scene because he’d attempted to pay for his items with a counterfeit bill. Which means a crime was committed. But the excessive force used is the flash-point for the protests. Since the conversation with my friend about his own experiences, I can better understand why there’s commonality between the British and American protesters. In both countries, there appears to be an assumed stance and preconception adopted by some officers, before they arrive at the scene.
Which highlights another, and possibly most egregious mistake on my part. I said in the initial piece that I agreed to an extent that racism was a myth in policing, and didn’t consider these ‘old-habits-die-hard’ mentalities. I also failed to take in to account much higher profile cases I’d missed, like rapper Stormzy being arrested in his own home because police had been informed he was a burglar. Arguably the police were responding to a call appropriately. But it does invite the question who called the police in the first place? Were they being racist, or were they genuinely concerned a crime was taking place? Could more have been done to investigate who was there before the early morning raid took place? The notion of ‘conspiracy to commit a crime’ which was the stated reason, implies that there’s time for the investigators before the crime is committed. I’m not saying this is rampant, but one wonders how often this type of ‘mistake’ occurs.
I also got in touch with an Afro-Caribbean family member locally who helped me understand smaller, more brushed aside instances that again I’ve been fortunate enough to miss for the most part. There are still some people that have preconceived notions of what jobs black people are expected to do. She told me about getting a job in a bank and being told by her friends that people didn’t expect her to do that. My only similar experience was when another mixed race person asked me what kind of music I listen to. When I told him I was a big rock and heavy metal fan, he expressed that was unusual for someone of my race. I thought nothing of it. Some are more aware of these racial in-sensitivities than myself.
All of these issues and more have highlighted a perspective about racial issues in this country that I was unaware of prior to this. A piece of feedback left by a local Newbury resident on the previous article stated that the opinions I held in that piece were insensitive, and undermined the lived experiences of others in the black community and I completely agree with that if I was intending to speak for the experiences of the black community. But it wasn’t and I don’t.
I think my original article represents where I was with all this, before people reached out and provided their perspective. We are all constantly learning and I have now discovered things that I’d missed myself. And I thank you – the reader – for following me through this learning experience.