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Thursday 4 June 2020

BARAC UK Statement; Solidarity with the family of George Floyd - campaigning against racism and injustice

Solidarity with the family of George Floyd, campaigning against racism and injustice, impact of coronavirus on black communities

June 2020

BARAC UK sends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of George Floyd and we stand in solidarity with all black people in the USA, UK and globally whose lived experience means that they have to challenge racism daily, from every day to systemic racism.

As a grassroots black led organisation, marking its ten year anniversary this month, we have consistently challenged the racism and injustice faced by black people in the UK, including economic and social impacts, workplace and labour market discrimination, the adverse impacts of austerity, institutional racism and in supporting families whose loved ones have died at the hands of the state and we know the anguish and distress that families go through in seeking justice within a judiciary system  that is systemically racist.

BARAC solidarity protest and march against deaths at the hands of the state

We note that a wide range of organisations and institutions that have been silent throughout decades of struggle against racism have in recent days been issuing statements of solidarity, often using the #blacklivesmatter hashtag but we are also aware that many of these institutions do not have their own house in order with regards to  addressing under representation of black / BAME people in their workforce, the absence of black people on their boards, discrimination in recruitment, promotion, progression and  in appraisal systems and pay, not to mention unequal terms and conditions in two tier workforces.

We welcome their acts of solidarity, but we believe that solidarity needs to be more than symbolic and must be practical and that standing up to racism is more than just a hashtag. It takes determination and commitment and real actions which make a difference to peoples lives and that means that potential workers, existing workers, customers, clients and stakeholders who are black and minority ethnic must be treated with dignity, respect and equality by those organisations and that if they really believe that black lives matter then they cannot speak up one day of the year and be silent for the remaining 364 days.

In 2017 BARAC published a 2025 Vision for Race Equality paper and launched the campaign in the UK Parliament hosted by the former UK Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP.  In this strategy paper we set out the state of race discrimination in the UK and the commitments required by government, politicians, cities, businesses, civil society and others to achieve race equality.  We stressed at the time that achieving race equality can only succeed if all these institutions and bodies take action, hold their hands up, examine their own failures and address them with penalties for any failure to meet targets and make year on year improvements.

Our message to all the organisations currently declaring their solidarity with the black lives matter movement, race equality campaigners and the family of George Floyd,  is that if they are truly serious about contributing to creating a society free of racism in all its forms then they need to get their own house in order and commit to action not just words and to consider the strategy we set out and declare their own plan to not just root out racism but to work towards achieving race equality.

It is not enough to be anti-racist, organisations and individuals  need to be for race equality and to call out racism when they witness it as well as take action to prevent it occurring in the first place.  Standing up to racism cannot stop at the exit from the office, it must continue on the journey home, in social circles, in neighbourhoods. 

When we are silent in the face of racism, it empowers those who hold racist views to express them and it allows racism to grow – challenging racism in all its forms is crucial and that must include recognising your own privilege and speaking out and taking action - not just when there are huge injustices that are in the public domain such as the horrendous brutal murder of George Floyd in the USA and many others before him globally including  Sean Rigg in the UK but addressing every day racism and micro aggressions which black people encounter in their daily lives and systemic discrimination throughout institutions which lead to deaths also, such as the tragic  case of  Sarah Reed.

left: Marica Rigg , campaigner for justice and sister of Sean Rigg with Zita Holbourne, Chair of BARAC UK

Right now the Coronavirus pandemic is impacting disproportionately on black and minority ethnic workers and communities, black people are over 4 times more likely to die from coronavirus than white people in the UK  and many of those who have died were workers on the frontline, keeping essential services running in the health, care , public transport and facilities management sectors amongst others. We know that black workers often work with worse terms and conditions in two tier workforces and / or in frontline jobs. Many of these workers conduct thankless tasks every day, deemed to be inferior by other workers and the public and face racist abuse and harassment and bullying in addition.  We cannot forget when we speak of deaths of black people about the death this year of Belly Mujinga, a black woman and  transport sector worker who was spat at alongside another black colleague by a man who stated that he had coronavirus.  Belly and her colleague both got coronavirus and Belly sadly died.  As with many deaths of black people in horrendous circumstances such as these, Belly’s family along with her trade union the TSSA, have had to launch a campaign to raise awareness and in order to seek justice.  Following an investigation,  it has been stated that no further action will be taken against the man who spat at them and that it is not a criminal matter, because he tested negative for coronavirus at a date after he spat at them.  This does not prove that he did not have coronavirus at the time and we know that test results currently cannot be entirely relied upon for accuracy which is confirmed by the medical profession,  the fact that he spat at them in the course of them carrying out their jobs is abuse and if he believed he had coronavirus then he intentionally set out to spread the virus and to potentially kill them. In comparison when a police officer was spat at, the perpetrator was jailed for 12 months.

BARAC believes that given black people are dying disproportionately, employers should be treating them as being in the high-risk category and taking series steps to prevent further deaths of all workers due to coronavirus.  This means that thorough risk assessments, equality impact assessments and individual assessments must be carried out for all workers including black  / BAME workers which consider not just the impact on the individual but on the people they live with and care for, the public transport workers if they use public transport to get the work and the facilities workers who are disproportionately black and which include cleaners and security guards at their workplaces and that if full safety and protection including PPE cannot be guaranteed then employers must take the threat to lives seriously and consider other duties, working from home (or continuing to for a longer period if they are already), or not being required to work with no detriment to pay, terms and conditions and rights.  Trade Unions have a key role to play in negotiating these protections and we strongly encourage black workers to join a trade union if they have not already done so.

BARAC UK was initially established to campaign on the disproportionate impact of cuts and austerity on black workers, service users and communities but hand in hand with those impacts came deepening racism and injustice faced by black communities so our remit soon broadened to include campaigning on the wider range of concerns and linked issues.  We also played a central role in campaigns for migrant rights and against Windrush injustice – warning of this long before the Windrush Scandal was described as such. As part of our commitment to practical solidarity, for the past seven years we have coordinated regular humanitarian aid and solidarity missions to our sisters and brothers who are displaced due to climate change, poverty, persecution and conflict.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic we have been unable to distribute aid and the charities we work with on the ground have had to stop also in order to prevent risk of spreading the virus to those who are refugees and those who volunteer and due to borders closing.

makeshift school for refugee children in Calais

It is essential that in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis and the economic one to follow, that we do not allow the Windrush Scandal and it’s impacts to be buried. The vast majority impacted have received no compensation, the government is continuing with actions including legislation, to further its  'hostile environment ' agenda, at a time that migrant and BAME workers are keeping essential Services running across the UK. Many members of the Windrush generation  before them were directly recruited from the Caribbean to work in the NHS and on public transport.  Right now there are hundreds of women and men, who were legally allowed to work in the UK and when they lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic  have no recourse to public funds due to their immigration status despite having paid their taxes for years. Many of those impacted have children - some of whom are born in Britain and are destitute and without food or funds for essentials, dependent on local community group charity donations just to survive.

These are just some examples of areas where large businesses, if they are serious about giving something back to communities who are impacted globally by racism and injustice, could direct their funds and resources.

Banner Drop on National Windrush Day, June 2019

Every year we join the United Family and Friends campaign annual march against deaths in custody in the UK but all of the institutions and businesses now declaring their commitment to “black lives matter” are absent from such campaigns and actions. We hope to see those based in or with a branch in the UK putting their symbolic solidarity into practical action by joining each year going forward and demonstrating visibility in their commitment to challenging racial profiling.

We welcome and encourage all to speak out against racism, but we object to the discourse on racism and injustice faced by black communities by those with lived experience being side-lined by others, suggesting that their own voices are more important.  Many black people have been speaking out about these issues for their whole lives, often met with disregard at best and abuse at worse.  Therefore if businesses and institutions want to engage with the issues,  a way of doing this could be to invite guest blogs, hosting of virtual events and talks by black activists, campaigners, writers, artists etc  as a way of engaging their customers and staff  in a meaningful way beyond symbolism.

Press conference hosted by BARAC UK for the family of Trayvon Martin

We are living through a collective trauma due to the pandemic, racist murders, police brutality, institutional racism and every day racism and the pouring of outrage at the death of yet another unarmed black man at the hands of the police is understandable and needed. Because of the disproportionate numbers of black people dying from coronavirus, although we fully understand why people are attending protests, we are worried about the impact of coronavirus,  where social distancing is not being practiced, either to get to protests and whilst at them and we have taken the decision not to organise or participate in physical mass protest action during the pandemic, particularly as there are concerns about a second wave. We will be protesting and engaging in other ways, virtually and behind the scenes through engagements with others and creative avenues. The unusual response by institutions and businesses to want to demonstrate solidarity should be harnessed and transferred to long term commitment towards race equality going forward, if they are  genuine, in our view.

Our love and solidarity to all living through and standing up to racism in all its forms. 

Zita Holbourne, National Chair

On behalf of BARAC UK 

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