The death of 46-year old George Floyd by a white policeman in Minneapolis sparked worldwide outrage, with protests erupting around the globe. People of all races, ages, backgrounds and circumstance came out of their three-month long COVID-19 lockdown to gather in large, noisy crowds to angrily and passionately protest. Not just at the horrific injustice of George Floyd’s death, but the deaths of every other black man and woman at the hands of another because of the colour of their skin.
Alongside the thousands who took to the streets, millions shared their outrage through their social media platforms, online forums, radio and TV call-ins, newspaper and magazine articles. At a time of unprecedented global uncertainty, with millions of people apprehensive about their present and worried about their future, that fear appears to have triggered a universal empathy for the experience black men and women have faced for generations. Important discussions about white privilege and unconscious racism have been opened up, with many now realising that the issue of ‘race’ isn’t something that only affects people of colour.
When I started This Girl Is On Fire two years ago, my intention was, and remains, to do everything I can to bring clarity, direction and support to every woman looking to make positive changes to her life. That includes challenging our thought processes and encouraging us all to look outside our usual ways of thinking. To do this in the context of racial awareness means asking ourselves some uncomfortable questions about our unconscious thoughts and behaviour, looking at those truths when they emerge, and educating ourselves so that that we continue to grow in self-awareness and awareness of others.
When looking for answers to the question “How Can I Help?” I think that it’s vital that these come from women of colour. I have asked women whom I admire, respect and consider my friends to answer five questions to help us all understand how we can make a difference – in our thoughts and our actions.
Wary, slightly anxious. Perhaps reading too much social media but I feel the ‘silent’ majority are more furious now at what they see as the attempted desecration and trashing of British history than the original reason for the BLM protests. Black people will pay the price of any backlash, so I get worried for my children. Haven’t seen the kind of scenes I’m seeing now in decades.
That said, I feel it’s a conversation we’ve shied away from for too long, myself included. I’ve remained silent for years when I’ve heard racist jokes for fear of being singled out, or accused of having ‘no sense of humour’ of having a ‘chip on my shoulder’ or worse, being seen as a ‘troublemaker’ in the workplace, potentially damaging work prospects. I’ve been too scared to speak out but not any more. It’s been tough. Especially if you’re the only black person in the room, as I frequently have been. I’ve focussed on freelance work rather than being in a corporate, office setting as I can walk away more easily from any situation without fear.
The fact that the topic of racism in all its forms is being openly discussed, and that forums like TGIOF are asking the question is helping; I think people have been scared to discuss it for fear of giving offence or saying the ‘wrong’ thing. I’m seeing people stand up for the first time and say, ‘this is wrong’, I’m seeing businesses saying they will demand collaborators include or consider black contributors or they will not work with them. I’m hopeful that we’re seeing a sea change at last.
I would hate for anyone to say or do anything they’re not happy to do but don’t stand by if you see or hear racist behaviour; call it out. And feel free to ask me anything. About 2 years ago, a really good friend of mine actually asked me ‘what is it really like to be black in this country?’ (She’s from the U.S; my British friends are too polite to ask!). I was like, ‘Wow, I’m so happy you asked; nobody EVER has in my entire life! It’s exhausting…’ So if you’re curious about something, speak up, please ask.
Say ‘All Lives Matter’. I’ve blocked a few people now. Because if that was true, we wouldn’t be where we are today. But also, don’t apologise for being white – that’s not what this is about for me, I hate that. Be who you are, and let me be me too.
Please do not ask a person of colour if you can touch their hair. It’s very ‘othering’. Also, when they say where they are from, please don’t say; ‘But where are you REALLY from?!!’
I really like Afua Hirsch’s book ‘Brit (ish), on Race, Identity and Belonging’ – hard-hitting without being preachy, and a very good insight into feeling ‘other’. I’ve been too scared to read books like this before because of the feelings they awaken in me; I just don’t want to be angry all the time!
Personally, I think what we teach children in school in crucial, plus the issues with hair. I’ve always wondered how can you qualify as a hairdresser but not be able to do the hair of anyone who walks through your door? Living in Dorset I had to appeal on Facebook for someone to do my mum’s hair, and I have to travel literally a hundred miles to get my hair done! So the more signatures on that one the better!
Mother, Comedian, TV and Radio Presenter
The death of another black man by a police officer has knocked me… It was hard to watch the video. I questioned if it’s even necessary to watch as we know the end result; seeing it is truly traumatic. First there’s the sadness, pain and shock that this is still happening, then the very heavy reality that for many black people they experience discrimination and racism every day in some form. But through it all you have to rise, raise children, work, be creative and find ways to free your mind. I’m in that process of doing things that free my mind.
A sense of peace. Peace of mind, a space that we can all talk without judgement, and knowing that there’s going to be a solution, leading bodies making statements of acknowledgement. Even an apology, And a good big hug. The simple things like standing at my window and just looking at the trees, hearing the birds and feeling the sun on my skin! That helps me.
Be honest, allow others to be honest, listen – and not in a patronising way. I feel that many have now seen the difference in how black people are treated. I would ask for people to care deeply and show love, support the cause of change, not just through protest but behind the scenes, in policies and most importantly speak out. If you see it happening say something to someone as you could be saving someone’s life.
Don’t judge all with the same brush! Don’t forget about black lives and the horrific history. The worst thing anyone can do is tell you how you’re feeling. If someone says “I felt discriminated against, I felt hurt, I feel scared,” you cannot dismiss this. Let them be free to express themselves, this can bring so much healing.
The main charities that need support are ones like Windrush Scandal and Black Lives Matter. However I would say donate your time, learn black history that has caused so much pain, and also the beautiful side of black people’s culture. Then start the journey with black people to make a new beginning.
Actress, award-winning CEO of Advocate Agency, Mum, Loose Women panellist, campaigner.
The immediate feeling was of shock and numbness quickly followed by acute anger fuelled by my own personal experience of 40 years of racism.
It would be a relief if:
– Donald Trump changed his stance regarding peaceful protest to allow freedom of speech as declared in Article 1 of the Constitution of the United States.
– Stricter guidelines for prosecution of race crimes including inciting bigotry, racism and hate crimes.
– The introduction of racism and black history education into primary school curriculums.
– Enforceable charges against businesses that have benefitted from the transatlantic slave trade so that those businesses can financially recompense the black community. Using that finance to resource the community through the regeneration of youth groups, sport, support for under-privileged black boys through youth clubs and activities in under-privileged areas.
– The FA working alongside law enforcement to ensure prosecution of racism at football matches and maintaining a zero-tolerance policy and exclusion of season tickets for convicted offenders.
– Accurate and fair representation of BAME actors, actresses, presenters and broadcasters across the networks.
It’s my belief that to change perceptions and understanding of the black race, it needs to start in positions of headship across the arts, politics, business, social enterprise and government. Unfortunately, looking at the demise and ill treatment of Meghan Markle, it has only proven that steps in the right direction ie a woman of colour within the royal family, is still met with umbrage and disdain. As a black woman I have had to overcome many bigoted views, racism and unconscious bias that have disproportionately left me on the back foot. With my white counterparts starting at zero, as a black performer I always started at minus 10. To level the playing field we need to inject support to enable us to have an equal opportunity.
Statements made by white people highlight that these problems are important to everyone and that there is empathy and support shown for all. Social media posts, writing to your local MP, signing petitions and peaceful protest are all steps that would be greatly appreciated and welcomed by any black person. For example, at Hollyoaks, we just opened a forum for black cast members and Chanel 4 has green-lit 3 podcasts to explore racism on a broader scale with its audience.
If you are willing, I would say do not stay silent. If you are a witness to injustice, use your voice and speak up. Whether that be in your workplace, during travel, or during your leisure time, supporting someone that you feel is being bullied or racially abused (no matter how large or small the incident) speaking up is important because it sets a precedent that the behaviour will not be tolerated regardless of the race.
Nobody had to educate me about being white or about the white culture because I was simply born into it. I lived and was brought up in a majority white neighbourhood, went to a majority white school where everybody in positions of power were white and in television everyone I saw was white apart from those black people who were being ridiculed or criminalised. What I would say is, Roots, Imitations of Life and When They See Us are really good benchmarks, they’re difficult for even me to watch but they give both a historical and current view of the way black people are unfairly treated.
Take a trip to a slavery museum. Most importantly there are probably people around you that you see every day but you do not even notice them. They have their own stories too right on your doorstep. A socially distanced chat / coffee to ask about their stories would be a great start and probably mean a hell of a lot to them that you took the time to ask.
As a team, we at This Girl Is On Fire know that we can do more, be better, have a stronger representation of diversity through our content, our Marketplace and Product Partners, and encourage more collaborations with women of colour. We are working hard behind the scenes to make sure that we are doing everything we can to educate ourselves and to ensure our site reflects our mission statement : To empower 100 million women around the world to Live, Learn and Thrive in a life they love.
For more information on Black Lives Matter