One year ago, hundreds of thousands of protestors turned to Britain’s streets to protest racial injustice. Despite the backdrop of a deadly pandemic, the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin galvanised people from across the globe to show their solidarity and dissent, in the longest and largest anti-racist demonstrations since Martin Luther King’s death in 1968.
Meanwhile, even previously disinterested brands, politicians and white allies began to issue statements, make grand gestures and donations, and post black squares to acknowledge the issue of racism. It felt like the tide was turning and, for younger generations in particular, it was unlike anything we had seen in our lifetime.
But one year on, many young Black people have been left with mixed feelings about the events of the past year. How many promises have actually been upheld and how optimistic should we feel about the future of the anti-racist movement in the UK? Ahead, seven Black people reflect on a year of the UK’s reckoning with racism.
Jordan, 21, London
George Floyd’s death feels like it was just the other day, but it also feels like a lifetime ago considering the amount of racial injustice that has transpired since then. When it came to the protests, seeing them and the potentiality they embodied was beyond inspiring, but it definitely hurt to see the momentum die down. I suppose every generation believes they are going to be the one to change things, so I guess I learnt there is patience one must have when it comes to radical justice.
I think those who were on the periphery of conversations surrounding race are finally acquiring the language to enter into these conversations. Yet mainstream discourse still cannot reconcile such conversations and critical race theory is still regularly debated, criticised and bashed. Sometimes it feels like we keep taking two steps forward and three steps back.
In the last year, the conversations I’ve had with my non-Black PoC friends and white partner have definitely surprised me, but have also pissed me off. On one hand, I’m glad we’re finally able to engage in these conversations in a more in-depth way, but at the same time, I’ve been telling you this, where have y’all been?!
Any Black person navigating the internet last summer was repeatedly traumatised and I don’t think that gets talked about enough. Thankfully, I had loved ones to support me and speak about the things I was seeing daily with, but I can’t imagine what it was like for others. At one point, I thought I was losing my mind, seeing the constant barrage of black death and pretty infographics following one after the other on social media. I think it’ll take some time before I really accept what happened in the summer of 2020.
Mercy, 23, Glasgow
The realness and closeness of the BLM movement still feels very present. That should be a good thing, however, it’s also severely exhausting as a Black woman.
The fact that we are still talking about it gives me hope. I can see businesses and brands working hard to listen more and do better. Promises take time to manifest and should not be rushed.
I do think that the UK is at a place where racism can no longer be ignored. The conversations and amplified Black voices are actually starting to be listened to. If we keep the momentum and follow it up with anti-racism actions, I think we will be heading in a good direction.
I have always had race conversations with my Black friends and family. It’s literally our everyday reality, especially when we live in white spaces like the UK and, more specifically, Scotland. I have had more race conversations with my non-Black friends over the past year. At times, it was comforting to know that people were seeking the opportunity to listen. Then, the more I realised the extent of the emotional toll it was having on me, I decided to create an Instagram page called Into A Black Mind as a creative outlet. For my mental health, I’m very precious about which of my non-Black friends I have race conversations with.
I implore non-Black people to listen and open their minds to understand. I also hope people realise that not every Black person is a race expert. People need to recognise that when acts of racism or systemic issues are disregarded by a Black person, it does not eradicate the experiences of others. Ultimately, my biggest hope is that the same hard work that Black people have been doing to simply live and exist in oppressed societies is reciprocated.
Perry, 22, London
In my opinion, things have gotten worse since George Floyd’s death, as the forces of reaction have doubled down on their repudiation of anti-racist activism. The Sewell Report was a culmination of the very weak attempt to build the narrative of Britain as a nation that had overcome racism and was no doubt published in response to the protests. There has been no “national conversation”, but instead, a ramping up of nativist rhetoric that paints dissenters as ungrateful. A year on and we’re still seeing attacks on players for taking the knee, underpinned by Red Scare era anti-communism.
While I might not necessarily agree with her group’s internal politics, the shooting of Sasha Johnson has been greeted with mirth by a significant portion of the population.
And perhaps most insidious is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently working its way through parliament. Some provisions included in the Bill are almost certainly a reaction to the protests – for example, a maximum 10-year sentence for defacing a statue and the de facto banning of protests via the “annoyance” clause.
This is all occurring with a smashed left wing electoral coalition under Corbyn. The main electoral vehicle that at least nominally supports minorities is now being run by Keir Starmer, the same man who was Director of Public Prosecutions during the 2011 riots and sent Black kids to prison for nicking bottles of water. Starmer famously referred to BLM as a “moment” and scoffed at the idea of “defunding the police”. He has abstained on critical pieces of legislation (spycops, overseas operation) and was set to abstain on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, before the violent scenes seen at the Sarah Everard vigil.
Lucia, 19, London
A year on, I feel numb to it all. People are still being killed by the police. It doesn’t feel like much has changed. Yes, Derek Chauvin was sent to prison, but the systems are still currently against Black people.
Black people were killed by the police before George Floyd, but his death had a very big impact on me. I was old enough to be on social media, see it all, engage in the discussions, go to protests. Now, when I see any type of police brutality happening anywhere in the world on my timeline, I can’t watch it all. It is extremely triggering to me.
Since last year, I think conversations about racism have become louder, but they’re not really that different. Black people are calling for justice and have been for years. When politicians, businesses, educators and others started having conversations last summer, it felt like we might be getting somewhere. But after the Sewell Report was published by the UK government, I felt like we took so many steps backwards.
I question my optimism frequently. Sometimes I ask myself: will we ever stop suffering as Black people? I would love to say that in my lifetime things will truly get better, but every time I try to think this way, another Black person is killed by the police, without justice. People are racially attacked on the street. Stop and search is still disproportionately targeting Black men. The PM in Britain has not apologised for racist comments he has made. It makes me sad.
Kofi, 33, Hull
I’m not really sure how to feel a year on from the Black Lives Matter movement, because I don’t personally feel there’s anything to move on from. We still have this thing hanging over our heads. Non-Black people dip in and out of it, whereas this is us everyday.
I’m counting the wins, because I do feel like there are some people that have been enlightened by this and genuinely want to do better. It takes small steps. People forget. The bus boycotts that happened in Bristol and in the States, for example, they lasted a long time. Things didn’t change over night.
In terms of the anti-racist movement, from what I’m seeing in my home city, it’s looking good. We are working with services, I know what groups are doing what work and what my personal responsibilities are in terms of moving things forwards. I think, personally, it’s looking better because more people are armed with the knowledge – allyship in Hull is really good. I’m still hearing stories of racism all over the place, but I’m seeing more people calling it out and there are a few businesses doing the same thing.
I feel like people now also feel empowered to give their opinions, to really stand their ground, say what they feel and call things out in the workplace. It’s not everywhere, but the more people that feel seen, acknowledged and protected, the more advice they can give to those aren’t and help change their situations. Again, I’m trying to count the wins, because in this fight, you’ve got to be hopeful. You’ve got to know that the fight is worth it.
The conversations I’ve had with my friends have been reflective and progressive. It’s been quite exhausting as well, with people leaning on you to educate them and missing the point. I went through a period of having to sort of filter my friendship groups. Even though they’re people I’ve known for a long time, stuff that’s been said, people weren’t waking up to things. I’m realising I’m putting in too much time with these people. It feels quite sad, but not putting in as much time with these individuals frees up space for new friends that seem to be more aligned with myself. Instead of my world getting smaller, I feel like my world’s getting bigger.
Honesty, 21, London
A year on from the murder of George Floyd, it’s still difficult to put my feelings on what happened simply, something I’m sure most Black people can relate to. We have been grieving a man most of us should never have known. While I wish that the conversations, changes and consciousness seen over the last 12 months weren’t driven by the weaponisation of Black death, I’m grateful to be connected to my community in the fight against oppression.
It’s amazing to see people shaking off apathy and demanding change. As time passes, I only hope that they will stay this way. This is the first anniversary of the tragedy and, as many of the performances put on by institutions and establishments are winding down, it’s ever-important to demand the delivery of the promises made.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will institutional racism be destroyed in a year. However long this journey will take, I fully intend to keep finding moments to be grateful for.
Niellah, 27, London
In some ways I feel a bit desensitised to the fallout of last summer. It was such a traumatic time for so many Black people globally. I find it quite painful to look back on.
But a year on, I do feel less exhausted than I did back then. Last summer really taught me how to put boundaries in place for my wellbeing. I’m more than comfortable saying no, taking time out and not engaging with certain things or people until I feel like I’m in the right place to do that. I’m not sure if I would have learned these personal boundaries otherwise. I also feel like I’m more realistic than I was last year. I’m much more resilient with a thicker skin.
I don’t think ‘allies’, governments or corporations have delivered on many of the promises they made last year, but deep down I don’t really think I expected them to – why would they? As far as the government goes, I actually think things have gotten worse, but I’m no longer looking towards corporations or allies for my liberation. I’m less interested in representation, and far more interested in coalition and making long-lasting change for everyone, not just individuals.
Looking to the future, I am feeling hopeful. I feel like I’ve seen the power of solidarity over the last year.