Updated: Jul 25, 2020
I've always avoided Facebook, saying it's for middle aged people, middle class mothers, and those people from high school who just post about the petty arguments they're having with basically everyone they know. But as Black Lives Matter has become so high profile, I've been going on there more, to try and see what the older people are saying. A lot of comments anger me, but one comment that keeps bugging me in particular is the white perspective of the racial divide. And it goes something like this: "Our children are friends and you are so set on making a divide. How many generations has it taken to finally get here and now YOU choose to divide us. In my lifetime, I have never known anyone who is anti black." When I saw this comment, I felt deeply upset by the pure ignorance, and attacking nature of the comment. But then I realised that it was the perfect comment to analyse to debate the question, "Does the racial divide really exist?".
The, "Our children are friends" and, “I have never known anyone who is anti-black” parts can be answered together. But to answer this, it is very important to note that friendship and racism are not mutually exclusive. I've had many friends who haven't outright said a racial slur to my face, but have said things which are defined as ‘microaggressions’. For example, a friend of mine was telling me she loved my hair, and then made what she assumed was a humorous suggestion of 'brushing it into a full afro and wearing it to a 70s costume party'. I wouldn’t describe her as, ‘anti-black’, nevertheless she insinuated that part of my black heritage was just an ornament. In children, this sort of thing is an even easier mistake to make, when the line between asking someone a question and singling someone out is difficult for them to perceive. Children can ask the question, "why is the sky blue?", so to them it makes logical sense to ask someone, "why are you that colour?". Seems like an innocent comment right? But just because something is intended with innocence, doesn't make the meaning behind the words innocent. White kids don't get asked why their skin is white, because it seems like a norm. So asking that to BIPOC kids singles us out, makes us feel different - but for a reason we can't help. It feels like a question that we are responsible for answering, but why should we have to? To add to that, it's very easy for non BIPOC people to forget offensive things they've said, because it meant nothing to them. When having discussions with my white friends, they don't seem to remember saying small comments. Because that's exactly what they were: small backhanded comments in the middle of a random discussion. They are things that white people are willing to let go because they are funny. As a white friend once commented to me, "light racism is funny". In my opinion, that is a fundamental part of the racial divide. These comments that are funny to white people, weigh on us. I read somewhere that black people remember every racist experience we've had - and for me at least it felt very true.
"You are so set on making a divide". I've heard a lot of white people say that in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement lately. Does it seem like that because the movement is centred around black lives? Or simply because it's too disruptive to feel guilty? But the thing I've noticed is this: it is the white system making the divide, and the black people picking up on it. I'm not saying that to further a divide, and make it seem like there is some war between races, but to highlight the fact that the way your race gets treated can unfortunately put you at a disadvantage. A divide doesn't have to be a raging gap. It can be as simple as a hairline crack - it doesn't bother you, until you look closer, but once you know it's there it will never not bother you. I've never had anyone beat me to the ground because of the colour of my skin, but I've started to notice racial differences which bother me, which is mainly the fact that wherever I go there are white people. I don't mean I have some adverse allergic reaction to white people - not at all - more that I don't feel represented. Schools tell you to report incidents of racism, but that's very hard to do when none of the staff look like you. Studying English and realising all the writers and all the characters are white. Or even babysitting and realising that the ten or so families you sat for that year were all white. That doesn't necessarily mean you had an awful experience with racists while you were there, or that you disliked these white people, just that an outnumbering exists. But I didn't feel these differences so acutely until I took a step back. Does this mean I only saw a racial divide when I wanted to see one? Personally, I think it's more like this: as black people we adapt and grow gills in order to deal with racism, but when something like BLM gets so high profile, we realise that actually we need to breathe. And that becomes abundantly clear when we want to go into certain careers. They may be harder to get into, when it's hard to see people there who understand your experiences. To look at another structure to compare it to - it would be like coming from a poor background and trying to make it in the music industry. If all the people in the music industry came from rich families, then people from poor families would find it harder to make it, because they can't see how people who have had their start in life have climbed the ranks. So, the divide is there, it's just not always as obvious a divide as people may think - especially when you aren't looking at it through the lens of the minority.
Almost coming to the end of this analysis, it's time to look at the, "how long has it taken us to get here" part of the comment. Looking at it through the white lens, I'm guessing 'here' looks something like this: slavery doesn't exist anymore, POC are allowed the same jobs as white people, and there are high profile POC in the media...and there's no such thing as segregation anymore?
This is all very well when you take the information at face value, but when you break away the surface, it's a lot more complex than that. Legally, POC now have the same rights as white people: black and white children don't get sent to different schools, anyone can sit wherever on the bus, and there's no law to say that black people can't be in high paying jobs. But I'm theoretically allowed to climb Mount Everest. Getting to the top is a whole different story. A big factor that comes into play here is the poverty line. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, income poverty for white people is 20% - the lowest for all ethnic groups. For black Caribbeans it is 30%, and for black Africans 45%. But the ethnic group with the biggest income poverty is Bangladeshi, at 65% - figures which have not decreased since research in the early 2000’s. And these are just the figures calculated before housing costs.
An obvious issue with the poverty line, is that areas with a large population of POC or immigrant families get less funding: schools don’t get as much money so resources and teaching staff won’t be such a good quality, housing is not at an appropriate standard, and businesses aren’t properly supported. However another factor that comes into play with poverty, that isn’t talked about as much, is racism when hiring people. Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené’s book ‘Slay In Your Lane’ explains this issue very clearly. Take black Africans for example: black people come over from Africa, with education and qualifications, in order to get good jobs in the UK. However, when applying for jobs, they are less likely to get hired because they are discriminated against, because their qualifications aren’t recognised - or even just because their names are ‘too difficult’ to pronounce. Studies show that based on looking at CVs alone, a black person is twice as less likely to get hired than their white counterparts, simply because their name 'sounds black'. They are then put into jobs that they are overqualified and underpaid for, leading to a lower income and thus an overall high income poverty rate. Affordable housing on these unfairly low wages, is then likely only the kind that is in the underfunded communities. It is then very easy to get into a poverty cycle, because the deeper in poverty you are, the harder it is to get out of. This doesn't mean to say that black people are incapable of achieving, just that it's harder for us to get where we want to go. And when we do, we face further discrimination in industries. As Kanye says in 'No More Parties In LA', "Every agent I know know I hate agents/ I'm too black, I'm too vocal, I'm too flagrant".
On Facebook, I saw my uncle trying to explain this issue to his white friends, explaining about how he was poor as a child. Many of his white friends replied by saying that ‘race doesn’t come into it’, because they were poor too, and proceeded to give anecdotes about being lucky to eat and walking round with newspaper stuffed inside shoes. But providing evidence of racial divide through poverty, isn’t trying to detract from the fact that white people still experience poverty. It isn’t a way to say that the experience of someone who is white and poor is invalid. What it is showing however, is that holistically POC are worse off than white people. Disproportionate poverty is just one cog in the machine of systematic racism. I think the issue with this phenomenon for a lot of people, is that they believe we are saying that only issues with black poverty need to be addressed. That isn’t the case at all. All poverty still needs to be addressed, regardless of race or gender. The argument simply breaks down groups within poverty, to address those most in need. So, if we go back to the reasons behind the shockingly high income poverties, we can see that long term, educating employers on how not to discriminate would help. Reviewing employer systems for how they check qualifications would help. Putting more POC on company boards would help. Putting more immigrants on company boards would help. If you want to draw attention to the issue of poverty itself, go for it. All black people are trying to do at the moment, is draw attention to problems affecting our communities. And these problems are in fact caused by racial divide, based on personal, systematic and institutionalised prejudices.
But what about arguments against the racial divide by black people? American commentator Candace Owens put out a video condemning the BLM movement. Her argument wasn't that racism didn't exist - after all in high school she received racist death threats from the mayor's son - but she was arguing that black people are making a racial divide an issue for ourselves. She proceeded to say that black people are the only ethnic group who 'glorify criminals', and gave statistics which seemed to prove that black people aren't affected by police brutality. I had many issues with what she was saying, but something hit a chord with me when she talked of us 'glorifying' our criminals. George Floyd had committed a number of crimes and spent time in prison for them. But the issue around police brutality doesn't surround the personal history of the individual victim, but how they are treated by police in proportion to the severity of their crime and race. I also think there is something more beautiful at play here, something which Dave describes in his song 'Black' as 'unconditional love'. I think when we advocate for the justice of our people with a criminal background, we are supporting their families. Whatever their crimes were, no matter how much we disagree with what they did, they still meant something to their families. So as well as crying out for justice for all POC, we are rallying around and supporting their families, who need a show of love and support - and when that love and support comes from all over the world, there is something pretty special there. Finally, I have an issue with what Owens said about the statistics. She gave these statistics which seemed to show how police brutality doesn't affect black Americans disproportionately after all, and even explained the maths. However, the numbers she gave were for deaths. But not every black person who encounters police brutality is killed - such as the case of Emerald Black - not every case is reported, and racial profiling is also a massive issue. It doesn't always result in arrest, but black people will get stopped for walking if they are in a neighbourhood where they 'don't look like they belong'. As well as this, I noticed that Owens cherry picked her examples of 'glorified criminals'. But as much as she can do that, I can too. Because Tamir Rice, Jonathan Ferrell and Kendrec McDade (to name but a few) weren't.