I haven't known what to write about the protests over the death of George Floyd but I have to admit the mass protest element worries me and I didn't go to the Birmingham demo partly for that reason.
Yesterday 4,000 people gathered for the Black Lives Matter protest in Birmingham. The continuing protests are emblematic of an issue that is of massive significance in our time, and they may or may not trigger change. (Background: my protest spirit was broken after the 2003 London Anti Iraq War march, in which one million voices were not enough to stop Blair going to war). But the #BLM protests are showing solidarity and signalling to those in power that change is coming, whether they like it or not. I sincerely hope it is a wake-up call.
But I'm also conflicted because how can this not have an effect in terms of virus transmission, which means further deaths? That the Birmingham, London and Manchester protests took place during a pandemic is astonishing and shows the strength of feeling. The mass protests were said to be unlawful under current lockdown rules. The passionate anger over George Floyd's death is rightful but the outlet action feels risky.
The number of additional UK deaths on Friday 5 June 2020 was 357, taking the UK to a total death toll so far of 40,261. The West Midlands remains a relative danger zone, with more deaths than the capital currently. The threat is still very real – transmission hasn't changed, though it is perhaps understood slightly better than 12 weeks ago. Being outside helps but it's not enough on its own.
This week I witnessed two personal stories at opposite ends of the protest spectrum. Firstly, in Tampa, Florida, my cousin was tear-gassed and hit with rubber bullets at a protest. I saw her wounds. It was shocking. It didn't need to happen; it was a peaceful protest. Secondly, my neighbour whose husband works as a nurse called out our local MP on his silence over George Floyd. She received a long letter in reply in support of equality and his actions towards tackling racism in the UK. (He has now sent out a newsletter on Black Lives Matter.) Two very different approaches to raising the issue.
It made me wonder: How can we protest under lockdown in ways that are safe?
I'm not sure I have any answers. But ultimately I have to figure out where I stand on this particular spectrum and what action I'm going to take. As a woman it can feel as if we are also fighting against a system that can't or won't change, but that doesn't mean we can't also be there for others who are reduced by it.
I think the most powerful thing I can do is speak up and, knowing the situation, try to effect change where I can. For example, I have a job interview in a couple of weeks and my initial research shows the organisation to be predominantly white but trying to engage people across multicultural Birmingham. A new person on the team brings new voices and opportunities for growth.
Again I find myself wondering: If this job did come down to between me and a BAME candidate, should I stand down? Although I suppose the truth of the matter is, how would I even know?
These aren't easy things to discuss or to get right. So I didn't go to the mass protest but I am still thinking about it and asking what I can do.
Today I am thankful that I finally got my collage resources sorted out. In the process these two images accidentally juxtaposed themselves together inside a plastic sleeve, into which I read all the issues of gender, race, white privilege, power and change on my mind tonight.
Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com