However, I grew up with a father who very often talked about race issues in the U.S. and even in Minnesota. To be honest I never really believed him at the time because my experience was so different to his. He grew up on the south side of Chicago which is very different to how I grew up. And throughout his life he has had various encounters with police and other people which made him worry whenever he is approached by them. I observed this later in life, but never really understood it because I have always had friendly encounters with police and have always viewed them as people who are there to help me.
The realities of racial inequality have started to become more obvious because of social media and news stories. Because of my upbringing I have spent a lot of time on my own thinking about what my ancestors went through when they were enslaved and later living with Jim Crow laws. They don’t teach you enough in school so I have spent many hours on YouTube watching various documentaries and historical interviews so I can understand the realities of the past. I doubt that many other people do this. Most people just want to live their lives or obsess about things interesting to them and not necessarily dwell on the past which is fair enough.
One thing we have now is smart phones which we did not have in the 90s. We are able to see what is really happening with our own eyes because someone filmed it on their phone. Now it becomes a lot more difficult to ignore what is actually happening. But over time, it’s possible to become desensitised to it. It starts to become an accepted reality of life. Another life lost. Another name added to the list. Various groups have been speaking up about the issues over the years but to no avail. Everything just stays at the status quo.
We have to break the cycle of hurt and shame and treat each other with respect and kindness. Not everyone wants to do that and it’s a sad reality.
Now we have a virus that’s trying to wipe out the population and we have to protect ourselves from it. Many people are staying home, bored with not much to do and a lot more free time. Then we see a video of a man being choked to death by a police officer. He didn’t deserve to die, even if he was guilty of whatever he was accused of. But also a lot of others have died at the hands of someone who felt he had a right to be the judge, jury and executioner and those situations are equally outrageous.
It started with some protests. Rioters and looters decided to join in causing chaos and putting the spotlight on Minnesota. My aunt sent me the video and that was the first I’d heard of it. Then I heard more through my friends on Facebook (the majority of them being from Minnesota). What was my initial reaction? It was very upsetting but I thought it was an old video that she was just re-sharing. Like old news. I’ve heard about this same thing happening over and over again so much that I’ve become desensitised.
My UK Experiences
I feel very safe and comfortable in the UK. The very few racial issues I had directed toward me, I put it down to those individuals having mental health issues. There was one interesting story that happened on the coach from London to Leeds I was on that I’d like to share.
I had just finished busking in London and I was on my way to visit a friend in Leeds. That coach is a lot more diverse than the one to Lincoln. There was a guy from Africa on there that was experiencing travel sickness. He asked the coach driver if he could have some windows open, but the driver said it’s not possible (they don’t open). The passenger asked if at least the driver window could be opened which would help (he was sitting very near the front), but the driver gave an explanation why he couldn’t but offered to put the air conditioning on instead which he did do. The man asked if there will be any breaks and if we could stop in between but the driver said he couldn’t.
This man became more agitated and upset and started arguing with the bus driver. Eventually he said he was being racist. The driver was trying to concentrate on driving and the man arguing was making it very difficult for him. He asked the passenger if he wanted him to stop the coach and kick him off. That would’ve delayed everybody so other passengers started getting involved. The African guy started making more of a fuss saying people were being racist towards him and other passengers were arguing back. From my perspective, it was not a race issue at all. Just an issue of practicalities and the bus driver did try to make all the accommodations he could for the man but instructed him to use the toilets in the back if he felt sick.
It made me wonder why this guy felt it was a race issue. His experiences must be very different to mine to make him feel like he was being attacked because of the colour of his skin. It made me wonder what real issues other people are facing that I’m not aware of.
Protests and Statues
Back to the current situation… I soon realised it was very recent news and a lot of people at home were outraged. People did their thing like they did before. Took to the streets with their signs, blocked the roads, and caused people (who may or may not care about the issue) to be annoyed that their daily routine is being interrupted. However, the situation is different now with this virus. People can take the time to reflect and observe without worrying so much about their daily routines. People can see what has happened is just not right.
But why the rioting and looting?
I could be wrong, but I think that the rioting may have been the trigger for it to become bigger news. Suddenly I start to hear about it on BBC news because burning buildings is something that causes outrage. You know what the media is like.
The Minneapolis police station burned down. That is a symbol of what people are angry about. Private businesses have nothing to do with what’s happened. Some are black owned and they even have to worry about their property. Who started the fires? I don’t know. But there are opportunists out there. Someone sees a burning building and they grab their friends and say hey it’s a free for all. Take and do what you want. Screw the police! Peaceful protesters and looters are not the same people. But I have to say, never underestimate the power of mob mentality.
People in groups behave differently than they do on an individual level. Some extreme things can happen because of how groups think together. Now we have statues being torn down. These are statues of people who were involved in the slave trade or were racist in some way. These people should not be celebrated, so why do we keep a statue around which honours their memory? It started with one statue in one location. Then more people around the world decide to follow suit.
I said before I highly doubt most people have spent hours and hours researching black history. I also highly doubt many people really pay that much attention to statues when they visit a new city (otherwise the Shaw Memorial might not have been defaced). There are some statues in particular which have been the sources of contention in certain areas. However, I question whether people really do understand the history of the individuals. Unless they are particularly famous like that dog in Edinburgh, or the religious ones that people rub when they go to a church, statues are just there. And I doubt that generally the average person really gives them a second thought when they are walking by one on their way to work. The potential problem now is people could be focusing on the wrong things. They might not necessarily know the significance of a particular statue but could cause destruction to it in all of the mayhem.
The Main Point
However, what’s happening now is people are starting to examine reality and I think it’s wonderful. People are starting to pay attention to the world around them and people want change. We are starting to see the link with the past and the present and understand that this is important if we want a brighter future.
Will these protests make a difference? It’s very difficult to say. Authority figures are starting to speak about the issues, but we won’t see real change unless they actually do something rather than just talk. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. In America, the pressing issue is to reform the culture within the policing systems. They are not federally controlled and therefore it would be an impossible task for reform across the country. And that’s why everyone in their respective states needs to show that it’s change that they want and need.
People want their voices heard because enough is enough. And people feed off other people. People are angry, and when others see that, it makes them angry too. There are also people out there who oppose the protesters and they are angry too. Things won’t change unless individuals decide to change themselves and feel more compassion towards other human beings. Our history means that, the sentiments of our great grandparents get passed to our grandparents, then to our parents then to us. We have to break the cycle of hurt and shame and treat each other with respect and kindness. Not everyone wants to do that and it’s a sad reality.
However, I do think that people can’t stay angry forever, it’s not in our nature. Life will go on eventually. All we can hope is that we have made a difference in these interesting times.
If you have any comments or questions, please write in the comment section below. An open respectful dialogue on this topic is very important!
I am a British American violinist and fiddle player. I play full time as a street musician in addition to the live gigs I perform with several bands.