In the throes of a pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement has experienced unprecedented impetus in its fight for freedom, liberation, and justice. Poverty, among other factors, has caused the black community to be worse hit by COVID-19 than some other groups. Still, despite the danger of infection, the unlawful killing of George Floyd was enough to galvanise black lives matter supporters all over the world to raise their voices and call for justice.
The Black Lives Matter organisation was founded in the United States by three black organisers – Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman. He had murdered Trayvon Martin, 17-year-old African American. Over the years, the organisation has developed into a global network with more than 40 chapters.
In recent weeks, in the United States, London, Paris, Berlin and several other European cities, protestors have erupted in anger at the injustices suffered by people of colour at the hands of the police and the constant glorification of figures from the past who treated people of colour as chattels. Furious demonstrators have been tearing down statues and monuments that exalt slavery and white supremacy.
The United States was built by the victims of the country’s human trafficking into enslavement. Black people made white people rich with their enslaved labour, and now, hundreds of years later and still oppressed, they are demanding recognition. It is no surprise that they are genuinely offended by the Confederate flag and other moments and memorials that honour a disobedient government founded on the perpetuation and expansion of slavery. In response, in the past weeks, public officials, military leaders and sports executives have at last taken action to remove Confederate statues and outlaw the Confederate flag.
The United Kingdom also has a shameful history when it comes to human rights, colonisation and slavery. One blatant example of this is the city of Bristol, which was built with money donated by slave trader Edward Colston. After last weeks skirmishes, the plinth where his statue once stood is now bare and surrounded with signs bearing messages of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Colston made a fortune from human suffering, transporting around 80,000 men, women, and children from Africa to the Americas between 1672 and 1689. Approximately 20,000 of these unfortunate human beings died at sea. Despite his despicable past, because he bequeathed his ill-gotten wealth to charities, his memory has been honoured for centuries in the city
Slavery is still a lucrative business for some. The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labour or sexual exploitation. What is more, according to NGO End Slavery Now, there are an estimated 21 million to 45 million people trapped in slavery today, subjected to domestic servitude, sex trafficking, forced labour, bonded labour, child labour or forced marriage.
Changing the name of a square or moving a statue will not correct racism or eradicate slavery. Still, hopefully, this wave of protests will lead to an ongoing examination of historical narrative and a change of attitudes and culture. Now is the time to educate ourselves, open our eyes and stop denying the truth of our present and past.