I am still disturbed by the conversation I had with with the man about George Floyd. He dismissed the killing saying it was no worse than any other murder, so why were people so upset. He said Floyd had been a criminal, that black men are killed by other black men and no one starts marching. The idea that a policeman, a white policeman, murdering a black man while his colleagues looked on and did nothing, did not seem to him to make the murder more significant. The fact that black men and women in both the US and the UK are more likely to be stopped by the police when going about their business did not trouble him. It reminded me of a sketch on Not the Nine O’Clock News. But it also made me wonder if this man has formed these views on his own, or if they have been shaped by what he is read or heard. On my visits to the Co-op I didn’t look at the newspapers’ front pages. Is this the line some editorials are taking? If so, it is deeply irresponsible, deeply divisive. We live in societies that value white lives over black ones, where we have a Prime Minister in this country who talks about picaninnies and watermelon smiles, then wonders why people of all colours take offence. The pandemic has shown how black and minority ethic groups have suffered most, not because they have less immunity, but because they are more exposed, are more often to live in poorer housing. The pandemic has laid bare the inequalities of our society we have been ignoring for years.
Is it any wonder a moment comes that ignites all the frustration? When people take to the streets to protest? The vast majority of the protests are peaceful. The bursts of violence and looting are the ones that get the most coverage. Easier to condemn such behaviour than look at the fundamental injustices in our democracy that have led to it.
During our constitutional walks in London Celia and I have spent time enjoying and admiring the new estate in Myatts Fields. The old estate was a warren, and a place dominated by gangs and violence. The new one is human scale, the design has been carefully thought out to encourage openness and interaction. Our neighbour Cynthia describes it as a piece of Scandinavia in south London. It’s all the more impressive as it was built after austerity began. The council must have taken the decision to pursue its plans despite budget cuts. Yet in the short term, building high rises would have seemed the sensible financial solution.
When black people tell me they have lost count of how many times they have been stopped by the police I have to contrast it with my own experience as a white person. We have the choice of accepting discrimination as an unalterable fate or to argue and campaign for change. Human beings are hard wired to be more accepting of people we see as being like us. Learning to widen our minds often requires a conscious effort, especially if you live in an area where most people are alike, and white, but it can be done, and the rewards are great. Living in London among people of all colours and creeds can help that step, as we all become not cockneys, but Londoners; citizens and neighbours in one of the world’s most diverse cities. It’s a nice vision, but in reality only certain areas are diverse. I am lucky enough to live in one of them, and it has put me off monoculture for life. The more money you have the more you are likely to live among people who also have money. The less you have the more likely you are to live among those similarly circumstances. I don’t know how to express it without sounding like a prig, but living in a multicultural neighbourhood enhances my own culture while in no way diminishing it. When your daily dealings are with people from different social and ethnic backgrounds to your own it doesn’t take long to realise that our concerns are equally similar and diverse, that to cast people as this or that on the grounds of colour or ethnicity is nonsense.
We have a chance to reboot our society, to make equality a reality, not an election slogan. I hope we take it, for all our sakes.
Tonight I have learned that my friends’ Jack Russell Ziggy has been put to sleep. He had cancer and was in pain. The whole family is bereft as you would expect. Ziggy used to come here and I have posts with photographs of him on das Boot. An initial uncertainty about the pontoon gave way to confidence. I think the last time he came, the only reason I knew my friends had arrived was when an eager little dog climbed on board. His happy ghost prances around the marina as I write. Something of him will always be here for so long as I have the boat. Bless you Ziggy, you brought a lot of joy into our lives.
Stay safe. Keep well.