If not now, then when?

It’s not enough simply to be anti-racist: it’s time to stand up, step forward and do something


Image: Istock

Radojka Miljevic

Partner, Campbell Tickell

I can’t breathe. Those words are about the one and the many. George Floyd couldn’t breathe. The event of his death is seared now into our consciousness and no one can say this didn’t happen or it wasn’t like that – it did and we saw it. We can’t forget it. We won’t forget it. We mustn’t forget it. We are now (retrospectively) witnesses to a murder and carry a responsibility to ensure that there is justice for every George Floyd, since one thing we can be certain of is that this was not a unique event, neither unique in the US nor indeed in the UK.

The reality is that the experience of many black people for too long has been that they can’t breathe, that they live under a blanket of projected aggression, that the colour of skin is somehow weaponised, that people don’t act to help them, that their testimony is dismissed. It’s exhausting. The songs I loved in my youth and that spoke to me about fairness and equality – some day we’ll all be free, a change gonna come, I wish I knew how it would feel to be free – well I’m still singing them with my black friends, colleagues, icons and leaders. The tunes didn’t change so much. The poet Claudia Rankine wrote that: "because white people can’t police their imagination black people are dying."

White privilege

I’m white. While I know my name and my ethnic origins categorise me as ‘other’, I also know that my whiteness brings privilege, that if I challenge someone about the need to put their dog on a leash and the police intervene, I’ll be believed, or that if I’m accidentally in a car in the wrong location and we get stopped, I won’t be tasered or arrested. I can breathe. And for all the white people who can breathe, there is no room here to be passive.

“Being anti-racist is an active stance. If we do or say nothing, we are in the wrong space. We all have a responsibility: where the status quo tolerates or supports racism, we must stand up, step forward and do something. We need to use our breath and have agency ”

There is something about this struggle for air, about inequality and about the intersectionality of race and poverty, about exploitation, that provides strange and warped connections between police brutality against a black person we’ve seen in the US and the disproportionate numbers of people from BAME backgrounds who have died from Covid-19 and those who are still forced to work at great risks to their health, as well as how the Windrush generation have been treated. I haven’t entirely made sense of it yet – but I know that residing in it is pain and anguish, and fomenting inside me is rage about the need for change and a fairer society. And I know I’m not alone.

We need a new settlement. If not now, then when?

If not now then when If not today then Why make your promises A love declared for days to come Is as good as none ­ - Tracy Chapman

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