Why Black Squares Aren’t Enough

Darcey Gregory

The root cause of wrongdoing is ignorance, and we must therefore hold fast to the tools of perception and knowledge. Good character must be taught.

(Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

This quote is taken from Abdu’l-Bahá, the Bahá’í Faith’s leading exponent, a religion to which I personally adhere. My interest and fervour for dismantling institutions that perpetuate systemic racism stems from my belief in the equality of mankind, which is a central pillar of the Faith. “From the Bahá’í perspective, racism is one of the most baneful and persistent evils in society. Racial discrimination is baneful because it violates the dignity of human beings. And yet it persists. Racism is poisonous because it cripples its victims, corrupts its perpetrators, and blights human progress. And yet it persists. Why? We believe that racism persists precisely because it is deeply rooted in outdated attitudes and erroneous beliefs. Accordingly, any campaign to eradicate racism must change those attitudes and beliefs.”

Bahá’í International Community, 1989 Feb 08, Eliminating Racism. My personal interest in critiquing those structures that preserve racist practices is, I find, largely as a result of my own sense of morality and justice, which is largely corroborated by my religion’s desire for the equality of mankind and its peoples. The above quote regarding ignorance and the necessity of education in society says most eloquently what I mean to express: that education is imperative if we are to dismantle systemic racism and this can only be done through acknowledging the real-world experience of black people.

The worldwide ‘Blackout’ on social media channels (most commonly Instagram) on June 2nd, 2020 arguably did more harm than good.

The hashtag ‘blackouttuesday’ populated mine and many other peoples’ Instagram and Facebook feeds without much explanation of its purpose, which rendered the entire ‘movement’ as a very much futile virtue signal. I noted many responses to the ‘blackout’ and outrage and confusion were decidedly top two. Black people and POC throughout social media denounced the ‘Blackout’ as a false show of solidarity – people who were jumping on the bandwagon fearful of being proclaimed a racist were posting a black square to show their ‘support’ for the BLM movement; was this useful? Personally, reader, I think not. I believe that a black square does not make up for the pain of a lifetime of injustice and oppression, though I recognise that my opinion is, and should be, subordinate to those who it chiefly affected: black people.

To this extent, the ‘blackout’’s true purpose has been discussed and debated throughout the black community via social media and the most compelling purpose that it has been labelled with seems to have been to give black creators, artists, businesses and people a voice and a platform on social media, through which they could share their content and any information that they wished to share. However, this platform was populated once more with white people and their feigned shows of solidarity which were so obnoxiously represented by the plain black square.

With this in mind and with the need for education so clearly required by the masses, this article seeks to share black content and opinion so as to understand the issues of race through the eyes of those whom it acutely affects.

Article 1: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/opinion/whites-anti-blackness-protests.html

This first article will most likely evoke a wince from some readers – the painful recognition that what they believed was a good deed was actually the opposite. This will make the reader uncomfortable but should be pushed through so as to understand and grapple with the subtleties and nuances of covert white privilege in order that we become more aware of the consequences of seemingly meaningful actions.

Article 2: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2020/06/we-cant-breathe

This particular article links fluently the effects of systemic racism with the handling of the Coronavirus crisis. The article cites that “the first ten doctors to die from Covid-19 in the UK were black or Asian.” It is of the utmost importance to recognise the effects of racism throughout the community, particularly in healthcare systems which, as white people, we largely disregard. “According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), adjusting for age, black people are more than four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white people.” It is imperative that we read, acknowledge and learn from articles such as this and question the systems that have perpetuated this injustice for so many years. Education is vital in matters of inequality.

Article 3: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/04/systemic-racism-police-brutality-british-problems-black-lives-matter

This article by Kojo Koram is a succinct denigration of the wilful ignorance of many of the British public who declare that racism is not something ingrained within Britain, but is a ‘US issue’. Koram asserts that “the idea that the issues BLM are protesting about are specific only to the US is farcical, as though race or policing are not global phenomena by their very nature; as though we don’t see similar dynamics in Brazil, or Australia, or even Britain.” The article is empowered and evidenced, citing multiple examples of British police brutality within its biting wordscape, which serves as a painful reminder of the systemic racism perpetuated by institutions of the UK as well as the US.

These are not all of the articles that have been published in-regards-to the contemporary moment but are undoubtedly some of the most salient accounts of systemic racism within our culture as a whole.

As a community, white people must continue to educate ourselves in order that we may stand in solidarity with those who are not granted our privilege in society and criticise those institutions that propagate this disadvantage.

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