Black Lives Matter, where are we now?

During Black History Month, members of the Agilisys BAME network held a virtual panel discussion about the Black Lives Matter movement. Roselyn Mutongerwa shares an overview of the discussion here.

Candidly, this year has been a very interesting time to be Black. Our social media feeds were full of messages and images of incidents of violence and police brutality against black people around the world. For many black people seeing those events was nothing new. However, it finally seemed like 2020 was the year that the narrative was changing.

The outrage was felt by many people of many races worldwide. This show of support was, quite oddly, a huge breath of fresh air in what was a really traumatic time. The number of people who came out to stand with Black people, to call for an end to the long history of devaluing Black lives, and to recognise the roles of institutional and systemic racism was new. The widespread acknowledgement of the existence of ‘white privilege’ was new and the rise in public displays of allyship was equally new.

Big corporates, international politicians, and many other public figures stood up to show their support. It seemed like the much-needed change was just around the corner, and there was a light at the end of a very long tunnel. Many of us hoped that the protests this summer were a real turning point in history.

A few months on, and in honour of Black History Month, members of the Agilisys BAME network came together for an interactive panel discussion to talk about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the progress that has been made over the past few months. The question of ‘where are we now’ was tackled by discussing the following points:

  • What progress has been made in the UK
  • Whether people’s interest in BLM and momentum has been maintained.
  • When we compare instant reactions with long-term change, what needs to happen now
  • What has the impact from BLM been on other BAME communities?

Read on to hear some of the panel’s thoughts summarised:

The progress to date

The spotlight on BLM has increased the dialogue around racism, inequality and prejudice. Public figures are using their voices to raise awareness and we, as a society, have been having more of those uncomfortable conversations with our peers. Our ‘non-black friends’, have been more open to discussing issues and there is a real sense that many have been attempting to educate themselves on systemic and institutional racism – a step in the right direction.

Social media has been flooded with resources and information, which has led to greater engagement with those who are not directly affected by racism. This thirst for education and information is massively welcomed, as when people are educated, they feel more empowered to act. And as the famous saying goes, ‘knowledge is power’! It has been great to have more open and transparent conversations in our social groups and our workplaces. Equally, it seems promising to see people who have power to change things, doing more with their privilege. But we need to ensure that the momentum is maintained, real change is made, and that BLM is not treated as another social media trend. ‘BLM is a movement, and not simply a moment’ – a slogan that has been plastered all over, ironically, social media.

People’s interest in BLM and the momentum has not been maintained. The social media flurry has died down. Many of those who were quick to support BLM, are fading away as it becomes clear what real changes are actually required. Making real changes in many industries and in our society is going to be difficult because racism and inequality are such deep-rooted issues, which will probably be messy to untangle. Many are likely to be unsure of where to begin, including our government.

Following the BLM protests, the government announced an inquiry into ‘all aspects’ of racial inequality – these being in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life. This inquiry is a ‘first step’ in tackling racism in the UK, however the government must move further and faster to redress institutional racism. Several inquiries have been undertaken over the past 10 years, which have produced over 200 unimplemented recommendations. Even more recently, the Government conducted a review on the impact of Covid-19 on Black and other Ethnic Minority groups. Still, many of those recommendations have not been actioned. There is a desire for the UK government to engage more and act more to progress the BLM movement.

The Media

The mainstream media has played an important role in how the Black Lives Matter movement is communicated and promoted. The uproar surrounding Britain’s Got Talent and the dance troupe, Diversity’s, routine in September is a great example of how influential media messaging can be. The routine included references to police brutality against black people, and the death of George Floyd. 24,500 people complained to Ofcom about the performance. Just 4% of the complaints were made in the immediate aftermath of the programme being aired. The majority of complaints were filed over the following weeks, after repeated news stories about the original number of complaints. The MailOnline alone has published more than 20 articles about not only the performance itself, but more specifically the rising number of complaints to Ofcom about the performance, using strong and at times, shocking messaging which perhaps prompted a large proportion of the other 96% of complaints to Ofcom.

In addition, there has been a noticeable increase in Black representation in the media, particularly in advertising. Although, this change has prompted some backlash on social media, with individuals expressing their anger at seeing more black and mixed families on our screens, the increased representation is a welcome change. We live in a multicultural and diverse society, therefore the images shown on our television screens should reflect the society we live in. Real investment into inclusion in the industry has been made. For example, the BBC has communicated that they will prioritise £100m over three years towards diverse and inclusive content. They also implemented a mandatory 20% diverse-talent target in all new network commissions, with the aim of encouraging diverse stories and diverse storytellers. Hopefully, this type of action will continue to be replicated across other media outlets, which will accelerate the pace of change in increasing diversity and inclusion.

How can we all help?

There has been lots of progress, but we still a long way to go. We must maintain the momentum, we must ensure leaders and decision makers in our society are accountable, and we must keep pushing until real changes are made.

  • We can all be allies and amplify key voices speaking out.
  • Educating ourselves on the injustices that happen, which might not even directly affect us.
  • Checking up on our colleagues, listening and having empathy.
  • Speaking up if we witness injustices.

This blog is part of a series to celebrate Black History Month 2020. Did you miss the first blog? Catch up now to learn about the life of renowned activist, Wangari Maathai by Arushi Tewari.