Like so many others I find myself horrified at the appalling, tragic and racist death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis. This was a man pleading for breath, held under the suffocating knee of someone supposed to keep him safe and now charged with murder, as other officers looked on in a busy street refusing to intervene. All of it recorded on camera with onlookers pleading for it to stop, in the ‘land of the free’.
As we learn more about what happened, as we watch the heavy-handed suppression of many peaceful protestors taking a stand, and frankly as we see a President respond in the way he has, it is all still sinking in. For those who have lived with racism often on a daily basis here and around the world, it has been a deeply traumatic few weeks.
Sometimes it is hard to know what to say or how to respond in these moments. We worry about being clumsy, unintentionally insensitive or finding the right words. I understand that and I feel it at times. But in the end, silence is worse. Silence contributes to the problem. It means nothing changes.
Sometimes, too, our instinct in organisations is to stick to core business. We might feel the need to ‘stay in our lane’. Anti-trafficking NGOs like Justice and Care just tend to speak about anti-trafficking. I understand that instinct sometimes, but it misses the key point: what is happening now is everyone’s business. Yes, human trafficking is our focus here but as human beings who hate injustice, we have a duty to stand against racism too. This isn’t just a battle for the black community or other ethnic minorities. The right to live free from oppression goes to the very heart of what the Justice and Care family is all about. It is our DNA. It is why we come to work.
In fact human trafficking, modern slavery and exploitation are ultimately symptoms of a world filled with broken relationships. Racism, sexism, classism – fear of each other’s differences, allow for this inequality, injustice and power to divide us and destroy lives. Evil wins when we no longer see the other human soul in the face of the person in front of us, behind the clothes we wear, the chocolate we buy. At Justice and Care we see this with the survivors of slavery we work with every day – they are treated as less than human, used, abused and forgotten.
So today we have a duty to be unflinchingly honest about what we know: what happened to George Floyd is yet another example of a deeper sickness ruining millions of other lives across the United States, the UK and around the globe. And, if we are to honour his memory and move forward, we need to recognise that now is a time to listen to those who are crying out for change – weary and pained by centuries of the same treatment the world over. We must have the humility to say we need to do better in our own lives, families, neighbourhoods and workplaces. In our public behaviour and our private settings.
More of us need to look ourselves in the mirror at this time and ask searching questions.
Do we truly understand how racism affects people in our own country and around the world?
Are we seeking to understand the power imbalances it creates in our societies, and the impact of what is widely known as ‘white privilege’?
If we feel uncomfortable facing up to these issues, are we asking why?
Can we do more to stand with those who suffer from racism and usher in change?
Do we fight it with all we have in our own organisations?
These questions are easier to write than to wrestle with in practice. But watching on from Justice and Care, given that our very existence is predicated on stamping out oppression, abuse and exploitation, we feel we have a duty to fight even harder from here on.
As the Chinese proverb says, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. This is not someone else’s journey. We must walk it together if anything is to improve. For the sake of those who are broken by racism today and have carried generations of abuse through their families, let us get on with it.
Christian Guy, CEO of Justice and Care