Whose Lives Matter?

Pink people. Yellow people. Red people. Black people. Brown people. White people. In theory, we believe everyone’s lives matter equally. In practice, we know that’s not true. I like to think in terms of the philosopher John Rawls veil of ignorance. How would you want society to be structured if you didn’t know who you would end being in that society? So, if suddenly your skin turned black, would you be confident that you would get a fair shot in life. Or if the police stopped you – what skin colour would you prefer – white or black?

Growing up, I remember clearly how walking around with black friends was a fundamentally different experience than walking around with white friends. People would cross the road to avoid us. If we were sitting in a stationary car – like clockwork, a police car would pull up. This never of course happened when I was with my white friends.

Now, you and I are not racist. Of course not. It’s those bad apples. Or uneducated whites. Or right-wing people. And I’m brown, so how can I be racist? The trouble is that as anyone with an Asian heritage will know, Asians can be extremely racist towards black people too.

So, what to do? The first step would to understand whether you have power, privilege or authority in a given situation (deservedly or not). If you’re a man, you generally have power in most situations. Or if you’re rich, you have power. And in the UK, having the right Oxford accent gives you power. Then in the given situation, use that power to help the ones that don’t have as much power. If you’re a man in a meeting, let women speak. If you’re white or brown, support black people. If you are rich or run a company, hire people that don’t look like you.

What I found most heartbreaking about the killing of George Floyd was not the video, but the words he uttered – specifically, that he called out for his (deceased) mother. On death’s door, he simply wanted motherly love. Let’s show motherly love to everyone around us. Here are his (abridged) final words:

“It’s my face man

I didn’t do nothing serious man

please I can’t breathe

please somebody

I can’t breathe

I can’t move

mama

mama

I’m through

I’m claustrophobic

my stomach hurts

my neck hurts

everything hurts

some water or something

please

I can’t breathe officer

don’t kill me

they gon’ kill me

I can’t breathe

Please I can’t breathe”

His eyes shut, then he was pronounced dead.

Bilal

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