👆🏼This is the Black Lives Matter poster that we made to take with us on the demo (see earlier post), which I prayerfully painted and then stuck in our front window next to the NHS one.
👆🏼Our window is not right on the street. there’s a driveway and my car in between. And the poster was not really all that big (the biggest paper I could find though). Nevertheless, the other day, my housemate was just on our driveway when a black lady waving her arms excitedly in the street caught her attention. The lady had a big grin on her face and was pointing to the poster saying, “Black Lives Matter, thank you, thank you!”
Some time later, I was struggling to resurrect some wire fencing that had been trampled on at the top of our back garden. When the weather was colder, someone had climbed over into our garden to gather some of our dead wood, then climbed back over the fence into the ginnel (non Yorkshire folk, “ginnel” means alleyway) and made a fire there.
It was a very hot day, so I was sweating away while also getting stabbed with barbed wire, brambles and broken bits of fencing. As I picked up all the dead foliage and branches and threw it onto a pile for the tip, I found quite a few bits of rubbish discarded by passers by as well. With every bit of rubbish and the burnt bits of wood, I found myself feeling more depressed about the state of humanity and sad for whatever reason those people had for making a fire in a ginnel rather than having a safe home to go to.
My housemate came into the ginnel with me to help me remove the pile of dead branches and rubbish. We came across a length of carpet and various other items strewn a bit further down the ginnel. I sighed, and despaired a little bit more. I know life is really hard for a lot of people, but I just find it so sad to see whole lengths of mucky carpet discarded like this.
As we made our way to our garage to dump all the stuff, one of the workmen working on the building site nextdoor approached us with a big wheelie bin and said, “Do you want to dump all that in our skip?… in fact do you want to bring it as you are on the sheet?” And he wouldn’t stand by and let me carry it. He took my end of the sheet and carried it for me. His cheery grin and his thoughtfulness and kindness restored my faith in humanity and really made my day. He, also, was black. (We noticed his white colleague leaning on the wall watching, having a fag break. I found myself thinking, perhaps a little unfairly, that this was absolutely typical; my racism tends in this way against those with the same colour skin as me.) Because of the encounter with the black lady earlier the same day, I found myself wondering whether he, too, had noticed our little poster and been encouraged and emboldened by it?
I tell these stories, because, when I speak to any of my black friends, they have umpteen stories of how they have been treated badly because of the colour of their skin, despite being some of the kindest, most talented and intelligent people I know. Sometimes they’ve actively been insulted or mistreated. Other times they’ve just been passed over for promotion or job opportunities even when they had a proven record that outstripped their white colleagues. In this context perhaps even our small poster comes as a big encouragement to people.
One black friend recently told me about an encounter with a white female friend, who’d announced she would never go out with another black man, because her experience with one black man had been so bad. In recounting his story, he said, “She would never have written off all white men just because of one bad experience with a white man. So why did she write off all black men just because of one bad experience? There are good people and bad people. The colour of their skin has got nothing to do with it! Why can’t we just treat each other as individual people?”
Why is this still happening? How is it that we still fail to realise that every human being is a human being, with just one body and one life to live, and that this is a precious and holy thing, not to be dismissed or disregarded? And that any human being can make good choices and bad choices, and most of us make a mixture of the two most of the time, but that however we judge good or bad choices, the colour of someone’s skin is not the arbiter of their value or of their “goodness” or “badness”? I address these questions to myself as much as anyone else.
We are all members of one race. It’s called the human race. May we start to act like it. And may we never underestimate the power of every poster, every kind word, every open question, every thoughtful act, when people have been living with injustice for generations. In the meantime, I will keep thinking of these two beautiful black people, and all my black friends and acquaintances, and sharing what they tell me of their stories. May they know that they are loved, honoured, valued and delighted in today.