There is a very good reason to talk out now.
‘The only wrong thing to say is to say nothing’ – Meghan Markle
And people of all color have been on Britain’s streets this weekend, making their voices be heard. My partner commented to me that the last time we have seen so many people together was at the Cheltenham Festival in March. Then it was about fun, this weekend’s issues were more serious.
The twin issues of public order and public health are co-joined by the pandemic to an extent that scientific statement can be deemed political comment.
Responsibilities on public health
The data points to sociological differences between Britain’s white and black populations.
#IFSSatStat Occupational risks may explain excess deaths from coronavirus among some groups.
— IFS (@TheIFS) June 6, 2020
and it suggests that there may be biological differences too
It remains clear that Asians, Blacks and other non-white ethnicities are significantly more likely to need intensive care treatment than Whites. /6 pic.twitter.com/kQBb3n5h0h
— COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group (@COVID19actuary) June 6, 2020
The sociological differences may be different in America where black people are excluded from the health system (sadly the high BAME population within the NHS suggest that BAME have suffered death and illness from serving within hospitals).
It seems incumbent upon society to recognise the debt it owes our Key Workers and in so doing recognise that the BAME communities have taken a disproportionate risk in keeping society safe.
I think it safe for us to say these things not out of guilt but from an understanding of the science.
Responsibilities on public order
I visited my son in South West London yesterday, my journey took me past Buckingham Palace and through Whitehall. I did not participate in the protests but I rode past them.
Here public order was in the spotlight but from a scientific viewpoint, public order was being abused. But when I cycle through Dalston and up to Tottenham , I see communities living in such density that to see many of the same people congregating together did not seem offensive, it almost felt normal.
By contrast, my walk with my son (who has not been able to walk for some time) was through Barnes. Richmond is an entirely different borough than Hackney or Haringey. My son told me of a car that had been dumped in his street having been stolen in Tottenham. The car, its occupants and the police presence it brought, clearly made an impression.
It is hard – living in Barnes of the City of London, to understand the day to day realities of living in Peckham or Tower Hamlets or Hackney or North Kensington. The catastrophe at Grenfell and the periodic riots over the past 40 years , bring the realities of urban poverty to us, but it is the science of COVID-19 that tells the story in an even more frightening way.
Looking at the protesters in the published images , I’m struck by the racial diversity but not age diversity. I lived in Brixton when the riots were going on in the mid 1980’s and recognise the same mix. If there is a public order offence in these marches, it is a youth not a black phenomena, just as many times before.
These protests have been largely peaceful, the offence has been against social distancing, but there is a worry that the BAME communities of London and other urban centers will now be held responsible for any upturn in infection. The reality is that older people are generally shielding themselves while the young are putting themselves at risk.
The issue is as much about solidarity between generations, (which may be weakening), as about solidarity between black and white communities (which I suspect is getting stronger). In any event, it is clear that it’ll take more than a car-jacking to bring Barnes and Tottenham together.
Responsibilities of those who have.
On Wednesday, our church will remember the passing of a very fine black man who died from COVID-19 last month. He is the only person who I know personally who has died. People like me and my family have been shielded from the most frightening aspects of this pandemic. His death is important to me.
Those who chose to protest this weekend did so in masks – not to protect their identity , but to protect each other’s health. We are mindful and they stayed mindful,
They were demanding societal change, not just change to policing. Read the placards, they are calling for equality between communities, a moving together of Barnes and Tottenham.
This isn’t going to happen overnight. But I hope it will happen over time. When we consider our day to day lives, we must accept that our burden coming out of COVID-19 will be financial. We will have to give up some of our wealth to help those communities who hardest hit by the pandemic.
I will do so cheerfully, and will focus on the good man who I knew. He had very little but gave a great deal.
Finally a word on yesterday’s blog
I got back from visiting my son yesterday afternoon to some criticism on social media for promoting an article with images and headlines relating to police brutality in the USA.
I had intended the link to point out the impact of injustice but now is not the time to make such links. I’ve changed the blog but not my sentiment! This image is from that blog.
Financial worries are felt by the entire NEST membership but it is the lower earning groups who are most worried.
For me, the job in hand is not to find means to advantage those who already have, but to ensure that those who have least are eased of their financial burden.
I was insensitive in using images and phrases connected with recent protests to make points about low earners not receiving the savings incentives promised them by all of us (through the Treasury).
And I don’t want to make this blog polemical and repeat the mistake . But I do think we can learn from both the science and from the protests. We do live in an unequal society and we cannot perpetuate inequality by doing nothing to change things.
COVID-19 is a wake up call not just for my 22 year old son in Barnes but for me – a 58 year old white man living in the City of London. We cannot go on as if nothing has happened and nothing is happening. We need to make change happen and we can be the agency of that change.