The perfect storm
Usually, a period of calm follows a storm. And often we see a rainbow in the sky. From an early age, children are told in church that the rainbow represents a sign of God’s promise to us. We often spare children the harsh bits of the story of Noah and the Ark and specifically that the covenant is that ‘never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of the earth’. We tell children that the rainbow is a symbol of hope. So, whenever we have a storm, we have hope that calm will come afterwards.
Sadly, life does not always work out like that for everyone. When we hit what are called perfect storms, it usually means that whatever could go wrong does so, at the same time as everything else is going wrong. So, recent events could be described as the perfect storm of things going wrong for the marginalised in our society. We have a worldwide pandemic, a recession with many job losses and we have black people being killed for no other reason than the fact that they are black.
I would not describe this as a perfect storm though, for the simple reason that marginalisation and systemic racism always affects people of colour, regardless of pandemics or recession. The simple, plain fact is that people of colour suffer discrimination at every turn. I am confident that people of colour do not need me, as a white person to say this. They know it and they live it daily. Where is their hope?
The only perfect storm seems to be for governments who try to fudge the issues. For them, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is an irritation. It is yet one more thing for them to deal with in the midst of important things in their minds, like the economy and a pandemic. The UK Foreign Secretary said he thought ‘taking the knee’ came from the Game of Thrones!
What I am witnessing though, is hope. It’s the hope that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has moved people to act. It has certainly moved a younger generation in the UK to show solidarity and challenge the racism and history that has gone unchallenged for so long, even if they have been complicit in it. Racism is not new. It has been so institutionalised that anti-racists have been considered as a minority movement.
I watched a documentary about the ‘Windrush Scandal’. That is where people from the Caribbean, who had been enticed to come to the UK between the 1940s and 1960s, and who were entitled to come to the UK, were being deported as illegal immigrants in 2018.
22nd June has been designated ‘Windrush Day’, to honour and celebrate the British Caribbean community and their contributions to British society. It is no wonder that people of the Windrush generation think it’s too little, too late.
The documentary demonstrates that successive UK governments knew they had a labour shortage after the war. They invited people from the Caribbean to fulfil those roles. In reality, the governments described ‘the coloureds’ as a potential drain on the country’s resources and tried to find any information that could label them as shirkers and criminals. They were the 20th century slaves, brought here under false pretences, left in low paid jobs and inadequate housing. Now, we know. The people of the ‘Windrush Generation’ have always known.
We know that Covid-19 has adversely affected people of colour. I have been astounded that this has been profiled purely as an issue to do with their racial origins, rather than one where we know that the poor, in low paid jobs and inadequate housing, have been disproportionately affected. This is exactly what applies to so many people of colour here. Yet many are the very people who have been shoring up our hospitals, saving lives, or working in care homes, without adequate protection. They have given their lives for us.
None of this is peculiar to the UK. Other countries may not have ‘Windrush’, but they share the institutional racism. It’s a worldwide issue, which is a scandal for every white person. We should have protested against it and challenged it. We should have spoken consistently against it. We should have been standing with our brothers and sisters of colour, instead of being silently complicit.
George Floyd’s death is one of so many, but it has taken his murder, in a time of oppression and fear, to wake up the world. We should have acted long ago, but in reality, by failing to take notice, we have failed so many people.
It’s now time to act, to let people of colour see the rainbow so that they too can live in hope; the hope that we will not tolerate racism any longer.
Rev Maggie Roderick is a Church of Scotland minister, whose most recent parish was in a Central Scotland village. She now lives with her husband in Stirling, providing pastoral and preaching cover where it is needed.
Maggie is passionate about social and environmental justice.
Maggie created a blog which she says she will use more some day. It is at https://wordpress.com/view/viewoverthewater.com
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