When Martin Luther King led the marches across the US in the 1960s, he did not do this for just his generation, but to challenge entrenched prejudices in the minds of his fellow citizens and confront the institutional discrimination that was seated in the structure of his society. The cancer of discrimination has not only been festering in these places, but the murder of George Floyd has exposed once again how this deep seated racism has poisoned a nation.
But I am ashamed to say that the UK has blood on its hands too. Grenfell was the most tragic event I can recall, but the tragedy lay in the fact that the poor, ethnic minority residents, those with no recourse to public funds but wanting to play their part in our nation; their voices were not heard, their pleas for safety ignored, their lives dispensed with in the inferno of prejudice.
We have seen how Covid-19, discriminates on the basis of race, because if you are black you are more likely to be poor, living in unsuitable housing, working in unsafe environments and exposed to the greatest risks and health inequalities.
We have seen how slow the authorities have been in responding to Belly Majinga, the transport worker spat at with Covid-19, how as a transport worker she had to take the abuse, as so many have become accustomed to as part of the everyday racism they are forced to endure. Shop workers, care and NHS staff have had to work without the protection of PPE, because employers knew they could get away with it; a disproportionate number of ethnic minority workers have died of Covid-19.
We have a hostile environment in the Home Office, which deports Windrush public servants to a land they barely know. A Home Office where the colour of your skin weighs greater than the contribution you have made, where the size of your bank account determines if you can enter our country, not the violent place from where you have fled. Our state judges. Our state discriminates. Our state is institutionally racist.
The evidence is screaming out, the action is invisible.
I challenge ever employer, every organisation, every statutory institution, every local authority to carry out a race equality audit, to not just look in the obvious places and pat itself on the back, but to look into the hidden corners of prejudice – it is there; it needs rooting out. I have to ask, why York Race Equality Network, here in our city, has lost vital funding. I have to ask why I am having to deal with racist attacks here in York, I have to ask why we see a dearth in black leadership in the city, I have to ask … because I need answers. If we are not prepared to challenge ourselves, our own communities, then how do we ever expect there to be change.
But challenge is not enough, we have to have action too. The outpouring cry that I have received from hundreds of constituents these last few days gives me hope. We have had enough of institutionalised racism, we are not prepared to stay silent, we are ready to take on prejudice, we will not give up.
I have already taken this charge to Parliament through my written questions, and leading through my Prime Minister Question. As a new MP I challenged the exports of weapons of violence, and will again. We should not be manufacturing rubber bullets and tear gas, let alone selling these for profit to know that they will be used against our brother and sisters standing up for their rights.
Every day there are black people who cannot breath because of the prejudice they face. George Floyds final cries must forever echo in our minds. While his breath was stolen, and his brutal murder exposed, we have to understand that unless we all speak, we will never break through the silence discrimination enforces.
Join me in this fight, let’s ensure that Black Lives Matter.