‘All lives matter can’t happen until Black Lives Matter!’

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By Georgia Beech

Passionate and insightful about American History, Dr Donna Jackson, from the University’s Department of History and Archaeology, delves into events, which have shaped today’s issues with racism.

Our meeting, held on Microsoft Teams, is inspiring, as Dr Jackson communicates her urgency for equality through her enthusiastic persona and engaging hand gestures.

This discussion comes at a transitional time, following the death of George Floyd, which erupted, America with violent protests demanding justice.  

I ask Dr Jackson: “Do you believe the segregation of black communities from white to suggest inequality?”

Dr Jackson says: “In the United States there was legal segregation, so if you were selling your house you could put in a covenant that said that the house could not be sold to somebody of a different colour. “Therefore, there were segregated communities, under the law.”

Dr Jackson adds: “In this country it wasn’t quite as blatant, but what happens is you find that there is a thing called ‘white flight’.

If somebody of colour moves into the neighbourhood, white people would move out, because they didn’t want to live together.”

According to research and statistics, there are many disadvantaged black communities within inner cities. Significantly, there is a lower intake of black students into higher education, highlighting that black communities are not receiving equal rights for education.

To dig deeper into issues behind racism, I ask Jackson: “How have historical events, such as the transatlantic slave trade, affected today’s political environment?”

Dr Jackson responds: “The legacy of things- even in the distant past, is huge.

‘Why should I pay for slavery because I didn’t do it?’ This comes back to white privilege. No, you didn’t do it, but you have benefited from that racism.”

Dr Jackson goes onto explain: “As a white person, the fact that I don’t have to worry about being pulled over just because a cop feels like it, is a benefit of that legacy.

“White families in general are in a better economic position. Slavery may not have affected us directly, but it is how society has developed. The legacy of slavery is ours as well.

“You get the reaction from white people ‘All Lives Matter’. Of course all lives matter. But all lives matter can’t happen until Black Lives Matter.”

The protests in America have troubled many people in Britain too, as statues of slave trade leaders are brought to attention. Figures like Edward Colston have been removed due to their association with slavery and racism. I wonder what Dr Jackson thinks of this social disruption.

Dr Jackson says: “Statues are there to commemorate and honour.  Who we commemorate and honour does change. Personally, I don’t think statues should be destroyed, I think they should be moved. They should explain the context of their time and use it as a history lesson.”

Dr Jackson continues: “I’m about to say something, which is horrendous if you don’t hear it in context. People complaining that statues of slavery shouldn’t be pulled down, I’m assuming they would also be out arguing that statues of Hitler should be rebuilt? If you’re going to argue that we should have a statue of a slave trader then tell me why we don’t have a statue of Hitler? History does change political environment, but we don’t need statues to teach that history. We get history from books.”

Due to the history associated with the Second Amendment in America, I ask Dr Jackson whether this has any impact on how protests are being carried out.

Dr Jackson responds:“What’s interesting is there had been mass gatherings and protests against lockdown rules because it impedes on their freedom. They had semi-automatic weapons outside of the government building. Their right to protest has been supported and their right to protest is written in the first amendment.

“These men are all white.  If this had been black men standing outside a government building with semi-automatic rifles, the SWAT teams would have been called in! I think there is a gun issue, but I don’t think it’s so much about the Second Amendment. It’s white people saying that the second amendment applies to me, but it does not apply to people of colour, which is not fair!”

This perceptive discussion with Dr Jackson has enlightened me in so many ways.

Her sensibility towards black inequality is extremely motivating and will hopefully resonate with you, as much as it has me.

Dr Jackson: “I am very aware of racism, however I can never truly know what it is like to walk in a shop and people react because of the colour of my skin. I can never know how that feels.”