Amber Smith is the founder of the Black Lives Matter – Sussex Facebook group which has grown to three thousand members in just one week, and is also involved in Hastings’ Rally Against Racism. Here she explores what this historic moment means for Hastings and beyond. 

On the 25th May 2020, George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes 46 seconds. Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old, filmed the police as the situation unfolded and the video quickly went viral across the internet – yet another filmed death of an unarmed black man at the hands of police. The world watched as America’s population rose in protest against their brutal police force – and promptly joined in protest not only in solidarity with America’s black population, but to protest their country’s own systemic racism. Floyd’s tragic death, watched and mourned across the globe, has sparked more collective action against systemic racism than we have arguably seen for decades. And will, hopefully, bring about a dismantling of the racist systems intrinsic to our society.

PICTURE: Fizzel Castro

Many argued initially that racism was an American issue, forgetting that the United States’ slave trade was birthed by the English, with the first Africans captured and forced into slavery in the British Virginia Colony in 1619. The USA learned white supremacy from the UK.

The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old Black boy who was fatally shot in Sandford, Florida by George Zimmerman. Their website states “Black Lives Matter began as a call to action in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-black racism”,

After receiving a combination of backlash and support from sharing a small peaceful protest in a Hastings group, I searched for a community that was focused on combating racism on a local level, but couldn’t find one. Assuming I wasn’t the one who was feeling the need for unity right now, I set up a group myself. The Black Lives Matter – Sussex Facebook group was set up to be a safe space to listen, learn and share. We post resources, petitions, protests and have come together as a local, diverse community who want to be proactive in educating ourselves about anti-racism. 

However, being in a Facebook group does not make you anti-racist. There is serious work to be done. East Sussex has a population that is roughly 92% white, which is why I feel we need to step up and ensure our local black communities are being seen and heard. Some of the most effective
work we can do is at home in our small towns.

Conversations must be had, especially when they are uncomfortable

On the 7th June, Hastings’ Rally Against Racism organised a peaceful protest that took place in Alexandra Park. It was a powerful event that did Hastings proud with around 1,000 attending, with social distancing measures strictly in place, such as compulsory masks and 2m ribbons to ensure everyone’s safety. We had the full support of the police who aided in the smooth running of the protest.

Effective allyship is not about a destination; it is a journey you take every single day of your life. You never ‘arrive’ at being anti-racist, it is something you continue to do. As a white person, this includes acknowledging your privilege, and educating yourself on the systemic racism that is present in the UK. From the beauty industry to the classroom to the football pitch – it’s everywhere. We can combat this by ensuring we are listening to black voices, making educated decisions on where we spend our money, and how we raise our children. As society evolves rapidly, so does racism, meaning there is so much to learn – and at some point you will get it wrong. You will need to learn to admitting when you have and learn off the back of your mistakes.

Accountability is not just about calling out the obvious racists you encounter, it is for your own micro-aggressions, your own centering of your feelings when black voices should be amplified, and recognising when maybe you didn’t step up and speak up for someone experiencing racism. Educating your family, your social circle, your co-workers, is imperative. Conversations must be had, especially when they are uncomfortable. Is your child’s bookshelf reflective of the richness of the world’s cultures and stories? Is your workplace diverse, with black people in higher paid roles too? Are your favourite brands paying their garment workers right? Are they hiring black models and treating them properly too? With the wealth of knowledge at our fingertips thanks to social media and search engines, it has never been easier to educate ourselves. And we must do this urgently, for the system is taking black lives – and they matter.

Amber Smith (@amberrosetheron) lives locally and is the founder of the Black Lives Matter – Sussex facebook group and involved in Hastings Rally Against Racism

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