– Look around whilst drinking your £8 cocktail –
I went for a drink in Peckham last week. I paid £8 for a cocktail on top of a high rise building, looking over the beautiful city that I chose to leave 2 years ago.
Sometimes my heart pangs a little for the vibrant buzz and culture London offers. Places like Peckham were our playground. Bars and clubs that saw some of the best and messiest nights of our lives. Looking back I don’t know if I was naïve, brave, stupid or ignorant. Living in London, where I did, brought with it a certain numbness to the violent activity that was so present. Hearing of people I went to school with, friends of friends being arrested, stabbed and some killed became the norm.
I rolled my eyes at those who feared areas due to knife crime, told them unless they were caught up in gang warfare there was nothing to fear. You know what that was? White privilege. Although sexual assault and phone jackings were always a worry, I never, ever feared about losing my life to a knife.
When my husband was just 16 his best friend was murdered at a house party. Sixteen years old. A child. People mourned, and life moved on, as it does. What I don’t doubt is that many didn’t hear about it, think about it or mourn the loss of another young black life. A small article in the local newspaper, can anyone honestly say that is enough?
I read last night about a 22 year old being stabbed right outside my mums house. My mind flicked through the 22 year old males I knew, those I went to school with, grew up on the same estate with, did I know this nameless 22 year old? The truth is, it doesn’t fucking matter if I knew them or not, this is another future taken, a family/friend mourning for a lifetime, the threat of more violence in retaliation.
There are many reasons why we relocated out of London. But the rise of knife crime is a huge factor. And as much as I am ashamed to admit it, were my children white, this probably wouldn’t have been a factor considered at all. There are gangs in Leeds, there are drugs, there is knife crime. But, it’s not like it is in London. The brutal honest truth is, this could be Noah or Roman as adults. This could have been my husband had he made choices that so many did. Had he been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most parents try everything to keep their children on the right path, but one or two parents trying to keep track of their young sons is fruitless in a society that is continually letting down this generation.
Brixton, Deptford, Peckham, New Cross, the list goes on. Avocado toast, hipster beards and expensive pints. I’m guilty of enjoying these pleasures, enjoying the gentrification of such areas that give you the illusion of ‘safety’. Safe for me. Safe for my white, middle class friends. Not safe for the black males being raised in the ever growing oppression. Let’s be honest, you don’t find young black males in the swanky bars around these areas. We’re inadvertently adding to the social and ethnic cleansing within society.
Have you ever read the article about the Hugh Grant film ‘Notting Hill’? A man was employed to use the locals of Notting Hill as extras, in particular a Caribbean gentleman well known in the community, what happened when the film came out? Not one black, local extra was used. Adverts for housing (to buy) in Peckham, the images of the high street altered to remove the black faces.
Now I don’t think most people intentionally ignore the deaths of young black men. But when you are exposed to something repeatedly, it is natural to stop listening, to close your ears and blame drugs, gangs and upbringing.
As much as people like to object, being born white, you are already privileged. You are likely to never be racially profiled by the police, you’re much less likely to be stopped and searched. I’ve asked my husband if he would let me share this with you, and I’m so glad he has agreed.
“I was in a chicken and chip shop getting food for my gran. I was wearing jeans and a t shirt and I was 14 or 15. The next thing I knew I was being handcuffed from behind, and told I matched the description of a suspect. I asked what the description was, ‘jeans and a jumper’ was what I was told. The contents of my pockets were being emptied as people looked on, I was embarrassed, confused and shocked. When nothing was found I was unhand-cuffed and they left as quickly as they had arrived, I didn’t know my rights and felt ashamed.” He added, “this was the first of four stop and searches in my teenage years”
I know stop and searches save lives, weapons/drugs are removed from the streets and criminals can be arrested. But, for a 14 year old boy being publicly humiliated more than once, must surely have an effect. A bad relationship with the police force is common, distrust, fear. Tell someone they’re a criminal enough, and you can mould someone. Self fulfilled prophecy ring any bells? Then, when your best friend is murdered and society refuses to accept any responsibility, and the people who are investigating are the same ones who automatically assume you are part of the issue, who the hell do you trust then?
I’m not going to make a profound difference with this blog post. In fact I hesitated posting it. Was I going to offend? Have I over stepped the mark? I’m white, so I really don’t have a leg to stand on. But that is the issue at hand here, too many people are fearful of accepting what the current climate is like and not enough people are talking. I fear I am part of the problem also, perhaps even moving out of London is part of the issue, we’re lucky we had that option, I have spoken to so many who are desperate to escape London, fearful that their own sons will become embroiled in the incessant crime that is so under reported.
Sure, let’s focus on our allies across the water. America is shit. Police brutality is never ending, murders are rife. But, let’s not ignore what is right under our noses too.
This was printed in the Guardian in April this year, “in total 26 people have been murdered by knives this year alone. Six of them were teenagers, and most of them were black”
Let’s just change the scenario for a second. 26 people have been killed in the first 4 months of the year. Most of them white. Six white Eton students have been stabbed to death. Could you imagine the mass hysteria then? Could you imagine how much Theresa May would be pulling her finger out of her arse then? Could you imagine how much support those families would receive? The interventions that would be going on in schools around the country?
We can all sit here and say we’re not racist, twiddle our thumbs and ignore the issues at hand, but you can’t dare say you believe that all lives are equal and that black lives matter, if you are aware of the situation ongoing in London. Use your platforms, use your voices, because the government aren’t protecting the sons of the black British/African/Caribbean communities. But sadly they hold the key to minimising this madness. Education, equal opportunities, youth clubs, parental support, better rehabilitation for young offenders. We can’t save everyone, but like always education is the most powerful tool and we must use it to try and prevent any more families losing their children and we need to stop allowing our country’s black men growing up in fear of walking through their own neighbourhood.
In memory of Nathaniel Brown – and all the others who have lost their lives in such senseless killings – someone who I didn’t get to know, but has never left my husbands memory or heart and is spoken of so fondly in our household.