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I take no satisfaction from all the ‘good intentions’ we have seen in the year since George Floyd’s murder

We cannot, must not and will not rest on our laurels – since George Floyd’s death, there are no laurels to rest on

What's happened in the year since George Floyd's murder?

Do you get tired of being asked, “what has changed since George Floyd died?” It feels as if there’s an underlying, unspoken dare to prove that something substantive has come from the chaos and outrage of his murder – as though 12 months is a quick fix to centuries of racial injustice. The first anniversary of George Floyd’s death exemplifies the stark reality that “the struggle is real”.

Every so often in the fight for race equality and racial justice, there comes a catalyst that shakes society to the core. George Floyd was that human catalyst – not the first nor the last – leaving society ever so temporarily aghast at its own inhumanity. Consequently, conscientious commitment and charity flood our airwaves, timelines, headlines and daily conversations with good intentions.

This also happened during the civil rights movements in the 60s. I don’t doubt that some are well intentioned but good intentions are cheap. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I can’t get excited by it. It doesn’t diminish my hope for change but I will not be hoodwinked into thinking it is progress when we have been here before with every other catalyst preceding George Floyd.

In the 12 months since his death ignited global racial justice protests, we have witnessed the awakening and rise of social justice activism, inspiring boldness from people and businesses from all walks of life. However, this has co-existed with the ferocity of those losing their minds to save the statues of slavers, to engage in perverse arguments to keep songs and monuments glorifying the legacy of slavery and to politicise the ethos of Blacks Lives Matter as the enemy of freedom of speech.

The conviction of Derek Chauvin brought much needed accountability for the death of George Floyd but it was not justice. In spite of the horror of Floyd’s murder, police in the United States have killed Black people at higher rates than any other community in the past 12 months. Nothing has structurally changed in the US yet.

In the UK, the Black Lives Matter protests provoked the ire of Prime Minister Boris Johnson who denied that Britain is institutionally racist. The protests prompted him, however, to establish a race commission in 2020, which released its report in March 2021, stating that the UK is not institutionally racist. It was rejected nationally by race equality campaigners and international organisations as a disingenuous, divisive whitewash of daily challenges faced by minority communities. An undoubtedly regressive double down to maintain the status quo of White supremacy in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Police brutality is one undeniable example. Despite so many deaths recorded in police custody in England and Wales since 1990, no officers, as far as I am aware, have been convicted for the deaths of Black people due to police brutality. According to the charity Inquest, there is irrefutable evidence of structural racism embedded in police practices and the disproportionality of the use of force against Black people is proof of this.

Sheku Bayoh died in UK police custody in 2015 with up to six police officers restraining him. He died with his hands and legs bound. His body was found to have 23 separate injuries from the police restraint. To date, not a single police officer has been prosecuted and convicted for this unlawful killing. In light of the conviction of Derek Chauvin, should accountability and justice not be prioritised for this case and many other unjust and unlawful killings?

In October 2020, when Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, a Conservative Black British MP, made the headlines with a categorical statement in the House of Commons that “schools which teach pupils ‘White privilege’ is an uncontested fact are breaking the law”. She was effectively denying that White privilege exists, censoring teaching racial inequality as illegal, and politicising the lived experiences of Black people – as if it were up for debate that Black people experience racism as a direct result of the advantages of White privilege.

There is no doubt that her words, particularly as a Black politician, legitimised views to discredit and delegitimise anti-racism efforts for social justice and race equality. For many in the Black community, her actions were reprehensible because they furthered the cause of White supremacy and as an equalities minister it was a clear demonstration that she is not an ally to the resistance against race inequality. Nothing has structurally changed in the UK yet.

This is why we cannot, must not and will not rest on our laurels. Since George Floyd’s death, there are no laurels to rest on. There is no satisfaction from goodwill commitments and good intentions that don’t translate into viable, sustainable and measurable outcomes. Until all of us are free, none of us are free. Those working hard to maintain the status quo of White Supremacy are shaken but not removed. They have been provoked but not diminished. The louder they get the stronger we must become. However much we get attacked, we must grab the bull by the horns and keep on fighting.

Don’t get discouraged by how little progress, if any, has occurred in 12 months. Don’t be bullied by any insinuation that your protest, activism and boldness does not count. Don’t be fooled into thinking nothing is changing simply because we can’t see it yet. We must fight by faith and not by sight. The good fight for race equality and racial justice started long before George Floyd and as much as we would like it to end with him, it is not going to. He is a powerful catalyst for change the world will never forget.

So next time somebody asks you, “what has changed since George Floyd died?” Your answer should be this: “I have changed and change starts with me.”

Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu is a political and women’s rights activist. Her book ‘This is Why I Resist’ is out now

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