LGBTQ+ History Month Event

EVIDENCE TO EXIST RESEARCH GROUP AND DIRG AAAB-RICHARDS INVITE YOU

In 1990 after Justin Fashanu publicly announced he was gay, the media attacks commenced. A group of Black Lesbian and Gays were not having it. They started the Campaign Black Lesbian and Gays Against Media Homophobia (BLGAMH) and initiated a boycott of the The Voice. Working with the Artist Archivist Ajamu, Evidence to Exist is working to preserve and amply the ground-breaking grassroots campaign that launched 30 years ago! The founders remain active and we seek to celebrate their contribution to Black Queer Liberation in the UK.

Evidence to Exist and Dirg Aaab-Richards (Co-Founder of BLGAMH) invite you to an LGBTQ+ HISTORY month event. As part of Lesbian & Gay History Month MYSocial in association with Lambeth Libraries he will be interviewing, Maurice Tomlinson, attorney, activist, who is a key influencer in changing homophobic legislation in the Caribbean. 

Please register here (below) to participate in the Eradicating Homophobic Legislation in the Caribbean –  Zoom-call lecture on Friday 19th February 2021 – at 6pm (GMT).

Spaces of Protests: White Fragility and Racial Fatigue

Toni Morrison identified her struggle to embrace ‘Black Is Beautiful’, the slogan that emerged in the 1970s. Morrison understood the mantra’s popularity and emergence as a social political tool of the Black Power Movement of the time. Black WAS beautiful, and Morrison questioned why the statement needed to be said. When I arrived at a Black Lives Matter (the demo and the broad political movement) I felt a similar conundrum; holding a measure of discomfort with the need to say Black Lives Matter with a measure of trepidation in my ability to verbally articulate what should be universally understood. Of course, Black Lives Matter.

In my native Chicago I joined demos to protest police brutality beginning in 1991 with demos against the senseless beating of the Black motorist Rodney King by Los Angeles cops. Later I joined a political group ‘Queer to the Left’ to help bring attention to race and class issues in LGBT communities. Into my 20s before moving to the UK; demos became spaces to not only protest; they were locations of connection and engagement with others, where ‘I’ became ‘WE’ to make a collective registration of discontent and anger.

Over 20 years living in the UK, my connection to spaces of protest changed. At anti-war demos before Bush’s invasion of Iraq; or even at more recent demos directed at Trump, as a Black American, I became more aware yet not distracted by the predominance of white people in these spaces of protest. I continued to connect through a universal protest and a universal(ish) narrative of No War.

The week following George Floyd’s death, I decided not to attend most Black Live Matter domos that took place. On demos, I expect to have conversations with strangers; conversations about our intention for being in the space, and frequent conversations about a shared collective purpose. Spaces of protest are spaces of learning or they should be. Nevertheless, I was unsure how to negotiate anticipated conversations with white people; conversations that require an emotional capacity to do work; work required when/if one accommodates for another person’s learning and processing. I did not think I could do this work at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in spaces of protest as British as Hyde Park and Parliament.

With protest aims so layered and complicated; and as layered and complicated as the statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ itself, I thought the demo focused on the American Embassy seemed safe; politically and emotionally. The crowd was dense and as I stood in a Black political space, I quickly felt how it was not a Black physical space. Outnumbered by white people; I was distracted and overwhelmed by the multiple ways white people held the space.

Based on overheard conversations, I surmised some white people were newly ‘woke’; able to see; perhaps even accept, the argument that inherent privileges come with whiteness. Near me and seemingly everywhere that day, was a large presence of young white men who occupied the space differently; and with a confident swagger that seemed arrogant. Some of them had cameras. They took pictures of me without permission; and did so in locations above me. White men stood above me and pointed their camera at me. Their occupation of a Black political space unsettled me. Hearing them yell Black Lives Matter amplified unsettled feelings or how the kids say it, they ‘triggered’ me.

Some white people lead the crowd in the call/response, a fundamental unifying element of every demo, rally, and march. I felt particularly unsettled when white people led the chant ‘NO JUSTICE/PEACE; and more so when white people yelled ‘SAY HIS NAME/GEORGE FLOYD.’ Then the crowd yelled out an unexpected new slogan at least new to me; ‘BLACK SKIN IS NOT A CRIME.’ Hearing this, I stood verbally paralyzed. I was unable to form my lips around those words. I was also unable to name what I felt. Eventually a Black woman turned to me and said, ‘I’m not responding to white people leading THAT call.’ Paralyzed no more. YES! I yelled.

In London on the approach to the Embassy there was no social distancing and not much organization. With no effort I clearly heard conversations of people around me. There was no space to process the complexity of the situation with people who were part of my group. Aware if I engaged in a conversation, other white people would hear me. Risky work is required to hold white people’s engagement with racialized politics and especially risky without knowing if/when a white person experiences a moment(s) of clarity that contributes to an awareness and understanding of white privilege. The work required to accommodate a white person’s process of knowing and understanding can be risky because it can lead to what writers call racial fatigue. This work can be especially risky without knowing if work has been done since those moments of clarity.

Over time in work and social spaces, Black people gain an increased awareness of white fragility; and the potential consequences if one triggers; offends or makes white people feel uncomfortable about race; theirs/yours. Many white people around me asserted their allyship without asking me if I wanted it. A component of Black survival is the ability to negotiate (at times carefully) around white fragility. To do so is especially challenging when white people assert their allyship on matters of race along with the entitled assumption that being an ally is of mutual benefit; and should be welcomed. White privilege in operation; to not ask if allyship is wanted; or to critically interrogate the self to assess if enough work has been done to be a mutually beneficial ally.

On the approach to the Embassy I witnessed a range of ways Black people accommodated for white people’s learning and processing. But a concern derives from my awareness of the potentially exhausting work to accommodate white people who seemed to have not done the work; any work; other than showing up with a sign. I wondered if young Black people considered and scrutinized their own capacity to accommodate. How much space had they allotted for their own processes and processing to avoid the draining effects of racial fatigue? Overhearing some conversations, I wanted to offer young Black protestors words of caution given to me years ago by a Black American feminist/activist friend.

“To guard their precious intellectual and psychic energies; and to not cast their precious pearls before the wilfully ignorant who masquerade as allies. That they may be friends/acquaintances may give a false hope that a desire to UNDERSTAND is mutual when what is going on is spiritual vampirism.”

I am also challenged by what is at times a disproportionate focus on the Black American experience above other Black African Diasporic experiences in the West. There is a risk of amplifying what goes on in the USA over and above what has happened/is happening in the UK and elsewhere in the Western Black Diaspora. At the Embassy protesters held the Black Lives Matter narrative without a collective ability to specify the narrative to a UK context. In naming those killed by the police; Black American deaths were disproportionately represented: Trevon Martin; Breanna Taylor and obviously George Floyd. Interestingly the crowd called out Stephen Lawrence’s name a few times; but Mark Duggan’s name was called out just once.

Throughout the West there has been a long war on Black people which is why the Western Black Diaspora and indeed much of the world responded to the death of George Floyd. Still across the Diaspora, Black people must articulate specific demands to their respective governments and societies; and by societies, I mean the white majorities in their respective countries. Black people must be aware of the need to avoid and negotiate around encounters of white fragility; and “to guard their precious intellectual and psychic energies”. And to the powers that be; and among them especially white people with historical and contemporary racialized privileges; do not deflect to the USA. ‘Use this opportunity to get your own dirty house in order (to quote a Black British feminist friend).’ Reflect on your history; your privileges and your fragility; do the work. But importantly, until you do this work, please leave Black folks out of it. This is what an ally looks like.

Black Health Matters: Now More Than Ever

My team have been on at me for weeks to write a new My PrEP Story (MPS). A COVID-19 special. First it was my view on the new global pandemic from the perspective of a long-term survivor of HIV. Someone who had first-hand experience and a front row seat of the HIV epidemic 1982 – to the present. What parallels could we draw? What lessons have been learnt? Did it trigger me? Easy I thought. I can do that. Yet I sat in front of a blank screen and words didn’t flow.

Then roughly 12 days ago, my social media feeds began to be filled by headlines and threads about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, both here in the UK and increasingly in the USA. Then followed think piece after think piece, accompanied by the usual false equivalencies and ‘what aboutery’ in the comments.

Suddenly my MPS had a new focus. I fired up my laptop, flexed my fingers and got ready to write about my shock, anger and hurt about how yet again my community of Black and Brown people were being ‘wiped’ out by forces beyond our control. I thought about all the key workers I had encountered and engaged with in the weeks and days leading up to the lockdown and have engaged with on my rare trips out since – (the young Jamaican) bus driver, (the middle aged Black British) shop assistant, (the Pakistani) market traders, (the Nigerian) Uber driver, (the Ghanaian) pharmacist, (the Bengali) clinic receptionist: all from ethnic minority communities.

And I thought about all the Black and Brown people that do the jobs that underpin all of this country’s health and social care services. I wanted to express my feelings that for decades these undervalued people (for behind the numbers and acronyms we are talking about human beings) have been the backbone of all that makes our society move.

I wanted to write about my anger at a Government who had destroyed the lives of 1000s of people in the Windrush Scandal and would then have the audacity to ask people from that very same generation who had built the NHS, many now in retirement, older and therefore considered more vulnerable to COVID-19, to put themselves at risk and return to work.

I wasn’t sure if I should write about a close relative who works for a large NHS trust and has seen first-hand the impact of COVID-19 on the team they work alongside that provide community services: 75% of them women from BAME communities, continuing to support the most vulnerable without adequate PPE.

Or about my friend, a Black gay man who has been an intensive care nurse for over 25 years and is close to retirement, who calls me most evenings after a 12 hour shift in a central London hospital, exhausted and in tears, to talk about all the deaths he’s witnessed of people who look like him and are of a similar age.

I reflected on comedian Gina Yasahare’s video on social media about the invisibility of people of colour in the narrative and whom the media is showing as victims and heroes.

I thought about the hours of footage given to Captain Tom, nobly walking up and down his garden to raise money for NHS and the scant minutes given over to the story of the young Ghanaian nurse who died of COVID-19 in childbirth. I asked myself who would raise money to help ensure her newborn child had a stable future without her mother? I wondered if she’d been young white and blond would there have been rolling news coverage, celebrity tweets and possibly a concert?

I constructed a paragraph on structural and institutionalised racism and how these two forces have combined to create long lasting and deeply ingrained health inequalities and how this was a crisis waiting to happen.

I was going to explore how from mental health to HIV, from school exclusions to police stop and search, Black and Brown people are always in the higher numbers. Then breakdown that in-spite of what anyone tells you the reasons for these disparities can be traced back to the Transatlantic Slave Trade and colonialism.

But then I considered the social and cultural issues that might explain why more people from my communities are being infected and dying. What role does the fact that higher numbers BAME people live in poverty play? What is the impact of BAME people being more likely to live in deprived neighbourhoods and social housing with little access to outdoor spaces? Or how does living in multi-generational households affect social distancing? Does our carb heavy, spicy diet play a role? Is the plastic in hair weaves a factor?!?

Or how, after centuries of being lied to, it was easier for some of us not to believe early warnings but to listen to stories that this wouldn’t affect us? Was it easier to trust our friends and family online with their theories, cures and remedies than a media, government and institutions that have a long and chequered history of truth about Black and Brown peoples? When Black and Brown people heard two French Drs suggesting possible tests, treatments and cures for COVID-19 be tested on Africans on the African continent, who can blame us for recalling the Tuskegee experiment and other examples of medical apartheid and experimentation on Black and Brown bodies.

I wanted to conclude with a light joke about how social distancing is nothing new for Black and Brown people. That through segregation, separate but equal, No Blacks, No dogs, No Irish, discriminatory employment practices, criminalisation, and most recently gentrification, white people have been engineering and practicing social distancing for many a year.

But nothing came to me. I could find no solution. No answers.

In fact, none of this surprised me. As the days went on and the death toll rose, as I heard about friends whose parents, cousins, colleagues and friends had died and worried about the health of those closest to me, I was less and less inclined to write. There were no words to express the grief, sadness and fear I was experiencing.

After years of writing, thinking, posting about social injustice I was blocked. What more was there to say? I self-diagnosed with #racialfatigue. And then I turned on my TV.

I try to avoid Good Morning Britain. Piers Morgan before or after coffee is torture no one should suffer. But I tuned into a debate about the disproportionate impact on BAME communities. To my surprise it was balanced and nuanced. All of the key points were made. And even Piers seemed to agree that structural racism ‘could’ play a role.

Then I looked at Twitter. And out of woodwork they came. “Why does it always have to be about race?” “Oh, that woman blames racism for everything” “What about other….” and on and on and on.

I then understood why I struggled to write, and I knew what my MPS needed to say.

None of the reasons COVID-19 is impacting Black and Brown communities comes as a surprise to Black and Brown communities. We have long known, lived and experienced underlying health conditions, health inequalities, poor and overcrowded housing, lack of investment in our communities to make them healthier and safer, a media that doesn’t represent us and when it does, does more harm than good.

What’s exhausting, what makes us angry, what frustrates us is that despite all the data and evidence, regardless of the human cost we still cannot talk about RACE. The blinkers are firmly on when it comes to any mention of the impact of decades of societal racism, both micro (your work buddies) to macro (that big institutionalised thing you always hear about but can’t put your finger on).

White fragility is such a powerful beast that any mention of the ‘R’ word gets the vapours of (not just Middle) England going. You can see the veins popping and the red faces swelling in the comments and tweets that tell us to go back were we came from. (My grandparents built this country. You’re welcome).

Want to know what repeatedly beating your head against a brick wall feels like? Present evidence and it’s correlating factors, throw in historical patterns and a couple of experts to dissect your findings and I guarantee you, Daily Express reading Bob from ‘Middle England’ will tell you it’s ‘stuff and nonsense’. It’s like watching a parent tell a child the sky is blue, but they constantly ask, ‘but why’?

That’s the experience of Black and Brown people trying to get the World to care about our lives seriously. Every. Single. Day.

It’s exhausting to tell people Black Lives Matter and have false equivalences made, your lived experience belittled, or worse not part of the narrative at all. Black and Brown bodies have been used, abused, experimented on, sexualised, fetishised, criminalised, traded, and violated for centuries. It should surprise none of us that we can now add a global pandemic to the list.

It comes as no surprise that no one seems to really care.

Our voices are hoarse from shouting at unopened ears that racism is a THING and has a real-world impact on millions of us every second, every minute, every day.

But to this social justice warrior that thinks Black Health Matters now more than ever, it just leaves me exhausted.

When words fail me, I go to my hero and literary genius Toni Morrison:

“Crude and crass as most of it is and, really, uninformed as almost all of it is, the discourse about race is important……the real conversation should take place among white people. They should talk to each other about that. Not with me. I can’t be the doctor and the patient.”

This piece originally appeared in Prepster.

Privileges and Black Pain: What Awful Incongruity

It is hard to hear the anxiety and insecurity faced by those I know and love back in my native Chicago. In many ways for folks back home in the poor and working-class black community of which I am from; the anxiety fear and insecurity they feel are not new paradigms. While the situation is sad here in Spain, Italy, France and Western countries generally. Still I feel those other parts of the world; catastrophic; with politicians taking draconian measures; shoot to kill policies; health rationing. And WTF with Trump!

Nonetheless with reasonably secure work; social housing; access to food; and connections with humans when I need it; Corona is less of a crisis for me. My relatively privileged socioeconomic context minimizes the impact. However, my mind becomes most troubled when I turn on the news. Since I’ve lived in the UK, I’ve watched BBC Breakfast just about every day of the work week; not for pleasure per se but more for cultural context and a better understanding of middle Britain with whom I frequently engage as a researcher. But it has been a hard watch lately.

Over the last few weeks this very white institution routinely validates showcases and prioritizes stories of survival that disproportionately profile old white people. There’s been an abundance of stories that feature frustrated white women who struggle to manage their well-paid work from home; zoom yoga classes; and caring for their children. And while viewer are encouraged to clap for the NHS, news items from the BBC and other media outlets do not include a proportional representation of black or brown faces on the FRONTLINE.

Last week BBC Breakfast gave about 30 seconds coverage to Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong a 28-year-old pregnant nurse who died and whose baby was delivered by caesarean before she passed. They followed that with 5 minutes coverage of 106-year-old women who survived the Spanish Flu and two world wars and now Covid (good on her by the way). Still they managed to find space to feature her granddaughter; tearful; who expressed her fear and pain when she left her gran at the hospital; assured she never see her alive again. After that we heard about the 100-year-old vet walking up and down his garden to raise money for the NHS; £20M plus to date. While they told viewers about Mary’s page albeit without a specific call to donate. This grotesquely disproportionate focus on white people’s pain and achievement is not necessarily new but seeing it in the context of Mary’s death was beyond the pale.

Perhaps the vet will donate some of the money he raised to Mary’s fund for her children who will now grow up without a mother; a mother who made the ultimate sacrifice for the NHS. I reckon that is as likely as mass testing for front line NHS workers let alone adequate protective gear for low paid health care workers. We know black and brown people are more likely to be employed in frontline roles and now as reported by the Guardian that we are dying at a disproportionate rate.

I welcome the government’s announcement last week to launch a review. Yet I can hear the voices say, ‘we mustn’t be distracted; we must remain united; and focus on getting through the crisis’. While I understand this sentiment; having a similar thought when my President who my foster mother refuses to name and calls 45; criticised the WHO for its handling of the virus. While we need not be distracted from saving lives; sadly it seems, the central factor driving the response to the virus in the US and UK is money/saving the economy. My cynical view is the UK Government approach is to let elderly people die along with black elderly people and some young pregnant ones as well.

Daily press conferences seem aimed to appease and distract. Corona has exacerbated so many old underlying issues namely the massive health inequalities in the NHS and social care sectors. There has been a looming social care crisis with a stalled green paper that outlines a £10 billion gap. As the politicians tell it; Brexit and then the election caused the delay in passing the green paper through parliament. Ultimately the loss of 20 or 30K elderly people lessens the pressure on that £10 Billion gap; all the better the dead are disproportionately black and brown.

The final US and UK death toll will be astonishing, although I don’t think we’ll ever know the true death toll in either country much less in Latin American or African countries. Eventually, we will meet on the other side of this crisis to count the dead to reflect, and perhaps to commence an Inquiry that truly seeks to understand the disparity and perhaps as the Guardian article challenges: to live up to our British values of fairness, equality and justice for all. But I am a realistic cynic and technically as a Permanent Resident not yet British so I’m just betting on the we’ll meet on the other side part for now!

That is what it is. All I can do is call my people back home to show love. I’m here with all my privileges including the space to intellectualise it all! And despite or perhaps because I am keenly aware of how privileged I am; I must ensure I comprehend the loss of life; the disproportionate loss of brown black and elderly life; and to do so as I gaze out the window of my spacious Victorian social housing flat onto a lovely terraced street lined with £ million homes where well fed white children play unreservedly and put rainbows in their windows and who weekly clap for 5 minutes as an act of self-effacement humility appreciation; I can’t tell!

Image taken from the gofundme.com page for the family of Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong. Please visit and give what you can