Socially distanced protest in Cambridge hears about racism in the UK

Thousands turned out at the Cambridge demo to say Black Lives Matter. Picture: ARCHANT

Thousands turned out at the Cambridge demo to say Black Lives Matter. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

“I want four black men to be able to walk down the street without people thinking they have stolen something.”

A 14-year-old girl was sitting in McDonalds in Cambridge when two white men started eyeing her up.

“Would you?” One asked the other.

“No” was the reply. “I don’t do n---ers.”

That’s Cambridge, that’s England - not Alabama - and only a few years ago. The young woman is still only about 20.

She was one of the speakers at a demonstration today (Saturday, June 6) on Cambridge’s Parker’s Piece. On a dull, rainy aftenoon, the 25-acre field was full - mainly of young people. Estimates vary from 4,000 to 6,000 people.

The gathering was organised by AfroCam, a musical and cultural events group and Good Health Africa, a charity for education and nutrition.

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Most were wearing masks. Social distancing was observed and we kept being reminded of it from the platform. “Covid is real.”

The event compere introduced his mum to the platform. Her experience was searing.

She said: “I have brought up three black boys”

She described meeting prejudice right from their birth in the Rosie Maternity Unit at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. She had to defend her children at their nursery, in school, at Beavers and Scouts, in football teams. She had taken a complaint of racism all the way up to Fifa. The response was that they weren’t going to take action because it would harm the reputation of the white boy accused.

“I am afraid when they go out,” she said, “because I worry whether they will come back home.

“I have had police cars outside my house - and a van behind them with so many people in it that you would think we had committed a murder.”

Her children had piano lessons, they played rugby, they had been to independent schools. They were well educated young men. That made no difference to the police. They led middle class lives. “Am I allowed to call myself middle class?” she asked.

Her son said: “I want four black men to be able to walk down the street without people thinking they have stolen something.”

A little girl of about seven was given the microphone and told the crowd: “I am proud of being black, I am proud of my skin and my hair and I don’t want to change.”

Why should she want to change - who’s put that in her head?

Why were we sitting there, in a damp field, telling each other that racism was wrong - in the year 2020?

The stories of absurd racism were mostly about Cambridge. One was about London. None we heard, not one, was from America.

A young woman in the crowd had a poster on her back listing the names of over 30 black people who had died in Britain - after violence from both the police and the public in recent years with the slogan: “The UK is far from innocent.”

The names included Belly Mujinga, who was obliged to work on Victoria Station having been refused PPE and died of Covid after being spat at.

Being a black student in Cambridge was hard, one young woman speaker said. She was constantly mistaken for another black girl, who actually looked nothing like her.

“Why can white people distinguish between dozens of different breeds of dogs but they can’t tell one black person from another?”

The speeches were not just a wringing of hands. There were suggestions for how we could change things.

We should support black businesses. Money empowers.

And the way British colonial history is taught needs to be different.

The main speaker said: “I am not going to hate you for what your ancestors did.”

Children aren’t born racist. They learn it, like they learn everything else.

The truth needs to be told about the contribution of non-white people to every scientific achievement, every rightly won war and every aspect of what is good about life today.

Why is the statue of Mary Seacole. put up in 2016, the first named black woman to have a statue up to her? Why did it take so long? She was a nurse in the Crimean War. She died in 1881.

We are largely still teaching the Whig view of history, where things got better and better until the enlightened times we live in today.

For black people, they haven’t got that much better and we’re not enlightened.

School, and particularly public school, which supplies our leaders, whether they are fit to lead or not, nutures the notion of some people being better than others.

Private school pupils are are constantly told how lucky and privileged they are. Instead of making them grateful (which is the intention) it confirms to them that they are superior.

If you have the idea that some people matter more than others, the logical conclusion is that some people don’t matter at all.

The date of this demonstration was June 6, the anniversary of D Day. People gave their lives that day in 1944, and throughout the Second World War, in the name of freedom and in the hope of a fairer world. It is to our shame that this battle has yet to be won.

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