B.L.M. through the eyes of African students in Wales

10 minute read | 1700 words

With so many varying perspectives and opinions flying around social media these past few weeks, I was keen to find out more about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement from Africans living in Wales. I contacted an old course mate and asked if she and a friend would take part in a short Q&A.

After reading reports and watching interviews, I noticed the same ‘topics’ were discussed time and time again, but I had some questions of my own. The questions I put to the two ladies were as follows:

  1. Have you experienced first-hand racism in Wales? Would you share your experience with us?
  2. What does the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement mean to you?
  3. What would you like to see come out of the black Lives Matter movement in the realistic short term?
  4. What is the true message behind these words, especially when individuals are counter promoting All Lives Matter?
  5. What do you feel in your body and mind when you hear someone counter promoting All Lives Matter?
  6. What’s your opinion on protesting during a pandemic?
  7. What’s your opinion on the removal of UK statues? 

Both interviewees are female, one is a 21-year-old 3rd year Materials Engineering student from South Africa (Pretoria & Johannesburg) and the other is a 23-year-old Zimbabwean Master’s student at Swansea University. Their answers have been combined for easy reading however their message still rings clear. While interviewing, I felt humbled by their passion and openness to share their thoughts and feelings. I learned a lot; some of which was difficult to hear, however as a white male, I agree with them that there is most certainly a need for open conversations on both sides. Continue reading and see what you think…

  1. Thank you for agreeing to take part in this Q&A, let’s get straight to it with the first question; have you experienced first-hand racism in Wales? Would you share your experience with us?

My pleasure, thank you for the opportunity to share! People are often surprised that I’m ‘well-spoken’ or that I can afford to pay for university especially when they find out that I’m African. It’s amazing that people still have this view that Africa is nothing but a dust basin with mud huts and wild animals as pets. I was once in a taxi on my way to the train station when the driver asked where I was from. When I told him, he then proceeded to tell me that people like me are the reason Africa is poor. That my parents are stealing from the government; they are crooks and frauds. They are selfish and they do it so I can attend school overseas.

I’ve also had a few altercations in Swansea and Cardiff during nights out where guys have called me the ‘N-word’ and said that “my people” are scammers, however I must say, on all occasions either security, strangers or friends of the perpetrator(s) have stepped in to help me or apologize. I’ve had someone say to me I was the ‘finest N****r’ he had ever seen in his life. I’ve had people asking me if I learned English at the airport; telling me my hair ‘looks like cotton’ and telling me they ‘want to touch a black person’s hair’…It shocks me that African people were placed in Zoos years ago and while the pens and fencing may have fallen, to this day I feel we are still treated like Zoo animals.

  1. What does the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement mean to you?

To me, the BLM movement is about putting into perspective how things really are in the world. The movement is a chance to discuss how the events of the past still affect our lives today; be it at institutional or systematic level. People want to talk about a dysfunctional societal system, but I believe that the system is doing exactly what is was designed to do and unfortunately, people are executing it with their eyes wide shut. 

BLM started as a conversation about police brutality but has really broadened the discussion on racial injustices world-wide. It’s become a chance to openly address the actions of the past whether it’s slavery, colonization or legal racial segregation. It gives people of all races the opportunity to learn about black history and understand what it’s like to live as a black person in today’s society. The movement has given people of colour (POC) a voice in a way that we don’t see in everyday society.

  1. What would you like to see come out of the black Lives Matter movement in the realistic short term?

In the short term I would love to see people have open conversations. Having grown up in South Africa (SA), I have been used to open conversations about race in a way that I don’t see much of here in the UK. Back in SA, I’m part of what we call “The Born Free Generation” which means the first generation in my family to grow up with full rights in the eyes of the SA law.

When my parents were growing up, they couldn’t go to certain schools, universities, live in certain areas or even vote. It was a segregated society. When the laws were lifted 25-30 years ago, people’s mindsets and prejudices didn’t change with them. My generation has been very open about my country’s racist past and speaking out against racial injustice. It’s this kind of discussion that has shaped a lot of policy, laws and initiatives in recent years which help POC contribute to society and grow economically. My generation has better relationships with our counterparts of other races than any generation before me and there’s more equal opportunities which I’m so thankful for.

  1. What is the true message behind these words (BLM), especially when individuals are counter promoting All Lives Matter?

BLM is saying the black community is in trouble. It doesn’t discredit any other life. For me it’s about acknowledging and taking accountability that black people, historically, weren’t a part of society in the way our white counterparts were. Thus, the structures that exist today weren’t built to include us. In America they’ve addressed the slave trade, the civil rights movement, higher prison sentences, higher thresholds to be approved for loans, higher debt and other injustices based on race. In speaking to people I’ve realized a lot of British citizens don’t realise the role the British empire played in the African and Asian slave trade, colonization and the scramble for Africa. The goal really is for “All Lives to Matter” but right now, we need to recognize that black lives in particular have been viewed as inferior and have been ignored for too long. This movement is designed to expose the issues that are affecting black people’s lives on a daily basis. That’s why it’s so important to highlight Black Lives specifically.

  1. What do you feel in your body and mind when you hear someone counter promoting All Lives Matter?

I think they’re missing the point entirely. If all lives do truly matter, would we feel the need to have this conversation? I find it ignorant and so sad. When white people fully immerse themselves in the plight of black people, simply through reading, listening to people’s stories and asking questions, often they recognize their level of privilege and the different opportunities and realities which exist for them. When it comes to those who refuse to learn and strongly counter promote “All Lives Matter”, I worry for the society we’ve inherited and wonder how we can fix it. Until the majority can recognize the impacts of yesterday’s societal systems and injustices, which remain today in everyday life of a black person, I’m afraid we’ll never be able to truly say “All Lives Matter”.

  1. What’s your opinion on protesting during a pandemic?

Initially I didn’t agree with it. I thought with all the loss of human life going on right now, surely you don’t want to make the problem worse. But after hearing people’s accounts and all the videos and reports surfacing on social media, I got to a point where I realized there’s never really a right time to have these conversations and protests. There’ll always be an excuse, whether it’s too uncomfortable or that there’s bigger issues in the world to deal with. I don’t think the BLM movement could have been paused. Racial injustice is something black people have to deal with every day and people are tired. The question here, is why are the people at highest risk out on the streets protesting in their masses? Does this demonstrate the urgency of the matter at hand? We are either dying from a disease which has become a pandemic, or we are dying from police brutality, so what should we do?  

In terms of protests in Wales, I’ve admired how the protests have obeyed social distancing regulations and people have worn appropriate PPE. In a place that has an aging population, it really demonstrates a respect for everyone. It is also important to note however that our cities are less densely populated which has allowed for social distancing during peaceful protests.

  1. What’s your opinion on the removal of UK statues?

I fully support it. I recognize that many British people feel the removal of statues is tearing a part of Great Britain’s history and culture away, but in a country that has played such a huge part in world history, it’s important to note that these celebrated historical figures didn’t always get it right. I feel most British people know about the slave trade, that is black people were being bought and sold, but they don’t know the severity at which these people were ill-treated.

The UK is now a country which celebrates diversity and has embraced immigrants resulting in an extremely multicultural society. We have to recognize that not every person, be they white or BAME, want to celebrate and commemorate certain figures who were in charge of proceedings against black people. I believe keeping these statues in museums and highlighting their contributions to British and world history (both good and bad) serves today’s society much better. This way, British history and culture can be preserved accurately.