BLM in a pandemic

How has COVID-19 affected the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK?

Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images.

— 4 minute read — By Daisy Olyett

On 23rd March, the UK initiated a national lockdown in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus; as a result, the British public had to find new ways to occupy their time whilst furloughed. Any piece of news that wasn’t the latest death figures or an announcement of new restrictions, was a welcome distraction and this undoubtedly aided the racial issues that BLM stands for to come to the forefront.

This, what may seem like, endless period of isolation and uncertainty quickly transformed into a new dawn of social responsibility. White communities reflected on their actions and attitudes towards people of colour, listened to the voices of those who fell victim to an unjust system, and took to the streets and social media to support the ideals that Black Lives Matter upholds. The coronavirus undoubtedly assigned a new meaning to the value of human life, and forced the public to view George Floyd’s death on 25th May this year as the horrific act of racism that it truly is. Although the pandemic may have allowed the British public to find a new sense of humanity in itself, it has been problematic concerning the effectiveness of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Millions of Britons used lockdown to confront the racial injustices that exist within the UK, mostly by means of social media by posting, sharing and retweeting vital information concerning hate crime and activism. But, such enthusiasm for the BLM cause was not shared by the British government to begin with; it took several weeks for disproportionate BAME fatalities from coronavirus to reach our Prime Minister’s agenda and in many instances the government chose to put racial injustice on the back bench to give coronavirus the spotlight. As our politicians argued with scientists about trips to Warwick Castle and what distant is socially distant enough, an excessive amount of doctors and nurses of colour were being put at the front lines of the pandemic, compared to their white counterparts. If this figure was not worrying enough, those black medical staff and the rest of their community in the UK were already twice as likely to die from coronavirus. For a pre-longed period of time, the British government seemed to be more focused on the effects of coronavirus on the Caucasian demographic far more so than any other racial group, and this unequivocally delayed their response to the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the British people still found some ways to use the pandemic for the good of the movement.

Despite some anomalies, the majority of British Black Lives Matter protests remained peaceful, not only due to respect for the movement but also the need to remain socially distant. In this sense, whole families (including children) could attend demonstrations together in a safe way, which increased the appeal of protesting to the British public as a whole.

Furthermore, the racial and economic divides which facilitated the harsher effects of coronavirus on BAME communities made racial injustice an integral issue that required confrontation in order to fight the pandemic. Several high profile cases such as that of Belly Mujinga embodied both the seriousness of coronavirus and racially aggravated hate crimes, after Mujinga was spat at by an infected individual who expressed their dislike towards her ethnicity she died of coronavirus at the age of just 47.

Even as lockdown starts to ease racial barriers are still recognisable, this can be seen in areas of the UK like Cumbria and Lancashire where black and Asian individuals are five to six times more likely to be fined by police for defying lockdown restrictions. Although, the coronavirus may seem to have been raising more issues for BAME communities in the UK, they certainly have not gone unnoticed. London-based black influencers including Munroe Bergdorf and Ajabarber have seen a surge in the size of their followings from non-black audiences, the majority of whom want to listen to the voices of black men and women who have experienced hardship in the UK. At this moment, white audiences in Britain seem more ready than ever to reflect on their privilege and endeavour to do better for their fellow black, Asian and minority ethnic citizens, it is truly unfortunate however, that it took a global pandemic for this realisation to take place. Therefore, the pandemic has facilitated the transition of Black Lives Matter into the mainstream, but for how long? Once lockdown eases will BLM become a forgotten trend? Will the UK remain truly anti-racist when it is no longer forced to listen?