Trigger Warning: This piece contains material on racism, xenophobia and violence.
Written by: Haleema Ogazi-Khan
Edited by: Anna Mohan, Associate Editor
In the heat of summer and the midst of a pandemic, two Black British women organised a protest on the streets of London against police brutality and white supremacy. These protests were arguably the ‘largest anti-racism rallies since the slavery era’ and saw the gathering of thousands of people. Though sparked by the death of George Floyd, protests in Britain were largely fuelled by the anger and marginalisation felt within Black communities. They were not only an expression of solidarity but also a response to the injustices which continue to define the Black British experience.
Black people in the UK have historically faced several injustices. These include being more likely to be paid less, less likely to own a home, and less likely to feel a sense of belonging to Britain. There is also significant evidence of inequality in education, with exclusion rates three times as high for black Caribbean students. As well as this, institutional racism within the police force led to black people being ten times more likely to be stopped and searched between 2018 and 2019. Black women in particular face inequality from the healthcare and justice systems. This can be seen through the fact that black women were seven times more likely to be detained than White British women under Mental Health Legislations. As well as this, Black women are five times more likely to die in pregnancy – they account for four per cent of births but makeup eighteen per cent of maternal deaths. Ultimately, these statistics speak for themselves in highlighting the inequality faced by the Black community in the UK.
The Black Lives Matter 2020 marches were specifically linked to the unjust deaths of a young Somali girl, Shukri Abdi, and a Congolese woman, Belly Mujinga. Shukri Abdi was a twelve-year-old girl who drowned in River Irwell in Manchester on the 27th of June 2019. A year later, thousands marched in her name, and in solidarity, with her family against the difficulty, they are facing whilst trying to get justice for Shukri Abdi. This march saw great attendance from the Somali and wider East African community within the UK. Belly Mujinga died of Covid19 on the 5th April, three weeks after a man had spat on her whilst she was working as a transport worker at Victoria Station. On the 3rd of June, a march in London was held in honour of Belly Mujinga and in the fight to get justice for her death. The fact that the marches were held in a quest for justice for the death of a Black girl and a Black woman highlights how injustices against black girls and women in the UK were interlinked with the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020.
In light of this, it is clear why the role of black women in organising the protests is so crucial to remember. In London, a new generation of Black British activists played a key role, with eighteen-year-old Aima, and twenty-one-year-old Tash organising the London Black Lives Matter marches against police brutality and institutional racism. There is a long history of Black woman-led protest within the UK – which indicates that their role in the 2020 movement was more of a trend, rather than a change.
It’s a habit of history-making to leave the majority of stories untold – those of black women seem to be its favourable victims.
And yet, Black women have been crucial in social justice efforts from the Tudor period, in the suffrage movement through to the post-Windrush era and until today. We can look to figures such as Mary Seacole, Connie Mark, Diane Abbott (to name a few) as evidence of the relentless spirit, courage, and passion that Black British women have shown in the face of injustice.
The 2020 protests add to these generations of Black women who provide inspiration for young women, not just in the UK, but all across the world.