This article is part of our Freedom and Justice Week series – as Global Dashboard provides a platform for a diversity of voices to explore how we respond to the wave of protests that followed the murder of George Floyd. Read all the articles in the series here.
“Global Dashboard’s Freedom and Justice Week provides a platform for authors to explore how a wave of anger can be translated into tangible improvements in the lives of people and communities, and can rebuild the basis for collective action on which all our futures depend.”
Over the course of Freedom and Justice Week, our authors have provided glimpses into how racism has penetrated their communities, their workplaces, their schools, and their countries. What these articles demonstrate is that, while country contexts may vary, humanity has a problem with racism and bigotry that knows no borders and that is pervasive, toxic, and dehumanising.
In the article that launched the series, the BBC’s Nihal Arthanayake challenges us to confront this problem head on. To find ways to do better, to build political, social, and economic systems that are inclusive, equal, and non-discriminatory. “Tell me how we change,” he said.
Our authors did not disappoint. Across the board, they call for action – from institutions and individuals, and all points in between. For people asking “what can I do?” this series offers a place to start and a challenge to be honest, ambitious, and practical.
At Impact:Peace, we amplify change processes through the dissemination of knowledge and evidence in the pursuit of a more peaceful and just world. But we are clear eyed that what is considered ‘evidence’ is subject to the same power structures and systemic inequalities that pervades all our institutions. Supporting open dialogue and exchange of ideas is one way we work to balance this out, recognising that evidence is both essential and problematic.
For this reason, we were honoured to partner with Global Dashboard and to edit this series of articles – a summary of all the articles is below, along with an easy to read PDF.
Jessica Murrey is Black, American, a peacebuilder. And she is grieving. “I feel stripped raw. Despair and rage both threaten to swallow me whole.” A feeling shared by so many across the United States, a feeling that has compelled protests across the country that have not let up since the tragic killing of George Floyd. In her article, Murrey applies her expertise and faith in peacebuilding to consider steps that must be taken to build a better world together. We must, by acknowledging pain, she says. For many, this will mean acknowledging the harm committed (past and present) by institutions that many otherwise value and respect. She asks white allies to listen and lean in, to confront their own bias, to use their power to champion their neighbours, and to rethink peace and justice. “Peace is not passive…Vengeance is not justice.”
Taking this forward, Kayla Lewis-Hue reminds us that even in protests, power differentials persist. In the neighbourhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, home to some of the most expensive real estate in the world, a protest attracts no harsh police response and no oppressive monitoring. Lewis-Hue asks us to examine how this contrasts with other protests in neighbourhoods with less economic power and where more of the protestors are people of colour. “We must understand these patterns, analyse how the police selectively seek out violence towards Black people, and acknowledge how a proximity to whiteness and wealth can secure one’s safety,” she writes.
Neda Shaheen and Nikita Shukla describe the wave of protests sparked in Minneapolis as the ‘Western Spring’ – a take on the ‘Arab Spring’ which Diego García-Sayán, Allyson Maynard-Gibson and Willy Mutunga also reference. “While Black people make up only 13% of the US population,” the authors reminds us, “they are three times more likely to be killed by police and make up over a quarter of deaths by COVID-19.” As US policing has militarised, policy changes from the Obama to the Trump Administrations have made it easier for police to brutalise Black lives. Protests around the world have, in turn, demonstrated the pervasiveness of racism and discrimination. The authors call out leaders for their complicity in systems that uphold white male leadership and appeal for civil and human rights to be at the heart of advancing peace and security for all.
While the protests began in the US, the demand for justice spread quickly to the UK. Nihal Arthanayake summed up what so many of us feel after he broke down in tears on his BBC radio show. “I was lucky because I could breathe,” he writes, “but I could not articulate the overwhelming sadness that stopped me in my tracks and led to me being momentarily incapable of speaking.” A march is one thing, he says, a campaign needs planning and a sustained attention span. He explores how to challenge people and make them uncomfortable, but not in a way that alienates them into inaction. The segregation of communities must also be tackled, before “the valley that separates people… becomes a landfill into which hate and misinformation are dumped.”
María Dolores Hernández Montoya from the Mayor’s Office in Guadalajara, Mexico reflects on how rapidly systems and communities have adapted in response to the coronavirus pandemic. How people have come together to support those most vulnerable, how governments have shifted mandates to address the spread, and how private business have opened co-operative mechanisms in the search for a vaccine. Montoya believes that active citizens – both those who protest and those who participate in other ways – can shape our societies to be more equal, more just, and freer for all. “People invented the systems and the rules that we live under,” she writes, “and people have the power to change them.”
Ebru Deniz reflects on her experiences in Turkey and Sudan, where ‘Shades of Black’ reinforce stereotypes across society. Rather than being seen only at the individual level, these prejudices are manipulated by government and institutions to empower some at the expense of others. Deniz contrasts these experiences with Tanzania, where the first post-Independence President Julius Nyerere took concrete (although not uncontroversial) steps to break down segregation between groups in an effort to prevent the kind of intra-race racism described in Turkey and Sudan. Deniz takes lessons from how such pro-active desegregation could help build more inclusive and non-discriminatory societies around the world today.
Even the small, isolated island of Bermuda is not immune from the toxic effects of structural racism, as Jeff Baron describes in his article. In an island with fewer than 70,000 inhabitants, racialised disparities and abuse are born out through unequal pay, disparities in access to political power, housing, healthcare, and treatment by the criminal justice system. Acknowledging these patterns of racism and abuse, over 10% of Bermuda’s population came together in protest, with calls of “Black Lives Matter” – the largest demonstration in the island’s history. To move towards lasting change, Baron calls for Bermudians to confront obstacles directly, calling on white Bermudians to use their own privilege to erase systemic privilege.
Drawing on her work with young Londoners, the psychologist Jenny Chigwende reminds us how past traumas – the abuse exacted by a racist system – can create a sense of helplessness and desperation. “The tone was stark as they told of the brutality they had suffered at the hands of the police,” she writes, “How they had been full of hope as young children, believing that anything was possible. But how, as they had grown, they had watched opportunities shrink and their sense of what they could achieve grow smaller and smaller.” But young people see an opportunity for change and speak powerfully about what the Black Lives Matter movement means to them. “It is only in this moment – and because of their protest – that our society has finally confronted its complicated past and begun to remove the statues with the worst legacies.”
From the UK’s National Health Service, Kathryn Perera and Zarah Mowhabuth, leaders from two different generations and positions within the hierarchy, reflect on how public sector leaders can and should respond to the complexity of this moment. The NHS, in addressing the pandemic, has been forced to confront the extent of the risks that Black and minority communities face. They offer three lessons: that morality and neutrality are not the same, that facts must not replace lived experiences and shared stories, and that communities thrive when they participate actively, rather than just passively absorbing information. The NHS is one of many organisations where more junior staff have actively created space for debate, encouraging those further up the hierarchy “to take moral leadership in working with them to mount a response to what we were seeing in the world.”
Our last set of articles reflect on how international systems can and must be reformed to deconstruct the asymmetrical power structures upon which they were built.In their article, Aarathi Krishnan and Rahul Chandran question whether the ideals of the international development and humanitarian systems hold up to scrutiny, given that in practice bureaucracy, expediency, and donor demands impair the realisation of these ideals. They deconstruct the racism and classism inherent to our international systems, placing a harsh light on our institutions that have become purveyors of charity, rather than upholders of equity and justice. They propose five values that can underpin fundamental reform and call for those who have benefited from colonial power and privilege to step aside. “Not just to share the money a little bit – but to decline what is offered and insist it is passed to BIPOC and minority-led groups and allow them to build without gatekeeping.”
Diego García-Sayán, Allyson Maynard-Gibson and Willy Mutunga, who have held leadership roles in the justice systems of Peru, the Bahamas, and Kenya, remind us of how the Arab Spring was sparked by fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself on fire after consistent police harassment, comparing this to the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd. “If any President or Prime Minister, parliamentarian or senior public servant, judge or police chief is surprised about this growing wave of protest, they are wilfully naïve,” they write. These justice leaders set out a vision for a people-centred justice system which works not only for the few, but for all. Justice systems are resistant to change so justice leaders must work together just as health ministers do, innovating to meet people’s justice needs and to addressing injustice in housing, debt burdens, employment, and beyond. They must also apply proven approaches that will prevent crime and violence, while confronting the abuses of the justice system.
From South Africa, Nangamso Kwinana and Kabelo Kgobisa argue that is insufficient for African leaders to call for justice for people of African descent, while ignoring the urgent need for reform within the African continent itself. They call for a legally binding international treaty that will set standards for ending police brutality. The authors believe the African Union should lead in creating “international standard of policing that prioritises the lives, the well-being and the rights of citizens above the prerogatives of the police. This approach is closer to ‘government for the people’ rather than the prevailing norm of ‘power over the people’.”
Finally, Alana Hairston, Desta Haile, Karishma Chugani and Stephanie Roe describe their experiences as students at international schools. They discuss the dichotomy of international schools bringing together students from around the world to advocate “tolerance, understanding, compassion, and respect,” while simultaneously continuing to reinforcing existing race and gender hierarchies through a system of education that is rooted in colonial legacies and administrative systems dominated by white men. In their article and associated petition, the authors identify four necessary actions to advance anti-racism: Make a statement on anti-racism and outline a plan; critically address HR – hiring, retention, promotion, and leadership at all levels; rethink what you teach, and how you teach it; and ensure accountability and establish a zero-tolerance policy for racism.
The road ahead is long, but we must continue the collective pursuit of societies where Black lives matter, equality of persons is guaranteed, governments exist to serve the people, and freedom and justice are the air we all breathe – this pursuit is noble and this time is now.
Global Dashboard commits to providing continued space for conversation, dialogue, and action and welcomes submissions at any time. We are also open to exploring partnerships to bring together new collections of linked articles. Please send brief pitches to: email@example.com
Black Lives Matter Photo: Ella, Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)