I do see skin colour. There, I said it.
Observing the might of this movement gestate and develop into the dominant force that it is has been an incredible learning experience and, until late last week, I kept my observations intentionally silent.
My silence was not demonstrative of a lack of response and certainly not because I don’t have an opinion. I’ve been afraid to say anything for fear of putting my own foot well into my own mouth!
Then I spotted a status update on Facebook from a person that I have known for an incredibly long time. In fact, around ten years ago, I gave him his first-ever job, and I have seen him grow up and become an incredible person.
He’s now a budding comedian in London. He also happens to be a person of colour. His update was:
“When I hear racists say all lives matter I say it in my head with a redneck’s voice. Is that racist or stereotypical?“
The text was on a background of laughing face emojis, so I suspected that my friend’s intention was to introduce some happiness, but I didn’t recognise this type of narrative from someone that I had seen grow from a boy into a man. I broke my silence:
Why The Black Lives Matter Conversation Is So Important
“Oh Dean, I thought you were better than this.“
He responded immediately to tell me:
“This is a joke. Light humour. You know I don’t think like that. Gotta keep my material up, keep y’all entertained”
Perhaps it was because of my long history with this person and the amount of trust, and love, that we shared that gave me the confidence to enter the conversation, so I responded openly on the thread of comments:
“I wouldn’t usually struggle to recognise your intention, but it’s less clear to me of late. I’m not judging you, or your actions, but I wouldn’t be valuing your power by not telling you that your overall narrative is changing.
Words are expressions of our character, so we should all be mindful about the ones we use.”
Within seconds I heard the notification sound of my WhatsApp, and instinctively I knew it would be my friend:
“You know I’m an open book and see things from all angles, but I hear you 100% please don’t feel like I’ve changed.”
I stared at that message for such a long time, hoping that something in it would guide me in some way into my next move. I trusted my instincts:
“I don’t FEEL like you’ve changed, I’m telling you your narrative has changed.
It’s such a painful area, and I’m not silent because I don’t have powerful responses to what I am learning or because I don’t have an opinion.
I am silent because I am aware of my privilege. I am also aware that nothing can change the fact that I am Caucasian.
We live in a society of ‘Movements’, and while I admire the courage, dedication and power that non-white people are taking hold of, it does leave me wondering what the best way forward could possibly be.
I stand firm that I, James Murphy, do not consider myself to be deserving of entitlements and opportunities that would not be available to any other Human Being.
All any of us can really do is live with the intention to be kind to one another in our words and actions while at the same time being kind to ourselves in our thoughts.
I can’t rewrite history, but I can create my own present, and I am doing so quietly and with purpose.
I hit ‘send’ with fear in my heart. I was terrified that I was about to alienate and lose a person that is very dear to me. A person that I have genuinely loved for a lot of my adult life.
When his response arrived, I exhaled in relief:
“Always so articulate and I apologise that I’ve had to make you explain what you meant, you know I have great respect for you, and you’re the last person I’d want to upset.
Again you know I’m not pro or anti-anything. I stand with the human race no matter the skin, religion, sex etc.
I hear you 100% I will be more mindful with what I post.”
It made my heart well that the conversation was evolving positively and with a genuine seeking to understand from both side, so I felt confident enough to continue. It felt cathartic:
“I want to be really clear, so you know what I’m trying to communicate.
You can post whatever you like, I’m the only person that can control my response to an event, and the same applies to you.
For the sake of your own inner peace just be explicit about what your intention is for whatever contribution it is that you are making.
I know you, and you know me, but it’s very easy to get lost in all the noise.”
It was at this point that I realised that this incredibly powerful dialogue could actually be my response to the Black Lives Matters movement and the raw pain and suffering that I have seen over the last few months.
I asked for my friend’s permission to use our chat as the foundation for an article, and he agreed that it could be an excellent way to demonstrate the conversations that need to be had. The discussions so many people are avoiding because they are painful and awkward.
I replied again:
“It’s such an emotionally charged and sensitive element of living, and it doesn’t help that the dialogue needs to acknowledge the grave harm to a peoples pride while at the same time addressing the lack of value that pride actually has in the context of progress.
I know I’m not supposed to say this, again because of my historical privilege, but I believe and intend it to only be a comment on forwarding movement rather than a retrospective defence
There has to be a point when EVERYONE let’s go of pride, blame and an overarching lack of kindness.
I don’t do that, “I don’t see your colour” thing because it would be a lie. It would also be offensive because there IS a legacy of wrongdoing by non-white people.
If there is a ‘Them and Us’ in our society, which is a really saddening thing for me to write, change can only come when ‘They’ forgive ‘Us’.
I have hope that it’s a possibility, but it’s only a glimmer of hope.”
Even as I write this article, knowing how the conversation continues, my body is cringing at the awkwardness of the dialogue. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, and goosebumps sprang up on my forearms.
I awaited a reply from my friend.
“I’ve said for ages, it comes down to understanding and respect. Like you said we can’t change the past, but we can make things right now.
And with “Us & Them”, I’ve never agreed with because it’ll be an ongoing cycle, so it’s about taking ourselves out from the unconscious state of mind, so we’re more open to learning, forgiveness etc.”
It was not blind to the fact that this conversation could take a turn at any second, as emotionally charged as it is.
“I mostly agree. There is no possibility of ‘making things right’ because justice exists on the same plane as revenge – fantasy.
Forgiveness is a state of being that is created when there is a complete acceptance that the past cannot be any different. It is not absolution, removal of guilt or validation of the events or actions of the past.
Which brings us back to ‘Movements’ and their power in our society. Brexit seems to have been all but forgotten in favour of COVID-19 which has almost been eclipsed by BLM.”
His response gave me goosebumps of an entirely different kind, this beautiful soul of a person that I have watched grow up showed his brilliance in one sentence:
“We could start a “let’s be kind”, movement but that won’t come until the people that are holding onto the pain and suffering feel justice is served and there’s equality.”
I can’t apologise on behalf of all Caucasians, but I can say that I am sorry that the past has been what it has been and the present is still marred by that.
You can connect with my dear friend Dean Kwasi Asamboa to find out where his gigs as a stand-up comedian in London are.
Let me know in the comments what you think of our conversation around this critical matter.