A Summer of Racism

The past few months have been… a lot

BME Cambridge charlottesville courtney daniella dalston grenfell tower hackney ibz mo jason okundaye katie hopkins neo-nazis racism rashad charles riots Students summer term

Okay, fine. That was perhaps an over-dramatic title. But the past three months have been interesting for BME students to say the least, especially for those at Cambridge – a few of us have even made national news.

It's easy to think race isn't an issue anymore, I mean it's 2017 right? But this summer has proved just how big a problem racism remains today.

Summer started with one of the UK's most horrific tragedies: Grenfell Tower. It’s been three months since the fire that left 80 people confirmed dead, hundreds still missing and survivors struggling to cope with the emotional trauma of lost loved ones. Grenfell Tower has become a symbol of the structural racial and class inequality within UK.

Born and raised in Hackney, I spent most of my early childhood on council estates like the one where Grenfell stood. Seeing the aftermath with my own eyes, did it come as a surprise that just by looking at the names and faces of the victims that a large proportion were BME? No. Who else would be marginalised on council estates in one of the richest boroughs of London?

Unfortunately, Grenfell is part of a much larger racial issue within the UK – our justice system. Now, hey, who am I to argue that judges are biased against a certain demographic? Because obviously the pretty white Oxford student who stabbed her boyfriend but was deemed too ‘talented’ to be prosecuted was in the right.

And Rashad Charles, who died after being tackled to the ground by police for swallowing a mix of paracetamol and caffeine in a little bag, was clearly in the wrong.

It was the aftermath of Charles's death that once again proved that racism is still here. Protests in Dalston over his treatment at the hands of police led to a Twitter controversy that involved Cambridge student Jason Osamede Okundaye.

His tweets about structural racism got a response from Katie Hopkins.

Within a matter of minutes Jason became the victim of the right-wing press, which fuelled racist death threats and worse. "Get out of my country you knuckle dragging imbecil!" tweeted one, unaware of the irony that making such racist insults only serve to demonstrate Jason's point.

Moving away from Twitter and onto a form of media that allows for a bit more context (my personal favourite) YouTube. Courtney Daniella, a 3rd year Cambridge student, epitomises both the struggle and strength of BME students here in Cambridge. Courtney’s YouTube channel challenges the mainstream demographic of the standard Cambridge student.

In a recent video, Courtney told us about young white males who have commented their fear of not getting a place at Cambridge because "his place" would be occupied by "people like me" in order to fill some kind of quota.

I mean surely Courtney passing three interviews, passing admissions test, obtaining A*AA, all whilst having to work since the age of 13 to help with family finances had nothing to do with it? Many individuals, even those who are BME, still think that we're are simply here as tokens.

Courtney, who was featured in world-wide press had the perfect response… "If me with my intelligent, highly-favoured, melanated, confident and well-spoken self being at Cambridge makes you uncomfortable, you need to fix your problem. 'Cos more of us are going to be rolling up and getting those degrees, MPhils and PhD's. Don't be bitter."

And perhaps the clearest sign of racism this summer was… oh I don’t know… maybe the groups of Nazis in Charlottesville chanting "Jews will not replace us", and “White Lives Matter”? I mean seriously, “White Lives Matter'”? I am all for racial equality, but really? What, the resources, the land, the heritage of BME cultures weren’t enough? Now y’all wanna take their slogans of political protest?!

Call me an optimist, but Charlottesville actually opened my eyes to some kind of progress. Seeing both younger and older generations from a variety of backgrounds standing up to those racists indicated to me that perhaps the work we are doing to raise racial awareness really is getting somewhere.

Where the government had failed to support the victims of Grenfell Tower, it was our communities that worked together, donated, encouraged and supported the victims. Where the right wing media and Twitter trolls tried to dismiss the hard work of Jason Osamede Okundaye as President of BME society, it was the hashtag #IStandWithJason that was trending nationwide. And with every YouTube troll that criticises Courtney Daniella’s place and other BME students' places at Cambridge, there comes a higher intake of BME students each year who have been inspired by our strong BME community of students at Cambridge.

So yes, this Summer of Racism has taught me that though racism is still alive and kicking, with every challenge and hardship we face, comes support.

Support from both our BME and our white friends, family, allies and communities, who are willing to learn about our experiences, acknowledge privilege and work together to help prevent racial inequality. Once again reminding me why I am proud to be BME, to be able to give voice to the voiceless in helping the future to prevent racial discrimination.

That and well-seasoned food.