University of Cambridge

‘Silence is compliance’: How you can speak out against systematic racism

Learn, sign, donate, email, share

Last Monday (26th May), George Floyd, 46, was killed after a policeman knelt on his neck in Minneapolis. Several officers had responded to a call that claimed Floyd had used a forged $20 bill, and the officers claim that when they reached him, he “physically resisted” them. A video of one officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck whilst he wheezes “I can’t breath, I can’t breathe” went viral. The Minneapolis Police department, in a press conference on Tuesday, said Floyd died of a ‘medical incident’ in hospital shortly after.

This is as shocking to write as it is to read. It is right to feel a burning sense of injustice at the ways in which our global society has failed its citizens, and it is right to want to act to change. What happened to George Floyd was terrible and sheds light on so many ongoing problems that need to be tackled in our society. As The Cambridge Tab, we are very lucky to have a platform where we can talk about these issues and generate conversation among Cambridge students. So we’ve decided to compile a list of resources on the ways in which you can get involved, break the silence and make a difference.

Yasmin Kira and Eliane Thoma-Stemmet, representatives from Untangling the Knot, an Instagram platform for BME students at Cambridge and other UK universities on racial identity, told The Cambridge Tab: “COVID-19 has brought the discussion of race into sharp focus – with unprecedented tragedies taking place nationally, and internationally. What we cannot do, however, is see these viral incidents in a vacuum: police brutality and racial injustice have done, and continue to, plague the lives of BME people every single day. We must use this as a time to think and reflect: how do we, as individuals, help to combat racism? Racism is the lived experience of people of colour – and we must all listen to these stories. We must all speak up and speak out. It should not be left to people of colour to fight racism alone”.

Learn

If you’re worried about “not knowing enough” or “not wanting to say the wrong thing”, reading more about the fight against systematic racism, and about the concept of silence within discussions about race itself, is a good place to start. Before you think about signing a petition or donating, read about the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor – as well as those of the countless other victims of institutional racism. Read the statements made by their friends and family, and consider the calls to action that are being made.

In the ongoing discussion about racism in our institutions, communities, and daily lives, the black community is not left with the sole responsibility of seeking out justice. We can all equip and educate ourselves in this battle by learning from literature, reports, and articles that have been produced in the effort to break the silence on racial discrimination.

Recommended reading list:

Articles:

‘The Pandemic is a Portal’ Arundhati Roy, The Financial Times

‘My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant’, Jose Antonio Vargas, NYT Mag (June 22, 2011)

‘Nothing to add: A Challenge to White Silence in Racial Discussions’, Robin DiAngelo, Understanding and Dismantling Privilege, Vol. 2, Issue 1, February 2012. 

‘The Intersectionality Wars’ by Jane Coaston, Vox (May 28, 2019)

‘America’s Racial Contract Is Killing Us’, Adam Serwer, Atlantic (May 8, 2020)

‘Eight UK Doctors Died from Coronavirus. All Were Immigrants’ Benjamin Mueller, New York Times

Books:

‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’ by Peggy McIntosh

• ‘Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision’ by Barbara Ransby 

‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, Rennie Eddo-Lodge (Available on iDiscover for Cambridge students)

‘Me and White Supremacy’, Layla Saad

• ‘White Fragility: why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism’, Robin DiAngelo

Podcasts:

1619 (New York Times)

About Race

Code Switch

Other Resources:

Black History Google Doc

Sign

‘Justice for George Floyd’ at change.org

This petition was started by a 15-year-old teen in Oregon and has already become the most signed petition in the history of change.org. At the time of writing, ‘Justice for George Floyd’, has had over 9.4 million signatures. The petition demanded that the four police officers involved in Floyd’s murder be fired and for charges to be filed.  Since the petition was set up six days ago, all four officers have been fired, and one has been charged with third-degree murder. Signatories of this petition intend to reach the attention of Mayor Jacob Frey and DA Mike Freeman to pursue further legal action.

Black Lives Matter ‘#DefundThePolice’

This petition upholds the belief that law enforcement does not protect black lives, but threatens and takes them. For this reason, it calls for a national defunding of police. “We demand investment in our communities and the resources to ensure Black people not only survive, but thrive.”

You can also donate to help fund Black Lives Matter Campaigns, here.

Other petitions

You can also find a list of all the other petitions you can sign at the ‘Black Lives Matter’ resource, here.

Donate

Official George Floyd Memorial Fund

Four days ago, Philonise Floyd, brother to George Floyd, set up a gofundme page to cover funeral and burial costs, to allow relatives to seek grief counselling, and to pay for travel and living expenses for all court proceedings. The fundraiser had an initial target of $1.5 million and has since raised over $5.3 million for George’s family. The page also includes a Tallahassee address where condolences or financial contributions can be sent.

Donate to others

You can donate to the families of some of the other victims, here:

• Ahmaud Arbery: Donate here.

• Regis Korchinski: Donate here

• Jamee Johnson: Donate here

• Destiny Harrison: Donate here

National Bail Project

The Bail Project works to support incarcerated people, posting bail for those who can’t afford it. On Saturday, they put together a Twitter thread of local bail funds supporting protestors who have been arrested whilst demanding justice for the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all victims of police brutality and violence. Over the last six days, hundreds of protestors have been arrested in American cities, and others are still being fired upon with rubber bullets, pepper bullets, and tear gas by local authorities. A comprehensive list of local bail-out funds and fundraisers can also be found in this resource document.

See also: 

Reclaim The Block

Campaign Zero – ‘We can end police violence in America’ 

Photo credit: Author’s own screenshot

Donate with no money

This video project was created to offer people a way to donate to #blacklivesmatter without having any actual money or going out to protest themselves. 100 per cent of the ad revenue the video makes through AdSense will be donated to the associations that offer protester bail funds, help pay for family funerals, and advocacy that are listed in the beginning of the video. The video can be found here.

Email

Write to the Minneapolis police department and DA’s office 

A student from Durham University and a student from the University of Southampton have collaborated on this email template addressed to the Minneapolis police department and DA’s office, demanding greater legal measures to be taken against the police officers involved in George Floyd’s murder. The template suggests that whilst officer Derek Chauvin has been arrested and charged, other officers who were also participants should be held accountable for their inaction in avoiding his death. It concludes: “By addressing the heart of the disease instead of curing one symptom when it manifests, there is a chance that unnecessary deaths like Floyd’s can be avoided in the future.” Email addresses and a subject byline are also included in this document.

A Cambridge student who has used this template to email authorities spoke to The Cambridge Tab about why he believes lobbying via email is so important: “To be honest, up until recently, I was of the mindset that listening and reading alone was enough. I believed that it was enough just to be a bystander, silently condemning the actions of the police. I’ve now realised that this is not enough. This mindset came from a place of privilege. I was privileged enough to not have to speak about these issues and to keep silent. I didn’t realise that my privilege was a form of compliance. Silence is compliance with systematic racism.

“This is why it is so important to use whatever platforms you have to start conversations about race, even if you feel uncomfortable, even if you feel like it is not your place. Using my voice to write, send and share this email template is a way to break the silence and actively combat systematic racism. The more people that email, the more pressure will be placed on the police department and the DA. It also works to mobilise people in a conversation that many think is otherwise inaccessible.”

Image Credit: Author’s own screenshot

You can also email the University

This email template was created by Dom Borghino, a student at UCL, but can be used as a guide for all University students, to pressure academic bodies to take action in the recognition of the murder of George Floyd. It is designed to be sent to Heads of Departments, College Deans or any authority figure in the University, and demands: “During a time like this, it is therefore your responsibility to speak to your black students directly and ensure their pain and anger is recognised; to ensure their worries and concerns are listened to and addressed; to ensure their requests are met to the best of your ability. In order to truly stand in support of black students, you must also speak directly to fellow non-black students and staff to ensure they are aware of their own responsibilities to their black peers and colleagues.”

You can also take local action

Demand justice for those who have suffered from systemic racism in the UK. Write to your local MP, demanding the reopening of the investigation, and justice, for Belly Mujinga. Issues such as these are especially local as well as national, demand that your MP takes notice. Isabella Yerassimou, a student at Girton, has provided us with a template for your local MP, which can be found here. You will need to change the details relevant to your MP/area, and include your address when you sign otherwise your MP can’t reply. You can donate here.

Share

Talk to your friends and family

For many of us, parents and older relatives who don’t have the same access to social media might be more removed from this conversation than our generation is currently. Starting a conversation is crucial because it is their generation who are running our institutions, and whose silence is also complicit in allowing systematic racism to continue.

Without a doubt, opening up conversations about racism with family members will be easier for some than others. Anti-blackness in Asian communities is an issue that has been raised by several social awareness groups, and there are resources available to help people from Asian backgrounds navigate these conversations. For example, this document that specifically addresses anti-blackness in Vietnamese communities, this resource on tackling anti-blackness in South Asian communities, or this blog post, titled, ‘How to tackle anti-blackness as a non-black PoC’.

Awkward and difficult conversations are worth the chance to open up another person’s mindset. This view is shared by third-year English student, Jonathan Chan, who told The Cambridge Tab: “For many of us of Asian descent, whether British or from elsewhere, we are often the beneficiaries of white-adjacency, being held up as examples of obedient ethnic minorities to vilify those of Afro-Caribbean descent. These logics extend from Britain to many of its former colonies and inform the legacies of colourism that many of us in Asia live with today.

“It is, therefore, instructive to keep having conversations about the racial logics that govern the way we live our lives, especially when pernicious racial assumptions persist in our own families and systemic manifestations of racism continue to disadvantage our loved ones of different ethnic groups. The increasing African presence across Asia means that we often have black brothers and sisters in our own communities: resisting anti-blackness must make its way to our homes as well.”

Mobilise your social media platforms

We all have different approaches to the way we use social media, and that’s okay. But social media can be a key way to reach out to as many people as possible in the fight against racial discrimination, to stand in solidarity with POC, and to break your silence. Of course, the opposite of silence is not simply posting on your Instagram story. But if you have taken action by signing a petition, donating, or reading about systematic racism, then sharing that information through social media can help to encourage those around you to do the same.

The above Instagram post from @das.penman could be a good place to start when it comes to using your social media for social justice in this situation. It speaks specifically to us living in the UK who want to contribute to the conversation, listing some basic information about what you can read, where you can donate, and why speaking out is so important. Sharing posts that not only highlight injustices but point to effective action can be a useful way to use your voice.

Please remember – it’s really not about what other people think. It’s not about jumping on a trend (because Black Lives Matter is not a trend) and it’s not about posting something just because you feel pressured to by your friends. You have the power and the privilege to say what it is you want to say in a way that means something to you. As the above Instagram post suggests, you may not always say the right thing, but that is not a reason to say nothing at all. The post also quotes American writer and journalist, Ijeoma Oluo, whose words can perhaps capture what it means to speak out against racism today, and continuously as we encounter it in our lives:

“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you may find it, including in yourself. And that’s the only way forward.”

If all of this information seems overwhelming to you, that’s okay. You can only hope to make a positive difference one step at a time, and these are some of the ways that you can do it. Whilst you might not be able to listen to every podcast, sign every petition or donate to every cause, you can only do your best with the resources you have, and we hope that you now use them in whatever capacity you can, to make a difference. We hope this article has given you a small insight into the ways that you can be acting from lockdown, helping to break the silence on racism and create a fairer, more equal society.

Featured image credit: Instagram (@das.penman, @ohhappydani, @decolonialbulaklak, @courtneyahndesign, @stuffgracemade, @theconsciouskid)