Black Lives Matter has been thrown into the news and all our consciousness following yet another black man’s death in the USA due to Police brutality. This has triggered a global reaction expressing the frustration of those who don’t feel that they are listened to.
Having been brought up in St. Helens after the war, I can honestly say the only minority ethnic people I experienced in my youth, apart from the staff at the Chinese Restaurant, was a family up the road whose father was white and mother Asian. All I can remember was thinking how handsome their sons were and how beautiful their daughters. I never really thought about it otherwise.
In the 60s though I would hear and tell all the ‘in’ jokes deriding black people along with the IRA and others whom we feared. Much later I visited apartheid South Africa to hear the very same jokes aimed at the ANC by white South Africans whilst some of our politicians labelled Nelson Mandela a terrorist. I was appalled by what I saw and became an avid anti-apartheid supporter on my return.
Working then in a West Midlands borough with a 20%+ minority ethnic population my work exposed all the racism that was etched in my mind through UK biased history lessons at school without a mention of Black History or the engagement of Commonwealth troops alongside my father during the war. The media’s negative portrayal of failed African leaders, crime in the black community, Islamic bogey men and mass immigration did not match up with the people I met with regularly. These were worthy, able and committed community and religious leaders from across the Commonwealth and elsewhere who were proud appreciative citizens of the town and the UK. Yes, we had our issues but we worked hard to work together for good.
As I was wrestling with my ‘built in’ racism, I went to Croatia during the Bosnian conflict with an aid convoy team from the town led by the emergency services. To see the Mosque in close proximity to the Catholic Cathedral and the Orthodox Church in Zagreb and then go and see how the Balkans was being torn apart in a hateful way whilst those three communities Bosnians, Croats and Serbs, supposed members of those three faith communities, attacked each other mercilessly. I was devastated by the hate being generated in that conflict and the animal instincts highlighted by the wrong sort of nationalism, greed and racial and religious stereotypes.
I’m still struggling with my racism but am completely committed to its eradication as my faith, my conscience and my conviction grows about us all being citizens of the good world that God created.
John Davis is Assistant Priest at St. Gabriel’s, Huyton and an ISR Visiting Fellow