One year on: When will this ‘rite of passage’ end for future generations?

25th May 2021

This week marks the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. Another life taken by a racially motivated act of violence. Over the past year, we as a charity have been reflecting and making changes to ensure we are anti-racist in all we do, as individuals, organisationally, and as a member of the social work community. You’ll hear from social workers, fellows and staff as they share their reflections.

Lisa Zaranyika, principal practice tutor, Frontline programme

The last 12 months have certainly been a challenge for all of us, as we have struggled to come to terms with, and adapt to life in a global pandemic.

We have all experienced the frustration and anxiety of life in lockdown, and the concepts of life and death have been brought uncomfortably, and for many painfully near.  As I reflect on the past year, perhaps one of the most difficult challenges has been the realisation that racial discrimination persists, and I would argue is exacerbated, during times of hardship. This was evident from the differential rates of COVID-19 infection and deaths in communities racialised as Black and Brown, along with many other racial disparities. It was, however, the slow and deliberate murder of a Black man captured on camera, that caught the attention of the world. The murder of George Floyd tragically epitomised the apparent dispensability of the lives of those racialised as Black, at a time when we were all keenly aware of just how precious life is.

For me, one of the most powerful memories during that time was at home with my family.

I remember my father looking across at my son one evening with a sadness in his eyes, as he lowered and shook his head in response to the incredulous questioning from my 14 year old, “But how can they just kill a man in the middle of the street in broad daylight – how can that happen?” In that moment perhaps both my father and I recognised the painful rite of passage for this 14-year-old Black boy; one that I had experienced at 16, when Stephen Lawrence was murdered; my dad had experienced it first hand when he arrived in the UK in 1968, aged 18. It is the moment that you become aware that the systems and structures in the world around you are not designed with you in mind, and that the Black body you inhabit subjects you to an external gaze, and carries with it connotations of which you had no idea. I wondered how many generations before us, had experienced this, and how many generations to come would.

The day after this poignant evening I woke with a heavy chest, struggling for air, and began whispering to myself, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”

I realised that I was uttering the words that were cried by George Floyd, and it was then I realised how deeply his murder had impacted me. I remember joining my team meeting, and starting our usual check in. One of my colleagues spoke of their struggles that week following the reports of the murder of George Floyd, reflecting how this had affected them. I followed sharing my experience and feelings that morning. The response from my team was perhaps one of the glimmers of light in what felt like such darkness. They listened, they heard, they validated and they cried with me. I felt perhaps for the first time, the power of allyship, and that gave me hope in way that I had not experienced before. It is a hope that has remained, as the journey for all of us has continued.

There have been many more glimmers of light since that time.

The setting up of a Black Affinity Group within the charity, which has provided a space to be able to share experiences and ideas, to be heard and to hear, to understand and to be understood. The initiation of a Racial Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan by Frontline, has also been a powerful signal of intent to do better in relation to race and racism. I have also started a two-year course funded by Frontline at Birkbeck University entitled ‘Culture, Diaspora and Ethnicity’. I am determined to have a better understanding of the history of race, imperialism and colonialism, to understand its meaning for me personally and professionally, and to do all that I can to ensure that my son does not have to have the ‘rite of passage’ conversation with his grandchildren.

Read all our blogs from the anniversary of George Floyd here.