Living Differently: Emily
Working for Racial Justice
In this new series of blog articles, different members of our community share how they are responding to recent conversations around racial justice. The call for each of us in this moment is to live differently, to listen and learn, and to work for change in our own lives and our spheres of influence. Here’s how Emily Hurst is responding:
Hi. My name is Emily and I have White privilege. Not a conventional introduction, I know! I have been utterly changed though by the impacts of George Floyd’s murder. I’ve been asked to share how I am seeking to live differently as a result. However you’ve been responding though (or if you haven’t!), I want you to know that you are so loved and that there is grace for you. I am not claiming to have the answers. I’m just sharing some of my experience as a White teenager whose perspective has been transformed by this moment in Black Lives Matter history.
When I first saw the video of George Floyd being murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, I was shocked and horrified. Then I felt extremely uncomfortable; I was faced with my own ignorance and I knew that I had to do something about it.
I needed to see more of the reality that I had been ignoring for too long. I went to the gov.uk website as I knew I could find some statistics to read about there (I apologise for the inherent geekiness of this!). ‘Stop and search’ seemed like an obvious place to start as I’d heard about the inequality in this area before.
Sure enough, there in writing was all the data proving that our police force is plagued with the same racial profiling as the American’s. I went on to read about prison, unemployment, household income, drug dependency, and mental health. I could see more clearly than I had ever done before, that, if you are Black in Britain, all the odds are stacked against you. And it hurt, and I knew I needed to learn more.
For the first time in my life, I read about the British Civil Rights Movement. I read unfamiliar names such as Claudia Jones and Paul Stephenson. At school, we had learnt about the American fight for Civil Rights in the 1960s and that was good, but why don’t we learn about what was happening right here in the UK? Perhaps because we, as a nation, remain unrepentant of our past mistakes. This certainly seemed to be the case for the British Empire’s treatment of its Kenyan colony, as described by Marc Parry in The Guardian. This article again opened my eyes to the vulgarity of the history of racial injustice in Britain.
The facts were useful but they were not everything. Something I found profoundly helpful was Christine Caine’s ‘A Conversation on Race and Restoration’ with Dr Anita Phillips. One thing that has really stuck with me from listening to Dr Anita was the idea of dehumanisation. Our society dehumanised Black people during the slave trade, and this attitude lives on in all of us now without us really acknowledging it.
I was moved to repentance and I ask daily that God would show me how to uproot this societal programming from my life. It is uncomfortable and it is worth it. We know that Jesus loves and values all people. His heart is for the oppressed. And so that is where my heart must always be.
We believe in a God of action and so this had to be my response to the oppression we are seeing. As my privilege also extends to my ‘class’, I wanted to give money to some causes fighting against racial injustice. For me, these were Black Lives Matter, the National Bailout Fund and Campaign Zero.
Along with this, I felt that I could use my time to write and to sign petitions. In the last few weeks, I have emailed more political officials than I have ever before which also prompted me to think about making this more of a regular thing. This looked like writing to those managing specific cases such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade, as well as writing to the UK Secretary of Education about the failings in our national curriculum when it comes to Black history.
Taking action also meant painting a sign with the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ on and chanting them with thousands of others in Birmingham city centre. I felt challenged and inspired by Dr Anita’s call for the White members of the Body to share in the suffering of the Black community. It was a moment of solidarity, as we called for justice and systematic change.
It was around this time that I realised that many of my influences, especially on Social Media, are White. I have sought to follow more artists and activists of colour which has been so good. The content I’ve seen has been a blend of beautiful, helpful and challenging. It’s also taken me further out of my ‘bubble’ of people who hold the same worldview as me.
As I’ve hopefully shown, this moment has altered how I want to seek to live. The question for many of us, then, is how does this become about more than this moment?
Throughout lockdown, the phrase, ‘go back to normal’ has been used relentlessly. I realise that so much of our normal as a society was wrong. If normal is dehumanising people of colour, then let’s not go back there.
I acknowledge my need to lay down the self each day. Each morning, I want to ask that Jesus would fill me with his love, whilst I neglect the parts of me that are shaped by our broken society. As John puts in, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30 NIV).
In the harrowing yet brilliant documentary on Netflix, 13th, one of the experts talks about the need for ‘re-humanisation’. I think this begins with each one of us recognising our privilege and prejudice, then opening our hearts to the restorative work of Christ, who has grace for each of us as well as a deep desire for justice.
Please join me in praying, learning and taking action.