Everyone Versus Racism: A Letter to My Children
I recently gave an assembly on the importance of sustained antiracism and showed this picture in one of the slides.
It's a picture that went viral back in June 2020. You probably remember it. It's of Patrick Hutchinson potentially saving the life of a white EDL protesters at a Black Lives Matter protest. It says so much about his bravery, his compassion, his strength, his morals, and it also says so much that the white man on his shoulders never thanked him. Black people can act with unquestionable dignity whilst under the white gaze, and yet still not be doing enough.
I am so glad that read Patrick Hutchinson's book. I didn't just learn about this events around this particular photo but I learned how perfectly it represented something bigger. About the weight he carries in spite of it all. And to read about his life, his hope, and his love, was utterly profound. In this photo he may have saved a life, but this book could well save more.
Addressing the need for the Black Lives Matter march in the first place, he starts the book pointing out that:
The unambiguous objectivity of a united quest towards equality sent a shiver down racist spines. When you’ve held power for so long, equality will look like oppression.
I've spoken about this before but to anyone who wants to deny that racism is a problem (and a lot of white people do), may I suggest you look at the reactions that these and other marches provoke. Indeed, the main reason for starting this website in 2020 was because of the vast amount of outspoken, unempathetic, hateful racists that somehow managed to side with murderous police officers, over showing solidarity with the murdered. If George Floyd's murder did anything, it exposed the closeted racists and racist policies in a way it hadn't done before. The moment laid bare the power imbalances at play everyday and a lot of people (a lot of white people) didn't like that their power and privilege were being exposed and challenged.
From the eyes of a black person, Hutchinson more eloquently puts it:
We’d been shouting for equality our whole lives, but sometimes it did feel like we were the only ones hearing each other. Bitter thanks to a global pandemic and a heartbreaking tragedy, the world woke up.
In Chapter 2, Hutchinson moves on to talking about the police, education and institutional racism in more detail. It must be said that this is not a raging campaign against white people. His letter to his children and grandchildren is a letter of love and hope. He highlights the facts not so that he can trigger the guilt to easily triggered by fragile white people, but so that he can communicate his common humanity. Incredibly, in spite of it all, he continues to be optimistic, and that's a sentiment that is rarely expressed by other writers.
One of those said facts are:
According to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, and the Guardian, the Met Police carried out over 22,000 stop-and-searches of young black men during the coronavirus lockdown, 88 per cent of which led to no further action, which means that 19,360 black people were either physically pulled from their cars or massively inconvenienced and embarrassed for no other reason than unreasonable suspicion and stereotyping.
Doubling down on stereotypes, and how we should challenge them, he later writes
Perhaps if we knew the truth about each other’s stories and struggles, we would be slower to hate and quicker to empathise. And that is down to education.
I have written about institutional racism in education before, from the perspective of someone who has been a teacher for 13 years but, as I said in that post when referring to Akala, to be able to articulate myself like Hutchinson is a skill I am not yet in possession of. He writes with such honesty, as you can see:
Black children are taught that their history began with slavery. Children from other ethnicities are taught that black people’s story began with slavery. Slavery is taught as something that European people were able to do because they were smarter, wealthier and more powerful. When I learnt about slavery, for a moment I wondered whether this was true. I was almost embarrassed to be black.
I am not a slave, and you are not a slave master, but shame doesn’t know how to free itself from its bondage in many ways besides anger.
Nobody is born hating somebody because of their colour. It’s something we have been taught, based on a period of time when the colour of your skin determined your standing in society. Today, thanks to globalisation, we live in a melting-pot world, and the hearts and minds of our nations need to wake up to the beauty of this, instead of perpetuating our horrible, history.
Can this last sentence be better put? I think not. So let's just leave that there and hope that other teachers hurry the hell up and start giving children of colour the humanity and appreciation they need in order to thrive.
This book is full of heart-felt truths. Patrick Hutchinson pours out his soul and, whatever you think about the book, one cannot deny his honesty. Punctuated with unambiguous facts and figures, it does a fantastic job at communicating without alienating. I am trying to write a book myself, and I use books like these as inspiration, knowing that I want to write from the heart in a similar way. You could be the most knowledgeable in your field but if you don't know how to find a common ground, people won't read it. Hutchinson uses his humanity and love for his children as his common ground and it is incredibly effective. His ideology and his compassion because the selling point:
If kindness and fairness were made a priority in everybody’s hearts and minds, even if just for a moment, the world would change in a day.
I feel entirely duty-bound to shower my children with love, because I know the world might try to suppress elements of their character at one point or another.
And I know when I come to write a new post on the police and institutional racism, I will be quoting this:
Black people are over-policed, and under-protected. How can we ever appear unarmed if our own skin has been weaponised?
Being a teacher, I often think about racism in education and, once again, he provides a succinct observation, this time from Jane Elliott; the teacher who provided a powerful experiment that showed the impact of racism:
She said that ‘racism is ignorance based on being miseducated. Racism is a result of being indoctrinated instead of educated.’
I haven't heard this quote before but it is brilliant. Racism is inadvertently encouraged because of the systems we have in place. To elaborate, I think in British schools, it is our selective amnesia, our distortion of history, our emphasis on white people, and our avoidance of critical race theory that perpetuates racism. This book provides the opportunities to reflect on the systemic nature of racism in a way that is unpatronising and unpretentious.
Hutchinson also says of education:
How do we attach figures to the number of children who leave their history lessons with an inferiority complex that follows them through the years like a dark shadow chained to their ankles? How do we measure imposter syndrome and micro-aggressions in the office?
Children are impressionable; they are susceptible to the behaviour they are exposed to.
The last few chapters of the book have a common theme of hurt. It's incredibly impactful because by this point I was already engrossed in the material, by his thoughts and by his motivations.
Where there are tears over oppression, there are cheers from the oppressors. This became unnervingly evident in the months following the protest. Since everyone was online and expecting some kind of opinion or statement from just about everybody with a platform, some views were revealed to be part of the problem. It was as if some people could see a black man be murdered in broad daylight and still be convinced that black people were the problem.
Black men in the UK are forty times more likely than white men to be stopped and searched. Less than 16 per cent of these stops result in arrest, yet over 20 per cent result in verbal and/ or physical violence from the police towards the innocent man.
To be unfairly arrested. To be spat on, raped, criminalised and not given a fair trial. This is what our taxes go towards. It’s not like we get a tax holiday every year in return for this service that works against black people. No. We serve them in our complicity.
In 2010, according to a report published by Release, it was revealed that black people were 50 per cent less likely than white people to use drugs, but six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs. In the same year, the police charged 44 per cent of white people who were found with cocaine. They charged 78 per cent of black people.
Black people are jailed at six times the rate of white people for the same drug offences.
It seems as though the drugs that are used in the black community are far more heavily criminalised than those more common to white culture, like alcohol and cocaine, despite the impact of the latter being far worse.
White offenders have had a consistently lower average custodial sentence length for indictable offences than all other ethnic groups since 2014.
All this means is that, statistically, white people can get away with crime far more often than any other racial group.
After George Floyd was killed, some news channels began circulating stories about his past transgressions from his youth. As if staying alive is something that has to be earned if you are not white. To live is to exercise our birth right.
Hutchinson ends on a chapter entitled Legacy .The legacy of George Floyd and the legacy of racism. It's a plea to act. And, rightly, he targets those who are silent. White people are so often the perpetrators of creating and sustaining racist policy and yet, if they were willing to call out inequality in the same way black people do, perhaps racism wouldn't be as systemic as it is.
Even those of you who are not directly affected by inequality but continue to live in an unfair society cannot continue to accept what is happening. You must call out racism in all walks of life and remain silent no more.
I've read a lot of books about race and racism, and few manage to have as much impact as Patrick Hutchinson's book. He seeks to relate to the reader and, without encouraging guilt or denial, successfully brings them along by encouraging empathy. Empathy, love and compassion are, after all, the tools we need to challenge racism. His candid, unfiltered honesty is as brave and as compassionate as his actions, when he potentially saved an EDL protesters life, and his arguments as strong as the shoulders that carried him. Now almost two years since the George Floyd murder, this book still has a message that needs to heard today. Hutchinson has proved himself to being a brilliant communicator and I thank him for sharing his story, his teachings, and his vision with me.