George Floyd’s death and other manifestations of inequality and injustice in the Global South, and how we deal with them have critical lessons to teach us about how the fight for justice is carried out in the Global North, says Segun Olowookere.
Unlike other incidents however this one was filmed, it was blatant, with warnings and pleas from George (RIP) and those filming to stop. We cannot afford to be numb to this because I know that could have been me or any other black man you know.
This comes in the midst of a global pandemic that has caused an unprecedented lockdown around the world, especially in the Global North. The number of BAME deaths in both the US and the UK have been disproportionate compared to the number of BAME citizens. And BAME people also make up a disproportionate number of our essential workers, helping to fight the pandemic on the frontline. It is interesting to me that the anger and frustration felt at George’s death has seemingly overtaken the fear of catching COVID19. Thousands have chosen to forego social distancing rules to march, in the UK, the USA and across the world.
The focus has now shifted to these demonstrations. When I see marches, protests, looting and rioting, I remember the great words of Dr Martin Luther King who taught us;
A riot is the voice of the unheard.”
Dr Martin Luther King
Now, I am not agreeing with the looting or the damaging of property, but we have to listen. People are frustrated, saddened, in deep pain and they must be heard.
I’ve been reflecting on what I can do to prevent injustices like George’s death from happening again. I spend a lot of my time fighting for change, and against injustices as I work in the International Development sector. In many of the countries we work in these protests would not be allowed and would be countered with even more extreme violence. So how do we hear and listen to the pain, anger and frustrations that are coming out of the communities we work in?
In part the anger we are witnessing, and feeling, is caused by the US authorities’ speed to react. They were slow to arrest and charge the police officer who led the murder of George Floyd. The investigation that we should all follow closely, has lessons to teach the International Development sector. If we are slow to react, for fear of making a mistake or risking our board’s tolerance, we can make a problem worse and lose the trust of the communities we serve. Could the rioting, protests and looting in the city of Minneapolis have been avoided if a quicker arrest had been made? Could more people in the communities we work in be helped by making quicker decisions in funding and programme response?
Our organisations exist to reduce and fight the injustices in the world. Both the organisations themselves and the funding they channel come primarily from the US and other countries in the Global North. They lead the agenda, shape the narrative and choose the language used to fight injustice. It is crucial then how these countries respond to domestic injustices. And that we represent minorities better in our global operations. They need to be included on the board, in senior leadership teams and all other levels throughout. If we don’t stand to fight for our fellow citizens here, how will we fight for those in the developing world?
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr Martin Luther King
Currently, we fly in when there is funding and fly out when the funding dries up but the fight remains. We feel helpless when the funding dries up and as a Finance Director I totally understand the challenges of limited funding but what do the communities do in this situation…they stay and fight…they have too. Instead of having a fight or flight mentality we need to be fully committed to fight.
Currently, funding is distributed unequally with only a small percentage actually going to the most impactful and rooted, local NGOs. We must shift the power to local NGOs but for this to happen we need our approach to change, our strategy should be much more focused on enabling communities to fight for themselves in a more effective way. This means empowering communities to drive accountability, creating new economies though better business brains, health care systems that are sustainable and provide quality care, supporting education systems that set up children to thrive and creating new values led, committed and passionate young leaders that are full of integrity and can drive forward the transformation before our funding dries up.
To rephrase Dr Martin Luther King;
Our organisations will begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
Segun is a trustee for The Blagrave Trust and Treasurer for SafeHands. Segun spent 3 year working with Restless Development and then went on to work for Humentum, Comic Relief and the UN before coming back to Restless Development as Finance Director at the beginning of 2020.
Segun is also a social entrepreneur and passionate about inspiring young people and helping them to achieve their dreams and is the author of the motivational book You Might As Well.