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One Year after George Floyd’s death: reflections on racial and social equality from Nairobi, Nigeria and the Netherlands

To mark the killing of George Floyd in 2020 May, we asked three staff members from across the Oxfam Confederation to reflect on how they felt this moment last year and their thoughts on racial inequalities, globally and nationally.

Reflections from Kenya: views of Amina Hersi

What were your thoughts this time last year, when you heard or saw what had happened to George Floyd? Did it touch your life, and if so, how?

I refused to watch the video that was circulating of George Floyd’s murder. His murder happened during a spike in several femicides here in Kenya, in Ghana, South Africa, and Namibia. I was angry, with a sense of hopelessness, as his killing was yet another killing at the hands of a militarised police force.

It affected my life as someone who has worked on enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. Sadly, the killing of George Floyd was not a unique story, yet, I was angry at governments, at our leaders, I was not too fond of any police or law enforcement agency, and as the news went viral, I got angry at people trying to change the narrative, trying to justify the murder, when all they have done is instrumentalise black and brown people; as diversity quotas or speak for them on commitments to anti-racist principles.

I became emotionally drained and quite aggressive in my interactions with white colleagues who did not feel the need to recognise their power and privilege.

Do you feel the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests sparked and inspired people in your country and continent? Do you see any natural connections between the issues people were protesting about during the global BLM and the problems minorities face in your country?

The Black Lives Matter protests sparked an online conversation about how Kenyans need to continue to fight against police brutality. There are many commonalities between the brutality black men face in the US and the treatment of young, poor or ethnically marginalised communities here in Kenya.

The protests, however, did not take off here in Kenya because of the strict lockdowns and the violence and brutality meted on civilians that tried to gather and hold solidarity protests or even address the crackdowns and severe restrictions on freedom of assembly at the time.

We all felt connected to the international discourse. We cheered on the protestors in the States, the UK and Belgium from our homes in Kenya. We were energised by how Floyd’s killing prompted an honest and public discussion on racism as a systemic power to construct to denies the value of life and liberty of black people for the benefit of white people.

Does your life as an individual in your country have any parallels with black Americans in the US?

Yes, absolutely. The police structures built by colonial and militarised systems continue to perpetuate violence against black and brown people. The police force in the States was created to police black people during slavery, and the reforms have not changed to dismantle those core values. Here in Kenya, the British colonisers created the police service to police Kenyans during colonial times. As much as there are some efforts to reform the police, their training, their procedures, their funding is still coming from donors (arguably, the colonisers), meaning any reform will be futile and centred around militarism than protect and serve.

What changes would you like to see in your country to have more fairness and equality?

I have always maintained security, and the concept of security needs redefining to have more focus on human security than militarised security. I believe in the idea of defunding the police or dismantle the structures and start from scratch. We centre our energy on ensuring more equitable policies, social protection, and services, addressing many of the root causes of insecurity and building trust within the marginalised communities.

As a person working in International Development, what changes would you like to see to make the sector anti-racist?

I think this report is quite comprehensive in ways to decolonise aid: https://globalfundcommunityfoundations.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/PD-Decolonising-Aid-Report-final.pdf

Reflections from the Netherlands: views from Milka Reinhard

What were your thoughts this time last year, when you heard or saw what had happened to George Floyd? Did it touch your life, and if so, how?

When the killing of George Floyd took place, I read the news; however, I didn’t watch the video because I thought — same old story again, and I couldn’t pull myself emotionally to watch the video. I also wanted to wait a couple of days for more information to be released to form an objective opinion.

A couple of days after that, there was commotion globally, people protesting, and I realised something more was happening. However, I still choose not to watch the video, especially after detailing the killing I read in a newspaper. I have seen videos of police brutality before, and I didn’t want to relive it again. I was in self-protection mode.

Not watching the video doesn’t mean that I didn’t care about what happened, but it is such an emotional roller coaster that it hurts to see such content. I regularly watch and read content on Black people’s difficulties outside of their ‘community’ and within. I am very conscious of everything that is happening. I choose to select when and how I consume this type of news.

Do you feel the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests sparked and inspired people in your country and continent? Do you see any natural connections between the issues people were protesting about during the global BLM and the problems minorities face in your country?

I watched and saw the global uprising for Black Lives Matter. I didn’t expect that there would also be a protest in the Netherlands. But I understand it from the point of view of Black people living here. I’m always aware of my skin colour, and maybe that is partially the result of small micro-aggressions I face that most don’t notice.

What Black people experience in the Netherlands is different from Black people in the US. It is not so evident here as in the US; the discrimination of a man being shot or killed by a policeman is an obvious form of discrimination; here, the bias is more hidden. So, the BLM movement, for me it is not just a month of protest, but it symbolises something we keep enduring our whole lives.

Does your life as an individual in your country have any parallels with black Americans in the US?

It hurts when I hear people say that things in the Netherlands aren’t that bad here, and we, black people, have to be grateful that we don’t get killed by the police. But most black people across the globe understand that the global Black Lives Matter protests were black people collectively saying enough is enough to the everyday discriminations they face.

In the Netherlands, discrimination is hard to prove. You won’t get shot by police, but it can be that you will get denied entry into a club or have difficulties finding a specific job or followed by security in a shop. There are a lot of microaggressions and mistreatments that Black people face here.

What changes would you like to see in your country to have more fairness and equality?

For me, it starts with education. We learn so much about important events such as World War II, but we hardly know about slavery; it is merely a chapter in the textbooks, let’s say, so that needs to change.

Through education, we need to raise awareness about our shared history. We rarely remember The Golden Century as a period of colonial expansion.

People have to learn more about the suffering that slavery caused, the large scale human atrocities. Sadly, I often think that Black people, whose ancestors were slaves, still carry that part of our history unconsciously with us. It feels like it never goes away.

As a person working in International Development, what changes would you like to see to make the sector anti-racist?

I think it all begins with having a diverse staff. When we talk about inclusive content, we need different people with different perspectives, creating and reviewing the content.

When we talk about content and fundraising images, we need to have equal conversations with country offices and not about them and how they want their pictures used.

Internally, we need more awareness about these issues across the organisation and more debates and discussions because many people are sometimes unaware of their biases.

Reflections from Nigeria

What were your thoughts this time last year, when you heard or saw what had happened to George Floyd? Did it touch your life, and if so, how?

I had a lot going through my mind this time last year.

Firstly, I was like, yet again, another African American has been a victim of police brutality, and there will be no justice. It was pretty sad, and it resonated with me because it was similar to some of the issues young Nigerians face at the hands of the police, which are meant to help maintain law and order.

Do you feel the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests sparked and inspired people in your country and continent? Do you see any natural connections between the issues people were protesting about during the global BLM and the problems minorities face in your country?

The BLM movement was a global movement was seen globally. The BLM inspired young people to protest against various human rights abuses in other countries outside of the US — in the UK, #EndSars protest in Nigeria, #ShutitDownprotest in Namibia, and other African countries such as Congo. The connection I see is that all the protests were all for social justice issues and led by young people.

Does your life as an individual in your country have any parallels with black Americans in the US?

I like to see my life as being different from everybody else. But of course, there is still a lot of discrimination and abuse by the police regardless that we all globally face as black people, Nigerians and African. The police brutality has led to some level of distrust for the police. I know they say ‘The Police is your friend’, but that is not always the case in Nigeria. I do not feel entirely safe by the Nigerian police anymore.

One thing for sure is that there’s still a lot of social justice issues with regards to access to equal opportunity, human rights and participation that needs addressing here.

What changes would you like to see in your country to have more fairness and equality?

Laws and policies should be more inclusive and representative. The National Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill should be passed into law and implemented with accountability.

The youth need to be empowered and actively engaged to participate in decision-making processes. There should be strict punishment for anyone that infringes on the rights of individuals. I want the judiciary to pass and implement laws that prosecute human rights abuses (especially abuse of women, youth & marginalised groups) no matter who they are. There should also be accountability in the judiciary process. The National Human Rights Commission seems to be comatose and needs to be revived. There needs to be more transparency & accountability by the government in general on these issues.

As a person working in International Development, what changes would you like to see to make the sector anti-racist?

International development organisations should have standard procedures and codes of conduct in place to check racist abuses.

The International Community should advocate more on the protection and enlargement of our civic space should be continued. Strict background checks on all employees working in the sector and monitoring of individual’s online presence should also happen during the recruitment process.

There should also be a list of human rights and racist abusers to name and shame them as a deterrent. Civil society organisations should also lead the process of compiling this list. The communities that people help also need education and training on human rights.

Oxfam is a world-wide development organization that mobilizes the power of people against poverty.