All credit to Chyna-Benaé Edwards who wrote and performed this speech at the Worcester Black Lives Matter Protest on the 13th June, 2020.
My name is Chyna-Benaé Edwards and I’m 17 and I’ve been living in Worcestershire for all my life. I wanted to firstly say thank you for everyone attending and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in Worcester.
I think it is hugely important to firstly cut to the chase, to acknowledge as a community what is going on worldwide. The Black Lives Matter Movement. A movement that has brought us all here today, literally fighting against the genocide of black human beings.
Now what I am going to get you all to do is something quite inclusive, something that everyone can do. Firstly, close your eyes, picture that you’re looking into a mirror or simply looking at yourself in the third person. I want you to study yourself, list the things that you love, the things that you like. What ambitions do you have for the future? Do you want to become a doctor, a nurse, a teacher perhaps? A singer or actress even. What do you want to live your one life as? Your only life. Do you want children? Do you want a family? Do you want to grow old with a loved one?
Now what I want you to do is imagine that everything you just studied you have had to fight for. You have had to fight for those ambitions, those children. You have had to fight for your family and for your only life. The reason you have to do this (I hope you’re still imagining yourself in third person) is because of your skin colour. Something you can’t change and don’t even want to change, but you live in a world where unlike everyone else, your life is written on a cardboard sign that it “matters”. That is my life. My people are fighting to be accepted into the ‘All Lives Matter Movement’. We are fighting for our life to ‘matter’ as much as yours does. That is my reality. But we have been fighting for years and years against oppression. We are fighting so that you do not see us as different. For equality.
Ever since I was little I’ve experienced racism from a young age having lived in a predominantly white area. I’m ashamed to say it actually became the norm to me. From the age of when I was allowed to ‘play out’ – you know when kids who live near each play together, I used to get asked questions
“Did you stay out too long in the sun?”
“Why is your skin like that?”
“You’re like poo?”
“Have a wash, you’re dirty”
I soon went from an innocent 7-year-old to knowing I was different. No exaggeration, from that day on I kept my skin colour with me, always conscious of it. When it came to netball clubs, to public transport, to classes at school, it was with me. Statements continued into secondary school, where I had it the worst (despite the fact you may think people would be more educated) ;
“You’re such an N-word”
“At least I’m not as black as her”
“n-word n-word n-word”
“It’s just a word”
“It’s just a song”
“I’m not racist but..”
“Why do black people have big lips and noses”.
“Where are you from, wait no…where are you really from”
“You’re pretty for a black girl”
“My parents were embarrassed that I had a black friend”.
I kept the idea that people used to see my colour before they saw me. You could say that they were “just ignorant or uneducated” perhaps, but that is not acceptable, and what I want to emphasise is that no one is born racist, no one. Philosophers have proven that at birth, babies have a moral understanding of ‘right and wrong’. Corruption is what leads to ignorance. From the words of Nelson Mandela ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world’.
When one hurts we all hurt. “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. We have our own George Floyds in this country, we have had our own George Floyd’s in this country. I am 9 times more likely to be stopped and searched, 3 times more likely to be arrested and 5 times more likely to suffer police brutality than that of my white friends. And yet, you question the existence of racism in our country? I want us all to ask ourselves, how much more blood needs to be spilt? How many more hearts need to shatter? How many more black people have to die at the hands of racism? How many more protests where we shout for our lives to matter? I love you, George Floyd, you have pulled this world together, I truly believe you had a destiny and it was this, your family mourns, but I ask the universe this, your spirituality or God or whatever your belief that you solace in this.
From the words of Will Smith ‘Racism is not getting worse it’s getting filmed’. So how do we solve this? The first step is to never give up hope, our generation CAN make a difference. We’re making that difference right here, right now in real-time, we just have to believe in it. Believe in the ability to change. Education is our strongest tool against injustice, so I ask you, why haven’t we utilised it? Black history month is not enough. We are not just a month for your interests. Black history did not begin with changemakers, so why are the pages of our history before your colonisation torn out of the books? The education system needs to prioritise my history just as much as my peers. My ancestors were a part of the creation of the world as we know it today, and their part in doing so cannot just be erased. We need to stop glorifying the ‘white-washed past’ and start teaching the reality of it.
Slavery never ended. We are now living in an era disguised as mass incarceration. There is overwhelming data that shows just how wrong our “justice” system is. You are wrong to think we have moved on from those things. That society has “progressed” as we are so often told. My nan, who came over in the 1960s was greeted with signs like ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’. She wasn’t allowed to rent certain properties. You may say “oh but those signs aren’t around anymore”, so why do black people and other minorities makeup only 14% of the population in England and Wales, yet makeup 25% of its prison population? It’s because a system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect. The UK has proven itself on countless occasions to be a country with systemic discrimination deep within its walls of which we are so quick to be proud of, but to lie to ourselves is something we cannot do for any longer. We need to stitch a new garment, of a sustainable fabric that fits all. The police and the people who oath to protect us must individually and institutionally be held accountable for how they operate. Community-based anti-violence strategies need to be put in place to increase safety without having to automatically resort to police. We live in a world where trained cops can act on impulse but untrained civilians must remain calm with a gun to their head. We live in a world where white privilege and white superiority towers over fundamental values of humanity. We live in a world where Ahmaud Arbery’s cannot run. We live in a world where Breonna Taylor’s cannot sleep. We live in a world where George Floyd’s cannot breathe. We cannot live in that world any longer.