On the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, Chantal Senya, Customer Service Advisor and Chair of MHFA England’s Project Sapphire Champions, reflects on what has developed in the discourse of racism, the impacts on mental health and wellbeing, and the challenge that lies ahead to dismantle it.
Black Lives Matter: sixteen characters, three words, and one cause. 

A phrase that I, as a Black-British Woman, have a deep and personal relationship with. As somebody that has experienced racism in its various forms (implicit, explicit, systemic, and interpersonal) it has encouraged me to see the discourse of racism shift. 

Lived experiences and uncomfortable conversations are slowly becoming integrated into the structure that we call society. Social justice has adopted a digital face, and in an era where 53% of the world’s population use social media, hashtags like #SayTheirNames and #BlackLivesMatter have had the opportunity to spread like proverbial wildfire. 

Since his murder, which laid bare the most horrifying impacts of systemic racism, George Floyd’s name has graced the cover of every page and screen imaginable, even placing as one of the top ten searched for names of 2020.

One question I found myself asking was, what would have happened in the case of George Floyd had it not been for the prevalence of social media in accelerating the impact of social justice? The answer? We may never fully know, but I can guess that we may not have seen one of the rarest opportunities to hold somebody accountable for their crime.

Derek Chauvin’s trial verdict left me stunned at the realisation, that by holding him accountable, my own thoughts, feelings and emotions towards George Floyd’s murder had been validated. Seeing an institution which traditionally rules in favour of White Privilege deliver such a verdict felt like justice had been delivered, not just for George Floyd and his family, but anyone who has been negatively impacted by racism in any form. Nobody is shielded from the cry of injustice.

Yet still over the course of the last year I have seen the dismissal of racism and its impact. As George Floyd’s murder took place in the US, and the origins of Black Lives Matter are based in the US, a phrase I have heard is – “but that was in the US, the UK is not as bad.” I see this as a failure to empathise and understand the transatlantic consequences of racism. 

As a Black-British Woman I have lived my whole life in the UK, you could argue that I only know the impacts of racism in my home nation. However, my trauma and empathy extend beyond my home, in that I can understand and relate to the acts of racism, regardless of location.

Something I want to emphasise here, is that the murder of George Floyd is only one example of the fatalities of racism. When I see stories like this, often on social media, I am reminded of the facts that Black People and People of Colour are up to twice as likely to die from Covid-19, ten times more likely to be stopped and searched, and half say they are as likely to have experienced racism at work as in the street. And while more positive conversations have happened in the last year, xenophobia and anti-Asian hate crimes during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 had seen a staggering 21% increase in the UK.

“the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering”, (United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres May, 2020)

The emotional toll of this cannot be underestimated. Our identity is a central asset to our mental health, and I have seen and heard and felt the mental health and wellbeing impacts that it can have on People of Colour and Black people. The fact that some continue to downplay these effects can drain your emotional energy, particularly if the people affected feel continually expected to lead this change. 

To continue shifting the discourse of race and racism, and ultimately an equitable society, we must also consider intersectionality in our support for one another. The importance of intersectionality lies in the fact that all forms of oppression work to uphold other forms of oppression. 

For instance, hate crimes against transgendered people increased 16% between 2019 and 2020. The impact of this is amplified when intertwined with other social categorisations such as ethnicity or religion. As we emerge from the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, this adds another dimension and a sense of urgency to making sure that we can prevent further discrimination and support ourselves and our peers. 

If we allow one system of oppression to continue, we then make allowances for non-inclusive behaviours such as discrimination, racism, and inequity to continue. To challenge this, we must vehemently oppose and address these sentiments. 

We all have the right to shine in the space that we share, irrespective of race, gender, religion, class, sexual orientation and ability or disability. We also have the right to have a safe space, where we can access the same benefits given to those who may not experience discrimination. We cannot see equality, without equity. 

I would like to use this space to honour the lives of those lost to racial discrimination: Breonna Taylor, Belly Mujinga, Adam Toledo, Elijah McClain, Tony McDade, and many, many others who were unable to access the human right to life, and the opportunity to flourish in it. 

A year on from the murder of George Floyd, I cannot say what the next year will bring us in the ever-transforming discourse of race, White Privilege and racism. What I can say is that moving forward, we must adopt a mentality that seeks to challenge, confront, and change our attitudes to see a total transformation in dismantling of racism. We do this, by living unapologetically, continuously learning and adapting our lessons to make life easier for the next person. 
For more information on MHFA England's commitment to being an anti-racist social enterprise, read our Statement of Intent and download free resources to help your organisation on their journey.