Susan van de Ven

Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Bassingbourn, Melbourn, Meldreth and Whaddon Learn more

#BlackLivesMatter: Student voices from the villages

by Susan van de Ven on 9 June, 2020

This account was published by Cllr Pippa Heylings of Histon on June 6th:

#blacklivesmatter and today at the socially distanced, peaceful protest in Cambridge, the focus was on the “lives” part as much as paying respect to those who have died at the hands of police brutality. It has broken me a little more inside but also let some light in through those cracks. The protest was organised by a young man from our village. He spoke hoarsely of his own experience and invited other young black people to tell of their lives growing up with racism in Cambridgeshire and their distress was most evident when they spoke of what they faced in our schools. As Munya said, “This is not a violent protest about revenge. Imagine how that could be when here we are politely asking you all to socially distance, handing out masks, you know. No, I am really a nice guy but right now I want you to feel our pain, the pain of growing up here in Cambridgeshire and from the age of 7 being called a nigger and a coon. Of shutting ourselves in our bedroom crying and wanting to be white. Of being stopped by police 10 times on the way back from sixth form and having my backpack searched because what? Because I’m snorting textbooks? Of having our parents tell us that we have to work twice as hard as our white friends and being afraid for us going out at night after we’ve turned 12…”. His own voice broke when a young woman then spoke “truth” and said that this was the first time in her 20 years that she had felt comfortable and able to wear her hair down in public. “First time in her 20 years”, he cried!

Well, it worked. I know that this happens. But today I felt it so deeply. I felt and feel the pain.

I am in awe of these young people. It was a well organised event even when they didnt expect the numbers that eventually turned up. They had a programme and lots of stewards (including Asha) marshalling and reminding people to stay apart and then encouraging a staggered departure at the end. I stayed on the margins maintaining a wide berth because of Rob’s vulnerability to infection at home.

The crowd was mainly young, mainly black but also quite a few white people, young and old. And this time, that is right. Because we are the ones who have to make a difference now. We need to be ready to be uncomfortable and recognise our white privilege and unconscious entitlement – and then be ready to forego it. As Munya said: ” there are BlackLivesMatters protests going on in many countries right now, making this the largest civil rights movement in the world!” That made me think long and hard – and know that it was right to have been there and standing with them at this moment of a historic surge in speaking out for civil rights.

Just for now, I’ll let myself cry a little. Wash my hands continuously and maintain an even larger distance from Rob for a few days.

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