“I have been taught to celebrate different identities but I was never taught about how to cope when the world is crumbling.”

#iwill Champion Olivia, 17, shares her emotional response to the Black Lives Matter protests, and how footage of British police officers mocking the movement motivated her to write to her MP.

I live in a world of conflicting opinions.

At school, I have been taught to celebrate different identities and live in a community as a happy family, but I was never taught about cognitive dissonance and how to cope when the world is crumbling over the social construct of race.

It is a constant battle that I have fought alone because silence settles over people’s heads like fog.

I told myself it’s only happening in America. I ignored that I have family on the East Coast. I ignored the basic fact that racism exists in London the same way it exists in America. I played my British card and hoped it would make me invisible.

Growing up in an American school, I have struggled to develop my black identity being a racial minority. I was worried that I had become whitewashed. Suddenly, this all became too much for me to handle. I needed to detach myself because I knew I was not emotionally equipped to read, watch, listen, and speak about an issue that affects my core. So I labeled my issues of invalidation, internalized oppression, and other fears into boxes and set them aside waiting for the dust to settle.

More and more Black men and women are murdered in the United States by white supremacists and their police. Black Lives Matter trended on social media in response and I hated it. Instagram was filled with black squares, videos of Black Men assaulted on the streets circulated people’s stories. I was asked to be desensitized by a single topic that wants my blackness on the ground, as an inferior, suffocating.

The silence was lifting, and my boxes were being thrown open against invisible walls of denial and privilege. For the first time social media, Instagram, Tiktok, and Twitter, drained me. My average hours spent on each dropped.

White friends and acquaintances were speaking out – but I was furious. They had never said a word about Black Lives Matter before, and never participated in a single discussion. What about George Floyd’s death prompted them to realise Black lives are in danger and have been in danger for the last four hundred years? I cried and I screamed. This movement is not and will never be a trend for teenagers or companies to join to look woke. It is about human lives, babies, children, and adults that millions disregard every day.

The black squares were in solidarity, they said – but I didn’t want to hear about companies saying they will support their people. Why should I believe they will do it when they have not done so in the past? I need to see concrete plans and policies; I want Black employees to be able to voice their challenges in the workplace and have their specific needs acknowledged and met. Companies cannot only tick boxes and post black boxes.

On Tik-Tok, a clip of White British Metropolitan police officers walked by girls screaming ‘Black Lives Matter’. They smirked, and one replied ‘All Lives Matter’.

My isolated worlds crashed into each other without my control. This time, it wasn’t the American police. They were British. They were in London. He said ‘All Lives Matter’, the same words white supremacists chant to obliterate the work that Black Lives Matter movement has achieved.

I know it’s naive to believe all British police officers are culturally competent, but the safety blanket that I had with police disappeared. The words and perspectives of this police officer are damaging to the Black British community and the reputation of the UK’s police institution.

The ‘All Lives Matter’ Movement was created purely in retaliation to BLM and undermines the worth of black people around the world.

This police officer was armed with a gun and under UK law, only specialist firearm officers can carry firearms. Therefore, as an officer in that position, who should have the British publics’ best interest at the forefront of their mind should never say “All Lives Matter ” in that context. It belittles the violence Black people experience around the world. The words show ignorance, a lack of respect and empathy towards the Black community in the UK.

None of the other police officers in the video corrected the male officer who stated “All Lives Matter”, their choice in staying silent shows their compliance and agreement to the statement. This kind of silence allows racism to occur, which is equally as unacceptable and disgraceful as the racism itself. The police have a duty to use their authority to protect the public as a whole. They are required to use their role to protect Black British lives who face the effects of racism every day.

This single example is on the internet forever.

After sitting in shock, I wrote an email to my MP and shared it as a template for my friends to copy and write to their MPs. There has to be policy and training in the police department to be competent around modern racism as it exists in our society. It is not acceptable for police officers to be at Black Lives Matter demonstrations and not have an understanding of the role of the justice system and systemic racism in the UK.

It is their responsibility to protect the British public, thus, they must have more than a basic understanding of racism. The police need to understand the spectrum of racist behaviours to come to terms with their subconscious biases and to be grounded in the history and stories, which exist between the police and the black community.

It should never be my responsibility as a young adult to write to my MP about the appalling actions and words of a police officer, but no one else will, if I do not. This country is meant to be our home. There will always be a disconnect between young people and our country’s institutions, so long as racism goes unaddressed in our culture and in our police force.