Recent weeks have seen a worldwide surge in calls for racial justice and equality – a recognition that ‘black lives matter’ – and it’s been impossible to ignore them.
There’s been the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people from African, Afro-Caribbean, South Asian, and other ethnic minorities, in the UK, when compared to their white counterparts. There’s been the global indignation at the senseless killing of George Floyd in the USA. There’s been the toppling of statues in the UK, where they have acted as reminders of Britain’s Colonial connections with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. There’s also been fierce debate in the media and on social media.
I’m not one for trying to re-write history through the lens of 21st Century values. But I am one for seeking to understand history in its context – and for endeavouring to learn from it. For, in the words of the American poet, memoir-writer, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be un-lived. But, if faced with courage, it need not be lived again.”
So, to inspire us with what’s possible when we find such courage, I want to share a story that I’ve stumbled upon, which speaks of the self-sacrifice of those who have gone before us on this journey.
It’s the story of two barefoot black men, standing on the 1968 Olympic medal podium, their heads bowed and fists raised, as they listen to the American National Anthem. But it’s also the story of the white Australian man who’s standing with them on the podium.
At the time, Australia is a segregated country, operating apartheid laws on a par with South Africa.
This is important because the two Americans ask the Australian if he believes in human rights, and he says he does. They ask him if he believes in God and, again, he says he does. They expect to see fear in his eyes; instead they see love.
The race has been great. But what happens after the race is even greater.
It’s a historic stand for racial justice and equality that leads to the Australian counting the cost for the rest of his life.
A hero that nobody notices.
A human rights defender, treated as an outcast.
A forgotten athlete, unfairly deleted from history.
Either way, as you engage, let me ask you this:
* How has this story inspired or challenged you?
* How are you standing up, and speaking out, for racial equality and justice?
* What steps are you taking to move from not just being non-racist, but to becoming actively anti-racist?