DISTRACTION

It has been a fortnight since the murder of George Floyd in Trump’s America triggered an outpouring of grief and outrage from Black communities worldwide.

Sat in my kitchen in an unusually sunny South London, the sun beams down on my hands as the trampoline creaks in the garden. In the midst of this dystopian summer, I’ve been asked to write a reading list to help non- Black staff ‘better understand racism’ for a company I no longer work at.

We’re in lockdown and I’m adjusting to this ‘new normal’, juggling my workload with home-schooling and the laundry. I have so much to do. As I rummage through books on race, I’m reminded of Toni Morrison’s words:

“The very serious function of racism is distraction. It stops you from doing your work”.

 

Toni was, as always, correct.

I thought of the hours I’d wasted sat at the kitchen table, googling why Black people were four-times-more- likely to die from Covid-19. The internet theorised it was due to poverty, poor diet, social habits, low-income housing or their tendency to hold low-skilled jobs. In June, the Government  tried to bury a report revealing the cause to be systemic racism. Whitehall sources told Sky News, ‘releasing it would be in "too close proximity" to the protests’.

Distraction considers two aspects of the function of racism as distraction from living a complete existence. The first, Prelude responds to the violent racism that birthed the BLM movement in 2016. Although George Floyd’s murder drew global attention, I’d seen countless videos of physical and verbal violence committed against Black people for years. As though trapped in an algorithmically directed real-life horror movie, this never-ending stream of abuse appeared in my social feed and group chats, daily.

The act of racism and the acts of resistance can be equally disruptive. During the momentous crescendo of the BLM movement, I often felt overwhelmed: weeks of endless newspaper headlines, TV coverage, Twitter spats, distraught friends, angry family, apologetic colleagues. My phone continuously pinging with stories of sadness and pain, bringing once-buried experiences to the surface.

The second aspect of the work, Summer, includes real conversations I had during this period. The Black community seemed to virtually come together, seeking the safety of solidarity in an isolating time. Unable to meet in person, our phones became essential in managing the extreme intensity of the moment. Inextricably linked by this distraction, we needed at the very least, to collectively reaffirm our humanity in the face of those who questioned it. In a nod to Carrie Mae Weems’ exquisite work The Kitchen Table Series (1990), Summer imagines those discussions taking place at my kitchen table, as they would done had circumstances allowed it.

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