The Mayor of London made a rallying cry for people to take the lead in tackling issues of racism, saying society could not wait for the Government “to understand why this matters”.
In a virtual event on the Black Lives Matter movement, Sadiq Khan talked about his personal experiences of living in the capital as a person of colour and how society could no longer be complacent following the death in the US of George Floyd.
At the Goals House virtual meeting on Sunday, Mr Khan said that growing up in London in the 1970s and 1980s, the use of racial slurs “wasn’t uncommon”.
He said: “We have made huge progress over the last 30 years, but the reality is that even in 2020 in the most progressive city in the world, if you’re born black your life chances are far less than any other ethnic group.”
Joining him in the discussion were six-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton and filmmaker and fashion stylist Basma Khalifa.
Addressing the panellists, Mr Khan said: “Why are there are too few politicians who look like us?
“The reality is our life experiences are very different from others and you have got to put yourselves in our shoes to understand what we go through.”
George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police triggered Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the UK and ignited debate over Britain’s colonial past.
During one demonstration in Bristol on June 7, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston, whose name is marked across many of the city’s streets and buildings, was pulled down and dumped in the harbour to loud cheers.
It prompted a nationwide discussion over the appropriateness of statues that commemorate controversial figures, including Scouts founder Lord Baden-Powell and Sir Winston Churchill.
Mr Khan said it was important to build allies in the movement, adding: “Some politicians, frankly speaking, play on people’s fears, the fear of what the Black Lives Matter movement could lead to.
“Others should be addressing the fears, and I’m firmly in the camp of addressing people’s fears, addressing their concerns about equality and racism.”
On whether he agreed with calls to decolonise the school curriculum, Mr Khan said people learned more about their history through family and meeting others outside of the classroom.
He described the school curriculum as a “one-dimensional, identity kit version of history”.
“Currently the Government is quite prescriptive about what we learn,” he said.
“I’m not sure we can wait for the Government to understand why this matters, we’ve got to do things ourselves.
“We can’t do it formally through the structures of Government and the national curriculum, we can use other ways to go around them.”
He said he wanted to see an “arms race” of who can be the most anti-racist and for-equality in the next mayoral election.
“And in the meantime, we can educate Boris Johnson and his cabinet as well,” Mr Khan added.
On tackling racism within the police force in London, the mayor said he has introduced more body-worn cameras and is looking at how stop-and-search powers worked.
He said there also needed to be more black officers in senior positions.
Mr Hamilton, who is the first and only black person to race in Formula One, said he has experienced “a lot of push-back” when advocating Black Lives Matter and anti-racism.
Mr Hamilton made headlines last weekend after wearing a T-shirt before a F1 race, and on the podium, with the message Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.
Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old medical technician, was killed in the US in her own home on March 13 by Louisville police, after officers used a so-called “no knock” arrest warrant.
Mr Hamilton said: “I’ve spoken to people high up who will say ‘well, all lives matter’, and these are older men in their 60s and 70s.
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) September 13, 2020
“I’ve called out people but I’ve also realised that it’s all about creating allies and empowering people, encouraging them to try and educate them and get them to be a part of it.”
He added: “It was incredible to see what happened in Bristol this year, none of my friends or people of colour should be walking past statues that represent and are celebrating people who were slave owners.”
Ms Khalifa said she believed the momentum created by the Black Lives Matter movement will keep going but it needed to be sustainable.
“The conversations now are about education – this is what you need to read, what you need to watch, what you need to know, but then there needs to be actionable change,” she said.
“That for me is the most important next step, I love that everyone is learning but I want to see it put into place.”