This post was written by Alexandra Wanjiku Kelbert, a member of Black Lives Matter UK, and originally appeared at The Guardian on September 6.
Last week London City airport was shut down. This was a Black Lives Matter action. Since then our phones have been ringing constantly, with requests to explain, and comment on the action.
“But how is this in any way linked to the last action on 5 August? Aren’t you moving away from the original narrative of deaths in police custody?” we’re being asked.
The aim of that last action, when BLMUK shut down major traffic arteries in Birmingham, London, Manchester and Nottingham, was to re-centre the conversation around black lives, here in the UK. In a video we released two days before the action, figures such as Marcia Rigg, whose brother Sean Rigg died in police custody in 2008, spokespeople from Movement For Justice and others laid out our message for the world to hear. And it was clear that in police custody, in prisons, in employment, in education and on our streets racial inequality is alive and kicking in Britain.
Today we are saying that the climate crisis is a racist crisis. On the one hand Britain is the biggest contributor per capita to global temperature change. It is also one of the least vulnerable to the effects of climate change. On the other hand, seven of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in sub-Saharan Africa.
We’re not saying that climate change affects only black people. However, it is communities in the global south that bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change, whether physical – floods, desertification, increased water scarcity and tornadoes – or political: conflict and racist borders. While a tiny elite can fly to and from London City airport, sometimes as a daily commute, this year alone 3,176 migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean, trying to reach safety on the shores of Europe.
— #BlackLivesMatterUK (@ukblm) September 6, 2016
Why are communities like east London’s Newham, where 40% of the population survive on £20,000 or less, hosting airports such as London City, where passengers earn on average £114,000 a year? When we say black lives matter, we mean all black lives, and that includes the lives of those who live in proximity to airports, to power plants, to the busiest of roads, and whose children grow up with asthma, and skin conditions exacerbated by air pollution. Black British Africans are 28% more likely than their white counterparts to be exposed to air pollution.
We are coming under fire for the fact that the protesters on the runway last week were all white. That is not an accident. Black Lives Matter UK is and has always been black-led. It should not be surprising that black people could pull something like this off. And it should not be surprising that we would be able to find nine white people who believe that black lives matter. There is a need for white people to take responsibility in a society that privileges them through racism and anti-black racism.
And following our previous day of action, when protesters arrested in Nottingham claimed that police treated them disproportionately harshly because of the colour of their skin, it is surely welcome to have white allies putting their bodies on the line.
For too long, the issues of climate change and race have been portrayed as separate. From Newham to Mogadishu, from Brixton to Bahia, black lives matter.