The effect of Black Lives Matter
‘The movement has taught me that my voice matters’
‘I’ve found new allies within the movement’
‘When I’m in Namibia, I’m not black first and then a woman, but a woman first. In Europe, my skin colour comes before my gender. In class, whenever a topic relates to aggression against people of colour, I am the expert. But I can’t be the voice for something that has happened so many miles away.
When I was choosing where to study, I checked the countries on racism. The Netherlands looked safe. Still, there is underlying racism, which people deny and the problem is never fixed. As a minority, my voice is overshadowed. I’m important as a diversity tool, but my opinion on what improvements can be made doesn’t really matter.
I’ve lost some friends because they weren’t aware that they were being discriminating. But that’s okay, the movement has led me to find new allies who want to work towards dismantling systems of racism.
I wasn’t able to join the sit-in on the Grote Markt, because I was in Namibia, but I helped with communications as the secretary of the Black Ladies of Groningen. I watched the live stream and it was overwhelming to see how much love and support there was in the city of Groningen.
Before BLM, I felt that as an international student, you don’t want to stand out too much. You’re encouraged to keep quiet, to agree with everybody and not to have a different opinion. The movement has shown me that I can speak out. I do have a voice. My voice can bring change. It has taught me that my voice does matter, even if so many people say that it doesn’t.’
‘I feel that more people care about our experiences now’
‘The fact that my university experience was so Eurocentric frustrated me a lot. That’s why we created a platform where people can self-reflect on race, and where for example, students who are black, indigenous or people of colour can share their experiences.
The BLM movement started way before the murder of George Floyd. However, the popular attention is mostly focused on violence against black cisgender males. Many victims of police brutalities and racial profiling are forgotten because they are black women, especially black trans women.
When I went to the BLM sit-in, I was positively surprised by the large number of the protestors. The difference compared to other demonstrations in Groningen was impressive. I feel that more people care about our experiences, and are open to talk about racism now. I hope it is not just a social media trend, though.
I don’t like explaining racism to strangers. It’s exhausting to talk about racism and be reminded again that there is this constant struggle in terms of racist microaggressions which comes with being a black woman. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd brought back a lot of repressed emotions within myself. Every new message about violence and death emotionally drained me. They illustrate that no matter how “assimilated” a black person may be in society, racism still kills every day.’
‘It is not daunting to talk about racism anymore’
‘I was born and raised in Sweden. I feel Swedish to my core, but when people see me, they don’t see a Swede. They see an African woman.
I didn’t start thinking about institutional racism until I had a black professor for one class. It was almost a revelation. I haven’t seen someone at the university before that looked like me. It’s important to have people of colour educating us; otherwise, what we learn about the world in the university is not matched with reality.
When the protests started, there were a lot of accumulated feelings of injustice and disappointment. At the Women’s March Groningen, we wanted to create the sit-in to get out our frustrations. We are still receiving messages from people asking about further protests. They still need to have these moments to let it all out.
That sit-in was organised specifically for black people, because the whole movement is about discrimination against black people, which has been prevalent for so many years. We have received many positive reactions, but this is only the beginning. Although I want to see change very rapidly, it’s going to take years until we see more diversity in European universities.
I feel more comfortable talking about systemic racism now. Before it was like, oh, there is another person nagging about issues that don’t matter. Now it feels people don’t find it daunting to listen to stories about racism anymore.’
‘Each time I speak up, it takes a lot of energy’
‘We didn’t talk too much about it in the beginning, because we felt so hurt. All black people felt affected. Non-black people can’t imagine the emotional effect we are getting from it.
Many people think that slavery and colonialism happened a long time ago, but it is ongoing and very present in different forms. It has been forty-five years since my home country of Mozambique became independent. My mother is 48, so the memories of the colonial past are still very fresh.
When it was the time for me to choose a university, I was looking for a country with the lowest rates of racism. However, I’m always aware that I am the only black person in the group. Luckily, most people are very nice to me. Even if they make a clumsy comment, I understand that they didn’t mean it. For example, once my friends asked me to make an “African” dish. I asked them if they knew how to make a European dish.
I wish that people would see that this goes beyond a fight between black and white. It should be a fight by everyone against racism. People should speak up more, because when you choose to be quiet in a situation of injustice, you choose the side of the oppressor.
I’m aware that I am often the first black person in a committee or organisation, so I decided to see it as paving the way for the next black person, who will then not be afraid to join an organisation where they would feel otherwise different.
To be honest, I’m tired of speaking up about BLM. Each time I do, it takes a lot of energy from me because it hurts. I can’t even watch those videos anymore.’