8th June, 2020

Debate of the Week

As a part of our Personal Development and Life Chances curriculum, the school is moving the debate topics which would normally presented in assemblies to a discussion group which can be used at home. Spend some time as a family debating the issue below.

Is protest against racism a duty for everyone?

As Black Lives Matter protests swept across the world this weekend, the focus is turning to the role of white people in fighting injustice.

This weekend, despite the cold bursts of driving rain, thousands of people stood united at the largest UK Black Lives Matter protest yet.

Their voices are being heard far beyond the UK. After the death of George Floyd in the US in May, protests spread first around America, and then the world.

This is not the first time protesters have taken to the streets against police brutality. But this time, there was another message: the call for white people to join in. In the UK, one protester’s sign quoted Martin Luther King Jr – “a time comes when silence is betrayal.”

“White silence is incredibly powerful,” said lawyer Savala Trepcyznski this week. “The people of colour who are around a silent white person, they hear the silence. And they feel it. And they feel what it means, which is: I don’t have your back.”

People often talk about the duty to vote, but do we also have a duty to protest?

Terrible injustices happen every day, point out opponents. It would be near impossible to speak out about all of them. Activists say that what drives white people to silence is often fear – of what their friends will say or of saying the wrong thing. They talk about a condition they call “white fragility” – a term coined by the academic Robin DiAngelo to describe white people’s inability to tolerate racial stress.

Yet by remaining silent, activists believe that white people become complicit in a system that promotes inequality.

Black people have been uprising in the US for centuries, historians point out. If this were enough to drive change, it would have happened already. For writers such as Trepczynski, the missing link is white people examining their own relationship with white supremacy.

“These protests are being led by our black fellow citizens, but this struggle for a fair society benefits everyone and should matter to us all” says Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian.

He believes it is impossible for any American, no matter their skin colour, to disengage from the country’s history of oppression.

So, is protest against racism a civic duty for everyone?

What do you think?

No, say some. Protesting is not a part of civic duty. The place to enact change in a democratic system is at the ballot box, not on the streets. It is not the responsibility of everyday citizens to fight against racism, rather the politicians that are elected on their behalf and the organisations – like the Minneapolis Police Department – that allow it to flourish.
Yes, say others. The current system is not working. Parliaments are rarely representative and voting alone is not enough to cause change. Protests are needed to bring new ideas and new causes to the political agenda. It is not the duty of the victims of racism to fight against it: everyone should care about creating a just society. By remaining silent, white people are complicit in inequality.