“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” ~ Alexander Pope
Today, my heart is heavy.
Yesterday, a Black Lives Matter protest was held in the town I live in. Before I begin with my personal reflection on the event, here is the link to my Facebook live feed: https://www.facebook.com/lozmb/videos/10164144207665157/ . I understand and accept that my opinions will have an element of bias to them because I was not there as an impartial bystander. If you choose to watch the footage, please make of it what you will, but these are my thoughts and feelings on how the event went.
When I found out about the protest last week, I was beyond excited. Although I wanted to attend the London protests, I live with my in-laws who are both higher risk and with the threat of coronavirus remaining our reality for the time being, it was too big a gamble to participate in such large events. Hoddesdon, however, arranged an hour-long, static event which I decided would be safe for me to go to. It wasn’t as distanced as I would have liked, it was supposed to be a sit-down event, but honestly I have more people bump into me and push passed me in Aldi every week than I did at the protest so I wasn’t worried.
Hoddesdon is a predominantly white town in East Hertfordshire, approximately 15 miles north of the North London boundary, so I prepared myself as best I could for the ignorant few that might turn up. I heard rumours at the weekend that some members of the English Defence League (a white supremacist organisation, for those that aren’t aware) would be there to “defend the town”, I assumed against rioting, but I brushed it off as hearsay. I didn’t expect Hoddesdon to care very much in either direction, if I’m honest. I didn’t expect many people to show up and support the cause, and I expected even fewer to feel so strongly against the movement that they would turn up to protest against us. It’s one thing to not support a cause, it’s another thing entirely to go out of your way to oppose it. I was rendered speechless by the number of counter-protesters there. From my vantage point, it appeared there were a lot more of them than of us, which is instantly intimidating.
The mood was tense, and we were met with an unprecedented level of hatred and anger. Every time a BLM chant was started, they would chant “white lives matter”. We were goaded. We were antagonised. We were called c*nts. We were called scum. We were called leftie twats. We were called liars. We were called lazy. We were called n*gga lovers. They told us to get an education. They told us to get jobs. The told us to “go back to Africa” ( https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=263759161504205 ). They told us to get out of their town. They chanted “who ate all the pies” and “get your tits out for the lads” to a female speaker. They shouted “gay boy” to a young lad with dyed hair.
This wasn’t just people worried for the safety of their town in the wake of what’s been happening elsewhere. This was a community united in their loathing for anyone that doesn’t fit the parameters of their white, straight, cis view of the world. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and fatphobia all reared their ugly heads because a group of people wanted to spread awareness about a section of our community who are suffering. Not to dismiss others’ hardships, simply to shine a light on one part of a much larger problem.
I’ve called this town home for 11 years. I’ve supported our local businesses. I’ve worked in our local shops and pubs. I’ve gigged in our pubs. I’ve attended and taken part in our charity events. Yet I saw faces in that aggressive, posturing crowd that my wife has known since childhood. I saw faces that I served for years in the pubs. I saw faces that have supported my bands and asked me about makeup. And yesterday, I asked a friend to drop me home so I didn’t have to walk back because I was terrified of being followed or attacked by those same people because I believe in equality.
There is no tolerance here. There is no basic love and empathy for your fellow man’s plight. Yesterday, our peaceful protest was about speaking up for a part of society that is suffering disproportionately because they are different and the town I’ve loved for over a decade responded with “they deserve it and so do you”.
So today, my heart is heavy because the town I love has finally broken me.
I’ve shed many, many tears over the last sixteen hours and I will shed many, many more over the coming days, no doubt. For me, this fight in this town isn’t just about black lives now. It’s about anyone who has ever been marginalised (or worse) for the things that make them who they are. This fight is for every person of colour, every suppressed woman, every LGBTQ+ child, every person that struggles with their weight, every disabled person, every single person who has ever been made to feel less because of who they are.
I’m very proud of myself and everyone else who stood up for what’s right yesterday, but I just can’t fight today. I might not be able to fight tomorrow or the next day or the next. I have to break this all down and figure out what my next step is, and that’s going to take a while. But once I’ve finished mourning the loss of the community I now realise I was never truly an accepted part of to begin with, I will summon my strength and I will rejoin the fight, louder and prouder than ever.
For now, I grieve.
Love & light,