Black equality through reform, not revolution, says UK activist

Those fighting for Black racial equality in Britain need to put realistic reform over dreams of revolution, said Imarn Ayton, a young activist who has had a prominent role in protests that swept London in recent weeks.

The murder of George Floyd, who gasped “I can’t breathe” as a white U.S. police officer kneeled on his neck, has prompted a reassessment of racism and triggered hundreds of protests from the U.S. to the UK, from France to Italy, and in many other countries.

But within Britain’s Black Lives Matter movement there are differing opinions over what to aim for and how to achieve the so much hoped change. Some are advancing more radical demands, such as abolishing the police and capitalism, while others, like Ayton, are in favour of more gradual reforms.

Imarn Ayton, an activist who led tens of thousands at recent protests in London, poses for a portrait near her Peckham home in south London, Britain. Image credit Reuters, Dylan Martinez

“I want to achieve equality and justice for Black people,” Ayton, 29, said in Peckham, south London, where she has lived for 20 years. “I am very much focused on putting a spotlight on institutionalised racism - that is my main focus.”

Ayton is calling on the government to implement findings of a series of reviews on ethnic injustices including the Lammy Review of 2017. That looked into the treatment of ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system.

More radical in its stated aims is the Black Lives Matter UK movement, which calls itself an “abolitionist movement” that does not believe in reforming the police, state or prisons. It declared it wants to dismantle capitalism.

BLM UK is one of the more prominent groups using social media to raise funds and organise protests.

“BLM does not believe in reform. I do believe in reform,” said Ayton. “We do have to be in this together, but we don’t necessarily have to agree on everything. We can have the same objectives even with a different approach.”

BLM UK did not respond to any requests for comment sent via email and Twitter.

Representative Image. Image Credit ANI

Ayton has carried a loudspeaker and led chants at demonstrations across the capital, including one from the top of a van.

She said racism affected every walk of British life from policing and politics to healthcare and the media.

“Institutionalised racism is very much alive because of silence and ignorance,” pointed out Ayton, who is of Jamaican and Nigerian descent.

Britain, she explained, has to face its colonial past, otherwise, it would haunt society and sow discord for centuries yet to come.

One step of atonement would be for it to pay reparations for the slave trade, she said, suggesting London could start by paying off the debt of the Caribbean countries.

“We appreciate a ‘sorry’, of course, but I don’t believe it is enough. I do believe in reparations,” Ayton claimed, adding that slave traders were compensated when the trade was abolished but slaves were not.

Image credit Reuters, Dylan Martinez

She would like to see statues of slave traders moved to museums, but said there was no reason to remove a statue of Winston Churchill as he had done much for the United Kingdom even though he expressed what are now considered racist views.

So, what statues would Ayton like to see?

“I would put up a lot of people who were slaves - they are ultimately heroes,” Ayton concluded.

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