Black Lives Matter: Munroe Bergdorf on what makes the current anti-racism movement so powerful

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Appearing on the iWeigh podcast with Jameela Jamil, activist, spokesperson and model Munroe Bergdorf explained why she thinks the current anti-racism movement is seeing such success in galvanising people across the world to take action. 

Since George Floyd died at the hands of white police officer Derek Chauvin on 25 May, a lot has changed. As calls for justice spread across the world and people took to social media to share their anger, the anti-racism movement came to the forefront of public conversation in a way it had simply never done before.

Flash forward a month later and, despite the focus of the conversation broadening beyond the tragic scenes in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Black Lives Matter movement is stronger than ever. People have gathered in their thousands both on the streets and online to call for justice in the face of systemic racism and hold corporations, businesses and governments accountable for taking tangible action in a way which has never been seen before.

So why is the anti-racism movement finally gaining traction after so many years of inaction? As activist, spokesperson and model Munroe Bergdorf recently explained, its because there’s been a shift in the way activists and allies speak about the movement’s goals.

Appearing on Jameela Jamil’s iWeigh podcast on Friday, Bergdorf described the shift in rhetoric which had occurred within the Black Lives Matter movement – and what this means for how society moves forward. 

“It makes me so happy [to see the change] because I never thought that this was going to happen to our community,” she said. “But I feel the difference now is that we’re not speaking about awareness, we’re speaking about action. We’re speaking about what we’re demanding. 

“We’re demanding respect – we’re not asking for respect or tolerance any more.”

Referencing a speech by Pose star Dominique Jackson in which the model said that she would no longer ask someone to respect her identity, but instead demand it, Bergdorf explained how the shift in rhetoric from “awareness” to “action” meant the next step in the movement needed to be about holding businesses and governments accountable for making change. 

“You cannot deny that racism is real anymore,” she said. “It is right there, you can see the stats, you can see the disproportionate effects of Covid-19. But what are the governments going to do about it?

“I think it’s all about now holding governments and big businesses and corporations accountable and saying: ‘You needed to be part of the change. It can’t just be on us – this is on you guys.’”

Explaining how “amazing” it feels to see change happening after such a long time, Bergdorf reflected on how it felt to see the Black Trans Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn earlier this month. Referencing the UK government’s recent attempts to make it harder for transgender individuals to self-identify or transition into the gender identity they identify as, Bergdorf explained why making space for black transgender women within the Black Lives Matter movement was so crucial.

“I think during this time I’m seeing things happen that I never thought was ever going to happen, you know. I never thought white people would say ‘right, we’ve got work to do’ – we’ve been asking for that for decades, ever since the Black Panther party or the AIDS crisis. People have stood idly by and watched people die for too long, so I never thought that that was going to change – but it’s starting to. 

“To see 15,000 people rally for black transgender women, that was amazing. And it came on a day when I really, really needed it because the British government had decided to leak information to the press about their intentions of winding back transgender rights and making it harder for trans people to self-identify or transition into the gender identity that we identify as, but also to reduce our access to women-only spaces.”

She continued: “It’s transgender women being targeted, not transgender men – even though transgender men are affected – it’s just heavily misogynistic. 

“And that’s the issue, is that we’re dealing with misogyny, we’re dealing with racism, we’re dealing with white supremacy, we’re dealing with all of these different forms of oppression all piling up together. But they’re all rooted in white supremacy, so we can’t be speaking about Black Lives Matter if we’re not including the trans narrative – so it makes me happy to see trans women being rallied for.” 

To listen to Munroe and Jameela’s full conversation, tune in to the latest episode of iWeigh with Jameela Jamil.

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Image: Getty

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