Taking to Instagram Live last night to reflect on the anti-racism protests happening across the world in response to the death of George Floyd, actor, student and speaker Yara Shahidi spoke about why calling the current situation “unprecedented” is so problematic.
Yara Shahidi isn’t one to shy away from important conversations. The actor, student and speaker is well-known for addressing subjects including politics, feminism and racial inequality; in her Stylist guest edit at the end of last year, Shahidi chose to explore the subject of global community, shining a light on inspiring young activists and under-the-radar artists among others.
It’s no surprise then that, in response to George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white police officer (who has since been charged with third-degree murder), and the subsequent protests in cities across the world, Shahidi had some powerful and thought-provoking words to say.
Talking on Instagram Live last night to talk about the situation black communities are facing and have faced throughout history, Shahidi explained why using the term “unprecedented” to explain the current events doesn’t sit well with her.
“I’ve seen plenty of things on Twitter and such in which people are like ‘oh my god, this is such an unprecedented time’ or ‘omg, the world is upside down’,” she began. “But there’s something to be said for when you’re of a community – when you’re of the black community – in which our entire lives have been upside down. So much so that we’ve had to get used to walking on ceilings.
“There has not been a moment in our history in which our right to our livelihood has not been constantly threatened.”
Continuing to explain why describing the current situation as “unprecedented” isn’t accurate, Shahidi criticised the widespread complacency society has accepted when it comes to talking about issues of race on set days in order to avoid an ongoing conversation.
“What is important to acknowledge is that this is not an unprecedented moment. At this point, this is precedent,” she said.
“This is how we’ve established we’re moving forward. And I say all this to say I’m grateful for the people who have shown us how we get to change precedent – for the people who have decided to, as non-black people or white allies even, do the work of educating themselves in the interim.
“Because for some reason –as much as I’ve seen black organisers put their lives and bodies on the line to have this conversation not just when we’re dealing with the trauma of black death – there’s still a complacency with being OK with having this conversation in black history month, during people’s birthdays and during these moments and trauma and death, versus this having to be a consistent conversation. This having to a conversation when you think nothing is – quote unquote – wrong.”
She added, echoing the words of novelist James Baldwin: “That realisation that we are part of a country, that does not acknowledge that we have a right to exist. The idea that, your country does not stand for you, but has a problem when you kneel. The idea that, your country does not stand for you, but has no issue kneeling on you. You know how disturbing that is?”
As usual, Shahidi’s words struck a chord with people on social media, with many taking to Twitter to praise her powerful address.
“@YaraShahidi speaking facts. Thank you always for using your voice in the face of injustices,” read one response.
“When I say I can listen to @YaraShahidi talk about what’s going on in the world today all day long… this is what I mean,” another added, above a clip of Shahidi’s Instagram Live.
And one response simply read: “Thank you @YaraShahidi. I’m grateful #BlackLivesMatter.”
Looking for ways to be a better ally in the fight against racism? Stylist has rounded-up some of the UK anti-racism organisations and charities you can support right now. And here’s some important podcasts which focus on compelling discussions around race in 2020.
How to support Justice for George Floyd:
- Donate to the official George Floyd memorial fund, a GoFundMe page set up by Floyd’s brother.
- Sign the petition urging Minnesota Mayor Jacob Frey and District Attorney Mike Freeman to charge the officers who killed George Floyd.
- Support the Black Visions Collective, an organisation working specifically on racial justice within the state of Minnesota.
Further charities and organisations to engage with: