BlackOut UK has emerged over the past few years as a response to the challenges faced by Black queer men. It is led by a volunteer collective of Black gay men and is part of Nesta’s Social Movements for Health project. Over the past eighteen months, Nesta has supported the movement to develop new ways of supporting Black Queer men across the UK and to counter the mental health inequalities this community experiences. We believe that people are experts in their own health and the health of their communities. Our Social Movements for Health project emerged to support people with direct experience of health and health inequalities to change the way services work. Rob Berkeley of BlackOut UK explains their next steps.
One month ago George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis sent cries of ‘No Justice, No Peace’ reverberating across the globe. To mark this tragic death, we at BlackOut UK are inviting Black men, their allies and organisations that work in support of them, to join us in defiant acts of radical self-care – acts that can help us to deal with the trauma of George Floyd’s ignored pleas of ‘I can’t breathe’ – pleas ignored because he was a Black man.
On the 25 June at 8pm, Breathe846 will launch and be made available for one week. The website will offer visitors a menu of specially created video interventions through which they can experience ways of taking greater care of their own healing, discover support from a range of organisations concerned with Black men’s mental health, mourn George Floyd and others lost to racism, or simply relax. Together, we aim to build our resilience and the networks necessary for the ongoing struggle for justice.
In the past month, we have experienced a greater focus on the persistent patterns of racial injustice that remain too prevalent in our lives, and (inevitably) evidence of how resistant wider society, including government, is to the change required. We have been reminded - if we ever had the chance to forget - that racism kills, whether through a ‘malign neglect’ that drove disproportionate deaths as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, state violence, or the daily additional stressors that both the fear and experience of racist persecution create.
Alongside our lead partner Survivors UK, we developed Breathe846 from an original idea BlackOut member and actor Nathan Armakwei Laryea had. Both our organisations had noticed greater levels of stress and anxiety among the men we work with. Within a few days of planning, other project partners came forward in support, including socio-dramatist Tony Cealy, Words of Colour, the National Gallery, Thrive LDN, Ash Alves in association with youth charity The Mix, Lambeth’s Black Thrive, filmmaker Seye Isikalu, actor Colin Salmon, and musicians, Morgan Connie Smith and Brisbon Kofi. Everyone was keen to see innovations offering digital support for mental health and wellbeing, as well as to ensure that we support each other in addressing racism.
We know that the news cycle will move on but the struggle will remain. Statues are important symbols, celebrity mea culpa may well encourage discussions on racism to briefly reach further but the real challenge is in addressing the unemployment/underemployment of Black men in the labour market, the over surveillance and under protection they receive from the criminal justice system, the harsher discipline and lower expectations they are subject to at school as children, and the lack of priority given to their mental health that results in accessing services and, tragically, the higher rates of suicide despite accessing treatment.
For Black men with minoritised sexualities or who are trans, the intersection of racist and homophobic/transphobic structures of oppression require acknowledgement and specific culturally competent interventions. BlackOut is working to articulate these experiences and support more Black Queer men to form a movement for change. While ‘Black Queer Lives Matter’ placards were held aloft among the protests and BLM LDN reached out to ensure that queer voices were platformed, the government’s National LGBT Survey of over a hundred thousand people in 2017 and subsequent action plan failed to offer any insights into Black Queer Lives. We remain invisible in most policy/public service decisions outside of sexual health.
We are seeking, through Breathe 846, to remind Black men and others of the importance of creating and maintaining supportive networks, and of being intentional about healing from the trauma of racism. We are doing this because our communities have asked us to but also so that justified anger, understandable frustration, and painful memories do not become barriers to our interactions with each other or our progress towards more fulfilled lives.
Take partVisit Breathe846