#BlackLivesMatter: Why We Need Narratives of Purpose and Hope

As the #BlackLivesMatter movement strives once again to take a stand against systematic racism, Livia Firth looks into the chains of cause and effect which form our moral behavior, and why we must harness the opportunity of the pandemic in order to actively redesign the norms of our society.

When we launched our ‘The Best is Yet to Come’ series on Eco-Age few weeks ago – starting with the wonderful Satish Kumar – it was with the intention of harnessing the huge opportunity that this global pandemic delivered to us in order to design a new future and to listen to the voices we wanted to help guide us during this dynamic process of change.

Today, as I write this, we are hopefully waking up properly on the issue of racism and, in particular, white privilege. There are so many incredibly voices we want to learn and take example from, and we have collated just few examples of where to go to start learning more – but this list is by no means exhaustive.

As we try to make sense of it all, I am reminded of a fascinating conversation between historian Yuval Noah Harari and New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman I heard back in London a year or so ago during a ‘How To Academy’ evening entitled ‘How to Understand Our Times: The Future of Humanity.’ Harari pointed out that we are in an unprecedented situation in history; for the first time ever, we have no realistic vision of the future. Time is accelerated thanks to new technologies and no one knows what the world will look like in two months, let alone in 20 years time. 

While we can all recognise that it is hard to predict where we are heading, it is also true that in order to take a stance as active citizens, one of the problems we face today is not morality – but causality. If you think about the laws of cause and effect, today we can’t really figure out the incredibly complicated chains which form our moral behaviour. Harari gave us the example of stealing: take it as a moral issue, we are all against it. But the cause of our daily actions are such, that maybe we invest money in a fund that puts it into an oil corporation, and in turn pollutes rivers. We therefore are responsible for ‘stealing’ a river.

So, if we don’t understand these causes and effects that regulate our moral behaviour, we may say that we are not racist or we do not act as white supremacists… but is that really true?

Back in 2007 I produced a documentary called ‘In Prison My Whole Life’ on a death row case of ex-Black Panther journalist Mumia Abu Jamal in Philadelphia, which ended up being a documentary about the whole movement and what happened to it. The experience formed a big part of my learning, on issues I never considered before. I had the privilege of interviewing some extraordinary people and witnesses – from Angela Davis to Alice Walker, Mos Def to Snoop Dogg and Steve Earle, Noam Chomsky, Dave Marsh, the list goes on. I also read beautiful books – one that particularly stayed with me is ‘Post Soul Nation’ by Nelson George – which I highly recommend reading. I watched endless footage of police brutality throughout the years, and footage of the most brutal homicides – like the Move bombing in Philadelphia, when police dropped a bomb (you read this right) from a helicopter, on a house where peaceful African Americans were living, which shook me to the core. 

How can we change all of this? How can we actively supercharge this much needed change, so that we may not know what the world will look like next year, or in 20 years time, but at least we know we are doing everything we can to design the best possible version of it? How can we do this, together?

There is power and comfort in a coalition, in collective resolve, to turn up the dial on democracy, ethics, sustainability; call it how you like because it is all part of the same deep issue – our relationship with the other. Whether it is with nature, with human beings, with wild life or any animal, it is a constant relationship we are in.

Let’s see how the narratives of hope and purpose will come together with the most resonance. It is up to us. Always.