“Just reform is not enough. Reforming the police is not enough, reforming the prison system is not enough, there is so much more change that is needed.” I spoke to Lauren Pemberton-Nelson on Black Lives Matter and intersectional feminism. Lauren is the Senior Comms Coordinator at Glitch who I am lucky enough to call my infinitely talented, and earth-moving friend.
We discussed the power of campaigns, revolution over reform, and tips for managing stress. Lauren, a self-confessed “massive feminist,” standing by the mantra and truth that “feminism must be intersectional”.
As someone who has led on campaigns focused on how a political issue impacted minorities, what role do you think, from your personal experiences, and from your work itself, do campaigns have in changing the world?
“Campaigns can make a significant difference; both in terms of raising awareness about an issue, but also demanding change and justice for an issue, which will continue to change and alter the world significantly.”
“A lot of people see campaigns as the ‘actively doing something side of things‘. In any activism, and specifically for marginalised communities – women, disabled people, black people, trans people – people must also take individual responsibility and learn about the wider issues. It’s beyond just donating, attending protests and signing petitions. Do the learning. Do the reading.”
Lauren also describes how “the unpacking of your bias is not the fun bit, but it’s the necessary bit”. I nod my head in agreement. If we aren’t educating ourselves, reading and having important discussions with friends and family then we will never learn and change won’t happen.
Lauren continues, composed and encouragingly so. “Posting and sharing is useful but it’s a combination. Social media has had a significant impact, as we have seen from George Floyd’s murder. Don’t just be performative, if you truly care you would want to learn more and see how you could help. For example, I have lots to learn about trans people and people with disabilities and the hardships they have faced.”
Following the theme of changing the world, if you don’t mind, I would like to talk about revolution, as you have previously said. And following on from George Floyd’s murder, do you think we are in a revolution now? And do you think George Floyd’s murder has changed the world?
“I think his murder has changed the world, but it is important to remember that this is not the first, second or third time that a black person has been killed by the police. Nobody should have to lose their life like that for change to happen.”
“The current time period that we are in – is a significant period in history, and it will be in the history books. But we are still so far away from where we need to be. The change that is needed to eradicate the inequalities that we have today is still not yet appreciated or understood by most. I’m not sure whether true equality for all is something that will be achieved within my lifetime.”
I think we can, and we are speeding it up – the fight for equality. Would you agree?
“People used to take a much softer approach. When it comes to racism, phrases like ‘it’s only a few’, ‘the world really is a good place apart from a few bad eggs’, not recognising racism for the scale that it is. More people are realising now, that it’s not just about saying “thank you for not being racist” but actually calling out white people, institutions, and systems for what they have done wrong, which is very necessary.“
I agree with Lauren. Everyone needs to speak about race, acknowledge racism and understand how it manifests. Call it out. Silence is oppressive. I would argue physical action is also really important.
What is intersectional feminism to you? And how important do you think intersectional feminism is to achieving equality and the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement?
“To me, intersectional feminism is for all women -and truly all women, not just for women who are like you or fit what you think women should be. It’s Black women, it’s lesbian women, it’s trans women, it’s disabled women, it’s sex workers, it’s literally all women. And I think feminists, especially white feminists only talk about feminism in how it benefits them, and particularly white feminists can be aggressive to women who aren’t like them. For example, I’d classify JK Rowling as a white feminist.
“To truly be intersectional, people with different intersecting identities must be listened to, and right now that is simply not the case. But more people are becoming aware of how unequal women are depending on their circumstances and demographics. You can’t be a true supporter of Black Lives Matter unless you care about the equality of all women”
Which leads us onto speak about your work, which I would argue is very intersectional, would you agree? And if so, if not – why?
“At Glitch, our focus is mostly women as they are disproportionately impacted by abuse online, and those with multi=intersecting are impacted even more. We raise awareness of online abuse, advocate for institutions to do more to protect its users and we run workshops on Digital Self Defence and Digital Self Care. There is not nearly the enough research undertaken about online abuse as there should and needs to be. I’d like to see more information about how women with disabilities and trans women are impacted by online abuse.”
“There must be an intersectional approach to all work. With any equality that you are trying to achieve, the most important step is listening to those people that have had the lived experiences.”
I agree with Lauren.
And with the work that Glitch does, what would your advice be on how to protect your well being? We know that the media, especially social media, can be very triggering depending on people’s different lived experiences.
“This year, a lot has happened, and it’s been heavy. A pandemic and all the inequalities that Covid-19 has exasperated, the resurgence of Black Lives Matter in response to George Floyd’s death, and the following public discussions around centuries of racism. There’s also been a lot of transphobia and anti-semitism. Working at Glitch has made me realise the importance of Digital Self Care”.
Digital Self Care is simply setting your boundaries online. For example, I deleted the Twitter app on my phone and (try) to only use it for work now. I notice the difference on my wellbeing when I use it less, as it can be draining to constantly be engaging with negative things that are happening. It was especially really hard in the immediate days after George Floyd’s murder and the video was being shared a lot. I didn’t watch the video, and I won’t, because I know that to see graphic content like that won’t be beneficial to my wellbeing. Seeing videos like this can have an impact on people’s mental health – especially Black social media users.
“I also muted most of my chats on WhatsApp. My friends know that I’m there for them but it felt quite freeing to feel a bit more disconnected.”
“There’s also offline self care too. For me, it’s important to take the time to practice self care. What this looks like is different depending on the person. For some, it might be going for a run, for others it might be a journal entry. It’s not always easy to find the time to do these things though.”
I then ask Lauren about the unprecedented pandemic itself. As lockdown eases, I ask Lauren to reflect on what she liked the most and least about lockdown.
“Most, I liked being able to have more time to myself. I’m quite independent so I’ve liked having the time to focus on hobbies more.”
“Least – it’s still very scary that the virus is active, and how easily it spreads; I personally think that the Government’s handling of it has, and continues to be appalling. I think also knowing that the numbers are disproportionate for Black people is a very worrying factor which has seemingly been forgotten.
Lauren, thank you for your time and for your words. It’s important that we still continue to have these conversations, shed light on anti-Blackness and continue to educate ourselves. We can’t have peace until we have equality. We need revolution over reform.
One last question. Who are three activists/writers that you like, are inspired by? Anyone that you think the readers should read/listen to and learn from?”
Third is my friend, Bella Frimpong. She’s a writer with by-lines in The Independent, Black Ballad andThe New European. She predominantly focuses on Black European women, their experiences and misogynoir. She writes about subjects that need to be written about and discussed more.”