‘I can’t breathe’: why George Floyd’s words reverberate around the world

June 12, 2020

‘I can’t breathe’: why George Floyd’s words reverberate around the world

We don’t really empathise when we understand.  People understand racism.  It isn’t difficult to understand.  But people still don’t behave as if they understand.  Perhaps we empathise best when we can enter into the condition.  “I can’t breathe” suddenly equates racism with the deprivation of air, which is what it always was.  Previously we saw racism, if we saw it at all, as a diminishment of a person’s humanity.  But that was always too vague.  “I can’t breathe” goes beyond saying that you are depriving me of freedom, of humanity, of respect.  It says: “You are depriving me of the right to air itself.”

“I can’t breathe”: we need a new language to express the fundamental clarity of what happens when people are demonised, excluded, deprived, oppressed, and killed because of the colour of their skin.  We need a new language, a phrase for that condition.

Ben Okri, Nigerian novelist and poet, writing in The Guardian 8 June 2020

At AT The Bus we look hard at the way we work and think hard about how effectively we tackle racial prejudice in our organisation, and how we provide role models so that our young people can see themselves reflected in their learning.  We teach curiosity, empathy and self-awareness and our practice engenders and nurtures respect for all. We know we still have much to learn.  We will strive to continue to learn.  And we will continue to tackle all kinds of prejudice, and to support and empower each of our students and staff equally, to allow them to develop with confidence and ambition for the future.