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WASH Is a Race Issue

“I can’t breathe”

Never before have three words, uttered by a stranger thousands of miles away, cut me so deeply.

Summer 2020 will be remembered as one of raw emotion. Trapped inside for months, people all over the world spilled onto the streets. A simmering pot of pain and frustration accumulated over centuries of injustice exploded – sparked by the heinous murder of George Floyd. Comparisons to 1964 and 1992 have been made countless times – as Martin Luther King said, “A riot is the language of the unheard”.

The world may finally be listening to the unheard. So what needs to be said?

The past

There is much grief to be found in our cruel history. National identity needs to be reconsidered and education must be looked at. The rose-tinted lens through which British school children learn about the Empire (if they hear of it at all) needs to go. This will not be done without controversy – the desecration of historical statues still splits opinion.

These are important issues for everybody to address, but we need to look beyond the problems in our countries. If you have connected with the BLM movement and want to make a global impact, you need to consider the unequal access to basic human rights, like water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), as highlighted in the recent now-u WASH campaign.

The world today

Countries abused and robbed by Europeans historically still suffer today as a result. The problem of racial inequality is not limited to some racist police officers in the US, it extends to the current issues faced by many low-income countries, and affects the lives of billions of people who cannot access clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

Poverty is a race issue. WASH is a race issue.

South Africa

Let’s take a look at South Africa, the rainbow nation. This is a country which held its first multiracial election in 1994, the same year Friends launched in the US and the Channel Tunnel was opened. The last white, pro-apartheid president is younger than my grandfather. I could go on but you get the point. Racism is alive and kicking, vestiges still remain in the mindsets and institutions of another time. We are not talking about ancient history here; the violence of racial discrimination and the resentment it bred are part of the nation's DNA.

As the only country in Africa with a significant white minority population, looking at the injustices in post-apartheid South Africa, and the disparity in access to resources, clearly demonstrates the racial element of WASH issues.

Nearly half of black South Africans are below the lower poverty line (defined as individuals who have to sacrifice buying food for other essentials). Only 1% of white South Africans are below this dire line.

In South Africa, your access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene is largely decided by the colour of your skin. Every aspect of human welfare suffers and diseases thrive without these basic elements of human existence. It is more difficult to access education, cope with climate-induced droughts, work while dehydrated, find food which is safe to consume.

These issues disproportionately affect the black community and perpetuate the racial injustice which has existed in the country for so long, with generations continually trapped in a cycle of poverty and suffering.

What you can do

At George Floyd’s funeral, his brother Rodney told the crowd:_ “Everybody is going to remember him around the world. He is going to change the world”. _

If you are reading this and feel an urge to act, but are unsure of where to start, go and check out our anti-racism campaign. Join us in our battle against the most insidious form of prejudice, in your community and around the world. Help us and our partners address WASH issues, which affect the lives of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

This isn’t about guilt. It’s about awareness, progress and change. Martin Luther King said that “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice”, and you can make it bend quicker.

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Matthew Harris

A recent chemical engineering graduate from the University of Cambridge. Blogger and copywriter for now-u. Big fan of Jaffa Cakes and road trips. Based near Rugby with two siblings.

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