#BLM: Archiving Black experience during the COVID-19 pandemic

Black Lives Matter demonstration posters via Instagram created by @mcrblm and @manchestermarch

Drew Ellery talks about what he has donated to our COVID-19 collecting project, and why.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, anti-racist demonstrations have been seen all over the world. Social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter were used to mobilise demonstrations, share photographs and videos of protests and to collect donations. These platforms were also used to distribute anti-racist literature. @mcrblm and @manchestermarch made use of Instagram to organise and promote Black Lives Matter rallies. Digital posters, banners and placards were used to instruct, inform and mobilise protests. 

(Two digital posters for #BLM protests in Manchester created by @mcrblm and @manchestermarch via instagram.)

In Manchester, thousands of protesters marched on Manchester city centre in a show of anger, frustration and grief on 6th and 7th June.  On 7th June, I attended the BLM demonstration at St Peter’s Square in Manchester to vent my own feelings of frustration and anger and to join a movement opposed to racism and the injustices that Black people continue to experience.  It was also important for me, as a Black man, to photograph and document the rally as the Black Lives Matter movement is mostly presented within the media through a ‘white gaze’. I chose to donate these images to the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre so that this moment could be archived and remembered through a Black perspective.

Documenting Black Lives Matter activism

Questions need to be asked about how we can ethically document and preserve the Black Lives Matter movement within our collective history for future generations. Our national history continues to suffer from a state of amnesia when it comes to the lived experiences of Black people within British history. Indeed, Black Lives Matter activism is often viewed through the lens of violence and disorder, and a white national identity under threat. My perspective comes from attending a peaceful protest, attended by thousands of people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, opposed to racism and racial injustice.

(Two digital photographs by Drew Ellery taken from #BLM protest in Manchester and donated to the Covid-19 collecting project.)

We need to better protect and preserve the lived experiences of Black communities and wider communities of colour in the UK, and we need to do this through the eyes of Black people and people of colour, and in our own words, not framed by the white gaze.

Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre COVID-19 Collecting

As Black people and communities of colour, can we take a more proactive approach to documenting and collecting our lived experiences?  Can galleries, archives, museums and libraries support us to preserve our voices and perspectives for future generations?

One current project that aims to achieve these goals is the Covid-19 collecting project (https://www.racearchive.org.uk/covid-19/) led by the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust. The Black Cultural Archives has also embarked on a project to document the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement. As highlighted in news headlines, Covid-19 is having a devastating and disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities. This is why our experiences during the pandemic need to be recorded now more than ever.

Our project seeks to collect and archive the lived experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (BAME) during lockdown. People are invited to donate whatever they feel speaks about their experiences of living through the global COVID-19 pandemic. Some people may wish to donate items that relate specifically to COVID-19, others will take a wider view. 

I chose to donate my photos from the Black Lives Matter protest to the COVID-19 project because for me Black Lives Matter forms part of my lived experience during the global pandemic. It’s down to us to take a proactive approach in telling our own stories and I would urge other Black people and people of colour who attended similar demonstrations to contribute so that our lived experiences are not forgotten.

We hope that reading this inspires you to donate too. You can choose what to donate – a piece of art, a recipe, a photo or an email; a link to a blog or newspaper article; a poem or a text to a loved one. You decide.

Click here to visit our COVID-19 Collecting Page for info on how to donate. You can also email [email protected] if you have any questions!

Click here for more information about the Black Cultural Archives Document! Black Lives Matter project.