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Resisting racism is more vital than ever

With governments around the world stirring up race hate to distract from coronavirus blunders, Stand Up to Racism’s conference this weekend could not come at a more crucial time, says SABBY DHALU

WITH the coronavirus global pandemic raging exponentially wordwide, the 2020 US presidential election less than three weeks away will undoubtedly be one of the most decisive and fiercely contested in modern history. 

Donald Trump is certainly the most overtly racist, Islamophobic and Sinophobic US president in the last century. 

He has stirred up racism to distract from his abject failures in the Covid-19 and economic crises. 

This has included the deployment federal law-enforcement agents to clamp down on Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters in cities like Portland, Oregon and Kenosha, Wisconsin, emboldening white supremacists and fascists, and the scapegoating of Chinese communities by using inflammatory phrase like the “Chinese virus.” 

His first few days in office were marked by international opposition to the so-called “Muslim ban.” 

All of this resulted in a rise in racist attacks on black, Muslim and Chinese communities in the US and Europe, including in Britain, during Trump’s presidency.

Although recent polls place Democrat Joe Biden 10 points ahead of Republican incumbent Trump, there is no room for complacency, especially in the light of the intense BLM struggle in the US, Trump staking his re-election on clamping down on this historic movement and the notoriety of black-voter suppression in the US. 

In the event of a close Biden victory, Trump has already stated he would refuse to accept the outcome and no doubt the emboldened Proud Boys and other white-supremacist and fascist organisations will be out in force in such a situation. 

States such as Georgia, Arizona and Texas have seen a sharp increase in their black and Latino populations and the mobilisation of such voters may well be key to defeating Trump. 

Meanwhile armed fascist militias — the violent counter-movement to BLM — are threatening to “patrol” polling stations to intimidate and deter black, Latino and white progressive voters. 

In the 2016 presidential election, an investigation by Channel 4 News found that the Republicans mounted a targeted campaign called “Deterrence” aimed at keeping black and other voters at home on polling day. 

The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) called it a modern-day suppression campaign, using data and digital technology to keep black voters away. 

However, such violent intimidation and digital campaigns by the Republicans were unfortunately aided by changes to the implementation of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

In 2013 the US Supreme Court abolished the “Section 5 pre-clearance,” which required all jurisdictions with a history of racist voting practices to get approval from the Department of Justice before making any changes to their voting laws, such as poll relocations and closures, electoral-roll purges and new ID requirements. 

When the Supreme Court ruling came down, immediately many states moved to create new laws that made it more difficult for black people to vote.

The impact of this so far in the 2020 election has included reducing the number of polling stations in black and multicultural states, resulting in long off-putting queues — criminal in the context of Covid-19 and the need for social distancing. 

However Trump is not the only elected leader whipping up racism and using inflammatory language to distract from his administration’s disastrous response to the coronavirus and its devastating economic ramifications. 

Earlier this month French President Emmanuel Macron announced new laws to tackle “Islamist separatism” and defend secular values. 

Macron shamefully accused six million Muslims of being in danger of forming a “counter-society.” 

This followed a dramatic rise in Covid cases in France over the last two months and a sharp increase in deaths in the last month. 

Meanwhile Britain continues to have one of the worst death rates and number of coronavirus cases per million in the world, and the government has routinely attacked refugees in an attempt to distract from this. 

This explains recent headlines saying that nets would be used to disable dinghies carrying refugees across the English Channel, Home Secretary Priti Patel’s announcement of new legislation on asylum — including the creation of an offshore detention centre for refugees — and her attacks on “do-gooders” and “activist lawyers” in her recent speeches. 

Such dog-whistle whipping up of racism by politicians is almost always followed closely by racist attacks on the ground. 

Days after one of Patel’s speeches at the beginning of September, a violent racist attack occurred in which a white man armed with a knife entered a law firm and made threats to kill. 

Lawyers at the firm said that the “responsibility and accountability for this attack, in the eyes of this firm, lies squarely at the feet of Priti Patel.” 

Recent figures indicate an extraordinary increase in racist hate crimes in Britain. 

Racially motivated offences accounted for three-quarters of all hate crimes, and increased by 4,000 in 2019-20 from the previous year. 

The Victim Support charity reported “significant spikes” in June and July, and intimidation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities with false allegations of flouting rules during lockdown periods. 

The Home Office also suggested that the rise in racist attacks in June and July was a backlash against BLM, a small echo of the struggle in the US between BLM and white supremacy led by Trump. 

The government’s calamitous approach to the coronavirus, in failing to take timely measures to eliminate the virus, continues to affect BAME communities disproportionately. 

BAME communities account for over 25 per cent of hospital admissions and over 30 per cent of intensive-care patients. 

Furthermore recent research shows BAME that communities were also disproportionately affected by the economic consequences of Covid. 

Data from the Understanding Society Covid-19 survey reveals that 8 and 10 per cent of BAME British and BAME migrant communities respectively lost their job, compared to 3.3 per cent of white non-migrant communities. 

BAME British communities were 40 per cent less likely than white British communities to benefit from employee protection such as furlough. 

The latter were 5.7 times more likely to experience furlough than job loss, compared with 2.2 times for the former.

We need a public inquiry like the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, into the disproportionate impact of Covid on BAME communities. 

We must also end this nonsense of “living with the virus.” The only effective solution to the present crisis is for the government to eliminate the virus by following a “zero-Covid” strategy as seen in New Zealand, Australia, China and Vietnam. 

This is the best way to save lives and safely and most effectively restart the economy. 

This must include lockdown measures, an efficient and effective system of test, track and isolate, economic and financial support such as more funding for the NHS and schools to support more home learning, bringing back furlough and small-business financial support for at least another year.

This year’s Stand up to Racism online conference takes place at a timely moment, and all these crucial issues will be discussed. 

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Diane Abbott MP, Dawn Butler MP, Kate Osamor MP, Richard Burgon MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP, Kevin Courtney NEU joint general secrectary, and Unison’s Roger McKenzie will be addressing the conference. 

They will be joined by international speakers including the host and producer of The Real News Network Jacqueline Luqman (US), Thanasis Kampagiannis, anti-fascist lawyer in Golden Dawn trial (Greece), Martvs Chagas PT national secretary for combating racism (Brazil) and a range of other guests. 

The conference will take place over Saturday 17 October and Sunday 18 October, with workshops running (online via Zoom) from 3pm on the Saturday, a major international-angled rally on the Saturday at 5pm, and a major domestic-angled rally taking place on the Sunday at 5pm. Book now to reserve your place at mstar.link/SUTRConference2020.

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