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THERE is a problem on the left in terms of anti-black racism. We just have to be honest about this if we are to make any progress in dealing with racism.
In the years that I have been around the trade union and labour movement I have continually heard statements such as “we have a proud record of fighting against racism.”
We have to be more truthful than that. The fact is that some people within the trade union and labour movement have a proud record of fighting against racism while others do not.
To be even more blunt, some people within the movement have a proud record of posturing against racism without actually doing very much about it.
Indeed these same people — who will never recognise that it is them who are being referred to — have, especially over the last year, rightly lamented the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmoud Arbery in the US but said and done little about the racism facing black people in Britain.
Black people have continually heard that “black lives matter” — which we personally know but see very little evidence of — and that we need to turn this “moment into a movement” — which usually means a movement controlled by white folks and not an independent black-led one liable to speak truth to their power.
These same folks seem to believe that a union card or membership of a so-called progressive or even allegedly socialist party awards them automatic anti-racism status, or that some level of seniority within the movement, at whatever level, becomes a qualification to be an all-seeing all-knowing anti-racist.
They feel able to tell black workers where we are going wrong or what we should have said in a speech or that all we should do is come along to the next march or rally that their particular group is organising.
All the while there is no recognition that there are few if any black people around them — but that doesn’t matter anyway because they only see class and not the colour of our skin.
The knee is quick to be taken and the hashtags on social media changed to protest the latest outrage such as the racist treatment of black footballers after the recent England football final against Italy.
None of these are at all bad and as gestures — they’re things I have done and will continue to do. The problem is that they are in reality, no matter how important, merely gestures.
When these gestures become the excuse for activism and they replace the hard graft of organising to shift the apathetic or oppositional to a position of active anti-racism then we really do have a problem.
Gestures might make you feel good. At least I hope that they do. But on their own they will make little real difference to what faces black people on a daily basis.
The debate often turns to the merits of the gesture rather than how to actually address the continual gut-churning racism being experienced by black people.
We have to deal with the racism that is actually in front of us and not a fantasy one.
There are no “one-size-fits-all” solutions — as some of the present day organising gurus would have us believe.
We have to dig in where we stand and face what is in front of us and not pretend that parts of our movement or even whole towns and cities are some sort of anti-racist nirvanas.
This means designing anti-racist organising strategies with, where possible, black people leading and white comrades listening and collaborating and not dominating.
It also means understanding that many people within our own ranks of the trade union and labour movement talk a good game but have no intention whatsoever of seeing black people replace them in their positions of power and will make sure “by any means necessary” that they stop change while all the while asserting their own unimpeachable anti-racist credentials.
The level of diversity within the movement is not my main point here. It’s about how we bring our alleged values into reality that matters.
So don’t just tell me that you’re an anti-racist. Don’t just expect your position within the movement to be your ticket to “wokedom.” Show us what you got. Show us your anti-racism.
Before we can make any progress we have to nail the lie that racism is a problem that can only be laid at the door of the right wing — whether near or far.
Although it certainly predominates on the right, for sure, sadly, the problem that our movement has is much deeper and more profound than that.
We have the tools at our disposal to create a black-led anti-racist movement rooted in a socialist philosophy.
But we have to mean it and we have to show that we mean it. So wear the Black Lives Matter T-shirt and badges if you wish, but be clear that the black community will no longer be fooled.
There is too much at stake as we continue to face attacks from this vicious government and hostile employers. The whole of our movement needs to stand with us against racism and to do this the fakery must end.
Roger McKenzie is a long-time trade union and anti-racist organiser.
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