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Today’s mass show of strength, unity and solidarity will send an important message

But after the demo we have to continue the message of anti-racism in every aspect of our lives, says ZITA HOLBOURNE

WE are facing horrific levels of racism and rising fascism globally. From the increase in reported — and unreported — hate crime post-Brexit to Donald Trump’s racist policies in the US, Lega Nord politicians in Italy wanting to make support centres for refugees unlawful to racist policies such as the Immigration Act here in Britain.  

Austerity has fuelled racism while politicians and pundits seek to scapegoat migrant communities. We have seen the “no dogs, no blacks, no Irish” signs replaced with “Go-home” vans and the National Front replaced by new far-right groups on our streets.

All of these actions and policies have combined to create the conditions that allow racism and fascism to thrive and have emboldened those who hold racist views to express them openly and to target those who stand for equality, justice and socialism. 

Physically and online we have seen an increase in attacks, from the vile targeting of the Bookmarks bookshop to the racist abuse unleashed by a fellow passenger on Delsie Gayle, an elderly, black, disabled woman from the Windrush generation who was on a Ryanair flight.

Gayle was racially abused, yet Ryanair did nothing and failed to remove the perpetrator from the flight, so I started a petition on change.org calling on Ryanair to apologise and compensate Gayle. In just two days a quarter of a million people signed it, with 350,000 signing to date.  

I wanted to show Ryanair that institutions, service providers and employers must have zero tolerance of racism and must be held accountable when they don’t. 

The number of people who signed in just a short period indicates that those of us that oppose racism are the majority, but we need to show that we are not just anti-racist and anti-fascist but that we are taking action for race equality every day.

Silence allows such hatred to thrive, so we have to speak out, take action and be visible, and we also have a collective responsibility to challenge the conditions, structures and systems that allow racism to thrive.
 
For a number of years I have been campaigning against what’s now being described as the Windrush scandal. 

This was caused by immigration policy and legislation introduced during Theresa May’s time as home secretary which has led to hundreds of people threatened with or actually detained and/or deported. 

These were people who were invited to Britain from Commonwealth countries, told Britain was the “mother country” and yet, after decades of working, paying taxes, raising children and grandchildren, are now told they are here illegally and criminalised by virtue of their immigration status. 

It’s not just the Windrush generation but their children too — and not just those from the Caribbean but other Commonwealth or former Commonwealth countries. What is clear is that all those targeted are targeted because of racism. So, along with street racism, we must challenge institutional racism that labels and demonises whole communities.

As a committed trade unionist, I have worked over the past year with trade union representatives across Europe and the European Public Services Union to campaign against anti-migrant racism and to examine the conditions of refugees fleeing persecution, poverty, conflict and climate change entering Europe, as well as conditions for austerity-hit public-sector workers responding to the needs of those arriving on the continent. 

In September in Palermo, Italy, where Lega Nord has introduced horrific anti-migrant policies, we agreed a statement welcoming migrants and opposing racism and establishing a European Public Sector Union network to welcome migrants and challenge negative conditions.

On November 30 I will be speaking alongside the Italian MEP Cecile Kyenge and Diane Abbott in Parliament. The event has been organised to show solidarity with Kyenge, who as the first black cabinet minister in Italy, and now MEP, has faced horrific abuse, including being likened to a monkey and told she should do politics in “her own country.” She is now being sued for defamation by Lega Nord for calling out its racism. Black women face the double impact of racism and misogyny, known as misogynoir, which also needs to be challenged.

Today’s mass show of strength, unity and solidarity will send an important message — that there are many more people against racism and fascism than for, but after the demo we have to continue that message in every aspect of our lives, to challenge myths and lies which seek to divide communities, to speak out and step up (safely) to stop hate crimes on our streets and to call on our employers and service providers and the institutions we interact with in our daily lives to change policies and systems which allow racism to happen. 

Coinciding with today’s demo is the National Windrush Conference — which was organised months ago — at which I will be a keynote speaker. The event was called by leading race equality groups, including my own organisation Barac UK, together with Operation Black Vote, Blaksox, BAME Lawyers 4 Justice, Momentum Black Caucus, Society of Black Lawyers and others, which is hosted by the University of Nottingham. 

Also speaking will be a number of Labour politicians, including local MPs Lillian Greenwood and Alex Norris, leading race equality campaigners, Windrush community campaigners and those directly affected by Windrush injustice and racism. 

On behalf of the conference I send solidarity greetings to all attending the unity demo. Collectively we are the majority and we must stand united now and in the future. 

Zita Holbourne is vice-president of PCS, co-founder and national chair of Barac UK, an author, writer, poet, artist, curator, vocalist, joint national chair of the Artists Union England.

To sign the Ryanair petition visit mstar.link/RyanairPetition.

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