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Editorial: Can we commit to becoming anti-racist organisations?

It’s only by rooting out racism and establishing genuine equality and racial justice that we'll be able to bring about deep changes in our society, argues Milan Rai

Image
John Lucia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

‘I have quit a large organisation I’ve belonged to for many years, for various reasons, but their unthinking public support for the BLM slogan finally made up my mind.... If I was a member of the ruling class, I’d be very happy with the BLM movement from a “divide and conquer” perspective.’

‘I, personally, have not [taken part in any activities related to Black Lives Matter] because I think that George Soros has a sinister hand in B>L>M.’

‘True grassroots activists know that BLM are just a distraction. Everyone knows that they are just misdirected.’

‘Confused by BLAME lumping all non-white together – not really a group.... Wish people would actually study history and who did what to whom as opposed to simply assuming all white = bad and all non-white = good.’

These were some of the hostile responses we received from peace activists (including pacifists) in September when we carried out a poll on peace movement reactions to the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter uprising that followed.

Our poll was too small, just 112 responses from the UK, to give us an accurate picture of the spread of opinions in the British peace movement, but it did give us some clear expressions of some of the opinions that exist.

Overwhelmingly, people filling in the poll were supportive of Black Lives Matter and the renewed struggle against racism, but there were some people who were hostile, and there were even more who frankly said that George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests had had no impact on them at all.

For what it’s worth, nearly one in five people who responded to the online survey were either hostile or unmoved.

We are really grateful to everyone who took part in the survey, grateful that you took advantage of the anonymity of the poll to express your feelings honestly – and, in some cases, to ask the questions that are troubling you.

We are putting together a report based on the September survey – it was meant to come out in October, but a long bout of illness (not COVID!) has delayed things. The report will try to answer some of the questions people asked, and reflect on some of the hostile and some of the supportive contributions that people made.

Maybe we can take a moment now to consider one of the quotes given above – the idea that BLM, and the racial justice movement more widely, helps the ruling class with its strategy of ‘divide and conquer’.

This assumes that, before the racial justice protests, the working class, oppressed classes generally, were united.

In fact (we’re going to look at this more next issue), one of the major roles that racism has played in Western societies has been to divide white working class people from working class people of colour – to the advantage of bosses and owners.

Just as sectarianism in the Six Counties of northern Ireland helped to divide Protestant/unionist workers from Catholic/nationalist workers, to the advantage of those who owned and managed businesses there.

It’s only by rooting out racism and establishing genuine equality and racial justice – within our movements as well as in society – that oppressed classes and oppressed communities can come together to make powerful, multiracial, class-inclusive coalitions and bring about deep changes in society.

Let's commit

The burning indignation of the summer has died down.

Will the surge of BLM protests be just a moment that fades away? Or will activists dig in, dig deeper, and make a sustained effort to rid their movements and their groups of racism?

Here is a challenge for the white-majority parts of the British peace movement.

Will your local group, your regional network, your national organisation, take further meaningful steps to address racism? Will it commit to becoming an actively anti-racist organisation (if it hasn’t already)? Will it try to become racially-inclusive in the way that it works, and the topics that it works on?

If you want to move along that road, Peace News will be with you, every step of the way.

Next issue, we’ll be exploring whiteness:

  • How and when was ‘the white race’ invented?
  • What’s the relevance of that to our campaigning today? 
  • What is it like to answer the questions in Layla Saad’s book Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World? 
  • Why should we stop using the phrase ‘white privilege’? (Apart from ‘because it would be helpful for folk who hadn’t yet started’.)
  • Has reading all this left you feeling defensive – or puzzled – or annoyed – or excited?
Topics: Race