The Non-Racist and the Anti-Racist

In the fourth article for the BHM takeover, Amen Tesfay discusses the difference between the non-racist and the anti-racist. 

One of my favourite quotes of all time has got to be “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” from Angela Davis. And honestly, I think about that quote almost every day.

It’s quite clear that we live in a society and country that is built on the foundation of institutional racism. We see it when we walk past statues, monuments and buildings that glorify and celebrate the past of the British Empire. We see it with the institutional racism within the topic of crime and justice. The fact that our police is institutionally racist. And we see it with the impact of this pandemic, where a mixture of social, economic and health inequalities has to lead to more BAME people dying of COVID-19.

That is the importance of what Angela Davis is trying to point out. In a society like this one, where black people in this country and across the world experience institutional racism wherever they look we cannot be a “non-racist”, turning a blind eye, looking away and not getting involved. Those “Anti-racist” needs to stand up, advocate change and fight for equality.

Now that being said, you might think that I am happy with the Labour movement. That I am happy that many in the Labour Movement consider themselves “Anti-racist”; that many call themselves an ally and the fact that they stand with Black Lives Matter; That I am relieved when they send solidarity to those who experienced racism in their lives. And while for some, the real truth is more complicated when we look more in-depth in our movement.

For many within the Labour Party and in the broader socialist movement, while they say that they are “anti-racist” is a reality at best they are the “non-racist” that Angela Davis talked about. And at worse, they contribute to a hostile and antagonistic environment that discourage and hinder Black and Brown voices.

I think one positive factor that has come out of the past few months has been reading and hearing the experiences of Black voices within the Party.  Groups such as the 1987 Caucus and the Socialist of Colour has become a shining example of People of Colour pointing to issues and topics and bringing them into the wider socialist movement. But if you ask someone what it is like to be Black and in the Labour Party, one of the answers would probably be “tiring.”

I’ve been relatively honest about my experiences within the Party, and that includes being critical to the current leadership for not doing enough to address the concerns and worries of Black members within the Labour Party. And the responses were telling, people who you can regard on the left of the Party agreeing with me and using the opportunity to get their good kicks at Keir Starmer. While some of the other responses called me and others “shit-stirrers” making a fuss out of nothing.

However, recent months also saw minority candidates being unfairly abused, harassed and questioned when they dared to run against a line or a slate, with the priority of factional dominance reigning over the fight for better representation.

The fact is, for many people around in this movement, being an anti-racist is a variable. It depends on the scenario, the factional relevancy and if their friends are involved. For some, it is the experiences and concerns of minority members is a distraction compared to the never-ending sectarian fight within the movement. 

Turning a blind eye to the experiences when it hinders your factional side doesn’t make you an Anti-racist. That would be closer to what Davis would call a ‘Non-racist’. Being an Anti-Racist is not a buzzword for people to put on their Twitter bios, and for candidates to put on their Canva Graphics, it should be an essential value that should be a gilding principle in their activism.

As we look at the impact of the Black Lives Matter protest in retrospect, now is the time for the Labour movement to take the challenging steps to call on everyone to do better; To do more to champion the voices and opinion of Black and Brown comrades among us. To call out the microaggressive and inflammatory responses to real concerns. To, in Angela Davis's words, be an Anti-Racist.

Amen Tesfay is the Chair of the QMUL Labour Society, the BAME Officer of Open Labour and is an activist from the 1987 Caucus, a group of Black Male Labour members.

He tweets at @AmenTesfay.

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