Free Speech and Sanitising History

Over the past couple of weeks there have been an onslaught of worrying news with regards to freedom of speech and the role charities should play in the UK. As a Black led charity seeking to address racial injustice and colonial legacies, our very existence is political. Last year we saw a surge in donations towards anti-racist organisations in the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd by police officers in the United States. While these actions go on to resource and support grassroot organisations, we need acts of solidarity which extend beyond what some might call ‘performative allyship.’ We need a collective response to the attempts to silence hidden and distorted historical actions that explain the state we are in particularly in relation to those located at the margins by systems of oppression. We need a collective response against those who are comforted by wealth amassed through plunder and exploitation but are quick to call in the free speech brigade or encourage those still relieving generational traumas to move-on to ease their own discomfort. Collective action is resistance.

Kenyan scholar-activist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1986) argues the university and the education system more generally are key in the foundation and continuation of colonialism today. That is, the narratives and practices utilised by and within the education system are colonial legacies which uphold a white supremacist system. White supremacy is used as Azeezat Johnson describes it: “the context within which whiteness can remain a neutralised and privilege racial positioning” (2018: 18). It comes as no surprise the government is pushing back against increased public pressure to come to reckon with the UK’s colonial and racist history. It is not a question of *if* these histories are true but *how* they make white people feel. What are the histories they are trying to silence?

At RJN we want to express our grave concern about the encroaching powers the government is having on freedom of speech, education and charities with the aim to silence and bury history. Motivation behind this is to avoid discomfort and cover up how wealth was amassed during the British empire and at the expense of former colonies, who until today continue to bear the brunt of this history. Furthermore, these latest government moves perpetuate the false narrative of meritocracy, those who are poor are so because they are lazy and those doing well have been due to hard work. This is concerning because it not only silences marginalised voices but this will have a major influence on who and what receives funding within the charity sector.

As a Black led organisation being underfunded is not new. Since our inception, we have seen how funding bodies undervalue, overlook and under-resource radical anti-racist efforts. The fact there are very few of us in existence is an example and consequence of lack of resources. As mentioned above, last year we saw a surge in donations to Black led and anti-racist organisations. The government’s recent announcement that charities should remain neutral is a political act. A countermove to the (re)awakening of a racial and social justice movement across the globe, of acts of solidarity which are slowly but steadily demanding change.

This is not about “waging a war on political enemies” rather as anti racists we have an obligation to raise our voices against injustices. Who decides what is freedom of speech? Who determines what is and isn’t political? As we have stated before, as a Black led, lived experience informed anti racist charity addressing legacies of colonialism, our very existence is political. What are some concrete actions people can take in solidarity:

  1. Fight against the erasure and whitewashing of history.
  2. Sit with the uncomfortableness of history. Ask yourself why you feel this way and what you will do about it? Challenge what you are being taught and fed by school, the media and politicians. 
  3. Disrupt overwhelmingly white spaces using your privilege to bring voices into the room that are sidelined and silenced. Pass the mic. 
  4. Counter the narrative of free speech which simultaneously silences the marginalised while protecting, give rights and licence to be racist, xenophobic, sexist, Islamophobic, transphobic, classist, ableist, homophobic, climate denial and other phobisms out there.
  5. Continue to create, attend and support spaces, individuals or groups that teach unsanitized history (including non-traditional classrooms) spaces that attempt to repair harms. 

Sources:

  • Johnson, A. (2018) An academic whiteness: white supremacy within and beyond academia in Johnson, A., Joseph-Salisbury, R. and Kamunge, B. (ed.) The fire now: Anti-racist scholarship in times of explicit racial violence, Zedbooks: London, pp: 15-25
  • Ngugi wa Thiong’o. (1986) Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, Heinemann Educational

Article by Laura Loyola Hernandez and Penny Wangari-Jones

One thought on “Free Speech and Sanitising History

  1. Brilliant thank you xx

    The climate emergency is now – we will create a new, just global economy

    Like

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