What Blackness Can Do

We’re living in performative times. That social media enables us to offer a running commentary of our everyday lives means that much of what we do is with an eye to what looks good, will get the most likes, will go viral. But in that capturing, that life on pause, to be examined and re-examined, ‘Blackness’ performs a very specific function. 

As a creative writer/novelist, I have long despaired about what cultural activity gets funded, resourced, distributed.  And now that market forces has come round to the idea the Black lives, can be commodified, someone somewhere is making a raise. Black pain, trauma and death is still the most funded. And  Black reactions to pain and trauma and death is quickly memed or Giffed and viralised. Don’t get me wrong, all parts of life should be explored, nothing should be off the table, whether it be Black love or hate. This is one of the reasons why I write. I don’t have to defend it, it’s just what I do. 

The violent Black Male trope has been used for centuries as an excuse for violence to be perpetrated against Black men. Doing to them exactly what they are accused of doing.  Images of happy lynching party picnics come to mind. With a gleeful white crowd in awe of its own power, white men and women and children, smiling at having contained the ‘threat’ of Black men or a Black child. With each threat of violence at the hands of a lawless ‘Blackness’ there is justification now for increased militarised policing. 

But ‘Blackness’ in Europe has always been young. Even in paintings of the three kings, Balthazar is youthful, trendy, in beautiful colours and jewellery, a representation of ‘new worlds’ rather than ancient ones. And what do we assign to the modern Black youth? Moral panics, crime and drug culture, increasing knife crime. In a word ‘violence’. In the white imagination, Blackness is dangerous and in need of policing and control. Is one culture more violent than another? As we look at the historical evidence of ‘moral panics’, violence certainly seems to be ‘young’, generating a reason for the old to fear the young. And of course in recent ears violence has now been framed as ‘Black’. But no, most victims and perpetrators of violent crime are white and yet we still use phrases like ‘Black on Black Crime’ when we mean crime. 

So a cinema chain, bans a black film fearing it to be the cause of violence…more so than any of the other violent films on offer? And despite the brawl involved Asian youth, the pictures accompanying the story covered by a racist media are of young, black men. Whiteness expects them to be violent and so. The young men that started the fight were even too young to see the film. Blue Story’s writer and director, Andrew Onwubolu, said Saturday’s disturbance in Birmingham was “truly unfortunate”.

Blue Story is a film about love not violence.

I can’t be sure that that was why it was funded and distributed, because it’s about love… And this has nothing to do with the creatives who tell these stories, it’s an important story, but an industry, like hip hop, that chooses very carefully what will make it the most money, not what represents us.

And now more police are called for, more stops and searches, increase the pressure on Black and Brown communities to not act like their fellow white citizens. With every new leap in tech comes new concerns about what that means for the controlling of Blackness. The face recognition that sees only Black not a person, the Stop and Scan campaign we’ve been running about police scanners hooked up to the home office. All in an effort to contain a threat that doesn’t play out in stats, doesn’t represent a reality or lived experiences but one that exists in the minds of a whiteness with a siege mentality. No atrocity too big if you’re scared. 

Is no one gonna arrest Michael Gove for his crimes against humanity? His Twitter chat reminiscent of boarding school black face jokes, Blackness for him is comedy. And yet his coke habits are well known, he’s still not quite a criminal tho is he, not as much as a Black man taking coke. 

We can only hope that the discussion on violence includes the amount of women that are killed by partners or exes, the violence suffered by sex workers, the refugee children being beaten and filmed in schools. Violent behaviour is complex and has a myriad of reasonings, papers, books, tv, art about it. Perhaps we should ban all films with violence in it. And spend more time staring at pictures of the young, Baltizar, or better yet, make a meme or GIF  out of him, but there will be complaints, he won’t be funny or violent enough. Article by Desiree Reynolds @desreereynolds

Christchurch massacre: a symptom of deep-rooted Islamophobia

The Christchurch massacre is a brutal and despicable act of terror. The targeted murder of 49 Muslims in two New Zealand mosques demonstrates the seriousness with which we must treat Islamophobia. In much of the subsequent media coverage and political condemnation, we can see a deliberate and dangerous attempt to omit that the victims were Muslim, that they were in a place of worship, and that this was an Islamophobic attack.

However, as Asim Qureshi makes clear, we cannot and must not allow these events to be understood in abstraction from these fundamental factors. As Waqas Tufail puts it, when Islamophobia and the threat of the far-right are not taken seriously, this is the outcome. We should make no mistake about the severity of Islamophobia, and the devastating impact on Muslim communities across the world. For far too long our politicians, the media, and academics, have contributed to a climate of hate and intolerance towards Muslims. Somehow, Islamophobia has become a seemingly respectable face of racism. Whilst right-wing outlets like Spiked condemn the rush to pin the blame for the New Zealand massacre on right-wing columnists and media outlets, the attack cannot be severed from the nationalist and Islamophobic sentiments that proliferate across our societies. We see evidence of this on our streets and across our institutions, including in our schools and media. 

The ties between the attack and the global manifestations of Islamophobic white supremacy are clear: not only through neo-Nazi symbols and the dates of historic Christian battles, but in the killer’s so-called ‘manifesto’. Direct reference was made to events in Europe, to supporting Brexit, to seeing Trump as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose, and to Oswald Mosley who led the British Union of Fascists. As Tarek Younis suggests, [t]he attacker belongs to the racist structures which have normalised Islamophobia in Western politics. The connections and implications are global and plain for us to see. When widely-read papers like The Sun and the Daily Mail put so much energy into fuelling prejudice (as a report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance showed), we should not be surprised when there are consequences. Real people pay with their actual lives.

It is all the more disappointing that BBC Newsnight chose to give a platform for the far-right group Generation Identity to discuss the events. On that very same night, a Muslim worshipper was attacked with a hammer outside a London mosque. What has happened should shame us all. We have allowed a culture of Islamophobia to take root in such a terrifying way and we cannot continue to let Muslim lives pay the price. It is important now that our society stands up to hold our politicians, our media, and our academics to account. The lives of Muslims must be taken seriously. Islamophobia must be challenged. And we must stand in solidarity.   The Racial Justice Network stands in solidarity with our Muslim members, friends, and Muslims across the world, particularly those in Christchurch.

Let Go of the Baby

As another Comic Relief approaches, now in it’s 33rd year, Black and Brown communities all over the UK brace ourselves for a narrative that presents us, our worlds and ancestries through a white, smug, self obsessed lens. As the Black film world rocks at yet another white saviour film has won an Oscar, sometimes we have to ask ourselves, what’s up with white peoples?

Why is it that stories not centring whiteness will shoe-horn it in at any cost? Why when this is pointed out by Black and Brown peoples isn’t there an “ok, sorry, we messed up”. From Driving Miss Daisy to The Help and Green Book, the white saviour trope holds so much traction that a white personality, holding a Black baby, displayed across the media and social media, under the guise of helping the unfortunate, incapable Black people is still something that becomes heavily debatable. Whiteness doesn’t want to let go of the Black baby. It’s laughable in its irony. It’s depressing in its consistency. We hold our breath, we curse underneath it, we hold back tears and anger, dodge the build up and the evenings worth of shallow programming and are expected to interact in a normal way the next day.

You’ve agreed to “loan us our black art” but not all of it and at the same time insist that we’re again grateful. Black gratitude or a lack of it sits in the middle of the discourse about Comic Relief like badly made jerk. No one listens. And that’s perhaps the most telling thing of all, that our voices continuously get silenced whilst the fund raises money for ‘us’ and at the same time we’re offered training schemes and ‘diversity’ concessions when perhaps listening is the very beginning of all of that. Guilt pays, not reality. And that’s not our fault as communities have been vocal about Comic Relief since its inception. As it pits communities against each other and sets up a charity dynamic that further supports Britishness as benevolent helper, rather than exploiter. That might never change. A snapshot of the issues when you read David Lammy’s Twitter responses is all you need to know about where we’re at… He was respectful of Dooley, he commends her on her good work, he says he is in no way trying to put down Comic Relief’s work, just how the message is delivered. And yet. People claiming that it’s putting them off from giving, “since you don’t want our money, I’m giving elsewhere”, that calling someone white is racist, that without a white saviour, people wouldn’t give because Black pain has to be framed by whiteness? That he’s a bully (a big Black one) attacking a small white girl. And crucially, where would these countries be without white benevolence? But it’s hard to watch a whole country giving itself a pat on the back for ‘helping’ to solve the problems it helped create. If we do not understand Empire and its colonial legacy as real life, then whiteness can continue to pretend it had nothing to do with the problems in the first place.

What every Black and Brown person knows after hours of footage of diseased and plague ridden Afrika is that this view of Afrika directly relates to us in the diaspora. That kids in school the next day will be told how ungrateful they are, workers will have to put up with colleagues that ‘never knew it was so bad’. That white celebrity doesn’t concern itself with racism on a daily but will put up with going over ‘there’ to make a film and then go back to the plush hotel afterwards. And importantly that those over there are those that are seeking asylum. That those seeking asylum are those same ones that are being helped. That those people in the ‘country; Of Africa are a homogenous whole. That Afrika has no cities, no roads, libraries, universities or banks. That Afrika corrupted itself into poverty. None of the programming discusses colonial legacies. That once a colony was granted ‘freedom’ the British left and took out all that it could, extracting wealth and resources as it left and continued to try to influence governments, with brutality if necessary. Remember Mark Thatcher trying to pull off a coup in Equatorial Guinea? That those countries that are war torn are being sold weapons from British manufacturers. Britain continues to make money out of Black and Brown suffering. Since Comic Relief is stuck in a model that it refuses to change, let the films reflect all the histories and let go of the baby.

By Desiree Reynolds @desreereynolds @racejustice

Yorkshire Resists the Hostile Environment

Activists and organisers across Yorkshire are invited to create a network of alliances around the common goal of resisting the UK government’s hostile environment policies. Each group or individual will be asked to introduce themselves and talk about their current areas of interest, challenges and what resources they need and may offer to others. A constitution for a network’s operating principles will be presented and discussed. If we can reach agreement, a plan of action will be made. Attendance is free, but please register so we have an idea of numbers (places are limited). We’ll gather at 9.30am for a 10am start and finishing at 4pm.

A collective or organisations in Yorkshire resisting the Hostile Environment

Charter Flights Crime

The way Black and Brown bodies are moved around is directly linked to the legacy of the Afrikan holocaust, chattel slavery. Our bodies are somehow disconnected from family, from love, emotions and thought. This is one of the cornerstones of the ideology that allows bodies to be shipped, packed, unpacked, killed, discarded and dehumanised. This is what is happening now. The deportation and treatment of our Elders has caused a scandal that the government is still keen to dodge. Our law abiding forebears deserved better. 

‘Law abiding’ is the narrative that works, it holds currency as well as the public imagination. But people who have been labelled as criminal are not considered the ‘right’ kind of citizens. Our siblings are being deported on flights chartered by the government, and managed by security personnel (one need only look at the case of Jimmy Mubenga to see how this can end). It’s become a conveyor belt: an industry capitalising on the transportation of human flesh. The flights are conducted in secret, men and women dragged from registration centres and detained and then deported. There is no room for enquiry or to be able to challenge the decision. Children are left behind.. people have died awaiting justice when ‘mistakes’ are brought to light.

Men and women, many of whom have been here since early childhood, are being told that to be labelled a criminal, makes them instantly not British, not a citizen, not quite human enough to be treated like a white person. They have been charged with predominantly minor offences. This does not take into account that Black and Brown people are more likely to be convicted in the first place and serve longer sentences than white counterparts, or that some of the ‘crimes’ are a direct consequence of migration status. This is a systemic farce to justify deportation!   The charter flights are nothing new, the loss of loved ones like this has been going on for some time, but there’s a change in pace.

What are those countries such as Ghana and Jamaica gaining by accepting these flights? Surely if they refused, the British government would have to make alternative arrangements. And it is clear that those governments do not care about the long-term impact the deportations are having, both upon the individuals and the communities of the deportees. Many of those who face deportation are experience high levels of depression and other mental health issues, they are subjected to rejection and in some cases violence, forced into communities they often have no connection to. After living here for so long they are themselves ‘othered’ in a country they are being told is home. As per usual the focus on ‘Black criminality’ as covered by the media buys into the racist notion of Black Crime and the idea that we are inherently more prone to criminal activity.

This is one of the ways oppressors justify their cruelty: it’s still being used today. The criminalisation of Blackness also functions to reduce collective sympathy towards mothers and fathers being separated from their children, and lives torn apart and lost. The statement issued by the Home Office states, Foreign nationals who abuse our hospitality by committing crimes in UK should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them.

Ask any footballer or athlete about British hospitality, as they continues to dodge banana skins, ask any Black and Brown child excluded from school, or harassed by the police. Ask Black women suffering sexist racism in the workplace. Perhaps then, we can talk about British hospitality.   

The Racial Justice Network stands in solidarity with those facing deportation, support End deportations’ CALL TO ACTION and we urge this government to end its callous mistreatment of Black and Brown communities.

@desreereynolds @racejustice

Reflecting on 2018 and looking forward to 2019 at the Racial Justice Network

2018 has been an eventful year for the Racial Justice Network and its been great to see the network go from strength to strength. We have been delighted to expand our board of trustees this year. Bringing a wealth of experience and expertise, Desiree Reynolds, Farzana Khan and Sipilien Birani have helped to consolidate and grow the work that we do at RJN.  We are also very pleased to have worked with many new members, friends and allied groups this year. We fondly remember hosting former Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver with the Northern Police Monitoring Project in Manchester, and another former Black Panther, Bob Brown in Leeds. 

We have been drawing attention to the dangers of the Hostile Environment for a long time now, and are pleased to see the issues finally gaining attention in anti-racist and leftist circles, and even (fleetingly) in mainstream discourse. A gathering in solidarity with hunger strikes at Yarl’s Wood have led to the establishment of ‘Yorkshire Resists’, a loose network of allied groups to resist the hostile environment, and we were pleased to support our friends and members in Glasgow to establish ‘Glasgow Resists’. The launch was well attended and we will continue to support them and their work.

We will also continue with our pastoral work supporting our members and friends with projects in Bradford, Glasgow, Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, and wherever else necessary.   As an organisation and as individuals we have delivered an incredible number of talks this year. Across the UK and internationally, we have spoken at universities, festivals, academic and professional conferences, and community events. We have also increased the number of blogs on our website, published a number of interventions in mainstream and leftist media, and released several statements on important issues affecting our communities.   

The successes of the RJN meetup group for ‘white allies’ has been particularly encouraging and we look forward to further developments of this project in 2019. We’ve also had valued opportunities to host film screenings and discussions in collaboration with Leeds Black Film Club and other groups, and, given the positive reactions from our members and local communities, we have plans for more of this in 2019.  

  We have taken particular inspiration from the successes of Sisters United this year, a group that includes a number of RJN members and friends. They’ve been campaigning tirelessly against the mismanagement of housing for people seeking asylum in Halifax (which we named as a concern in our 2017 round up), Sisters United have been successful in bringing greater attention to this issue and in developing Halifax G4S charter with support from local, regional and national organisations as well as the local authority.   

One of our aims for 2018 was to begin to develop international connections with groups involved in anti-racist struggle. We have made advances with regard to this aim, with our director Peninah Wangari-Jones attending Dialogue II women in movement in Brazil, and connecting with a number of groups and individuals, including Criola, Virada Feminista, and Bokantaj who came to visit RJN in the UK. We will continue to seek out international connections in 2019, and particularly hope to visit the African continent to build solidarities, and strengthen our anti-racist struggle.   Looking forward to 2019, building on the work of 2018, we will be hosting a ‘collective conversation’ series throughout the year. Through this series – funded with the support of Scurrah Wainwright Charity – we hope to bring together a wide range of people from our communities to discuss big issues, including race and mental health, race and disability, and a number of topical issues.   Amidst all of our successes, we were saddened to lose an important activist when our friend Jackie was forced to leave for Botswana. Whilst we continue connecting with Jackie on an international scale, this was also a stark reminder of how harsh and real British migration policies can be for our communities. Alongside our other activities, we have had to campaign and fund-raise against the threat of deportations facing several of our members, a constant reminder of how important our work is.   

We have been disappointed this year to have had unsuccessful applications for larger sources of funding, as this would really have enabled us to increase the scale and impact of our work. However, we recognise that remaining committed to our radical anti-racist principles limits our access to funding. We are grateful to those supporters who continue to donate through our Paypal. Anybody else willing and able to donate to support our work can do so by following this link.  In solidarity,   The Racial Justice Network 

Looking forward to 2019, building on the work of 2018, we will be hosting a collective conversation series throughout the year. Through this series – funded with the support of Scurrah Wainwright Charity – we hope to bring together a wide range of people from our communities to discuss big issues, including race and mental health, race and disability, and a number of topical issues.

Racial Justice Network statement on the unjust conviction of the Stansted 15

The Racial Justice Network statement on the unjust conviction of the Stansted 15   

We at the Racial Justice Network are deeply troubled by the conviction of the Stansted 15 this week. We have to ask important questions about what this says of our ‘justice’ system, and wonder what implications such a decision has for the right to protest, and for human rights.  

The UK immigration system is despicably cruel, and we stand in solidarity with the Stansted 15 and others who seek to oppose the ruthless injustice it produces. The Racial Justice Network has the utmost admiration for the heroic non-violent actions of the protesters. As a consequence of which, several of those threatened with deportation are pursuing, or have granted, permission to remain in the UK.    

In light of this travesty of justice, we must redouble our efforts to dismantle borders, and make what should be an obvious point: no human being is illegal. We stand in solidarity with the Stansted 15.