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.  

School Safe Spaces?

In the last few days a video of a young Syrian boy being attacked and bullied has gone viral. Whilst there has been lots of media coverage, there has been little if any attempt to recognise this as a part of a continuing trend of Black, Brown, poor, Muslim and migrant children being attacked whilst they are in school and that this trend reflects society as a whole.   

It points to a concern about popular and visible hatred of the ‘Other’ that transcends society from social media to the streets. It would be ludicrous not to associate these manifestations of racism with that perpetuated by the powerful: politicians and the media, and its larger manifestations in Brexit, Trumpism, and racist migration policies that take on a particular character within the context of the current Hostile Environment policy and the Windrush scandal. All of the above have populated and reinvigorated a new wave of nationalism and patriotism that has incubated a far-right narrative and sentiment.

The likes of the EDL, Britain First, FLA, DFLA, and specific individuals like Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage who are being seen as messianic, have received mainstream coverage and a range of platforms, as well as financial backing and more from neoliberal society bent on dividing the masses whilst they continue to line their pockets.   The White British student who attacked the Syrian boy has been said to have previously posted Britain First messages on his Facebook account. In the video, the Syrian boy who was attacked is seen with his arm in a cast because his arm was broken in a previous attack. His sister whose video has also come to light has been attacked in the same school with attempts made to remove her headscarf.

There are many, many other reports of other students from migrant backgrounds, as well as from Black and Brown people born in Britain, being attacked including some that have been reported directly to the Racial Justice Network.   Police have stepped in to do their job and the schools will attempt to do theirs in co-operating but is that enough? What is the responsibility of everyone else? It’s impossible to ignore the snowball effect this has on young people or anyone on the receiving end of racism; students attacked and those who witness it face threats to their mental wellbeing and academic achievement and are put at risk of having to deal with great trauma, often alone.

Often when a child reports a racist incident, they are made responsible for it, told to ignore it and/or that it isn’t that bad. Again, leaving that child alone to cope. The impact no doubt extends to families, loved ones and communities that want to see their children do well and be treated with respect and common courtesy. Too often, though, parents from Black, Brown and migrant communities are not heard by the schools or local authorities who fail to keep the spaces safe for children who, in the case of those who have fled from particularly difficult situations (like Syria), may be particularly vulnerable to the risk of re-traumatising events.   

What is clear is that schools as centres of learning are not doing enough, the councils and education departments are not doing enough and the police as law-enforcers are not doing enough, being ill-equipped in handling issues of race and racism. Black and Brown teachers are also coping with the rise of racism in schools. The continuous portrayal of the UK as ‘post-racial’, the denial of racism and slashing of budgets to organisations that deal with race equity (not equality and diversity) means there is great discomfort in talking about race, so ideas on how to deal with it are very superficial and surface-level.   

Individuals observing the very aggressive and explicit forms of racism might be able to distinguish themselves from the perpetrator, but racism is far more insidious than this. What we see in the video is a consequence of a racist society in which many actors play their part.

We need to recognise racisms that are institutional, microaggressive, non-verbal and take on any number of forms.   The Racial Justice Network based in West Yorkshire, engages with individuals and organisations to end racial injustice and address legacies of colonialism through organising, informing and training. Recent video on five ways to disrupt racism reminds of the need to be anti-racist, as it is not enough to be non-racist. We stand by the family and many more who are facing similar attacks in the region and around the country and would also suggest well wishers and decision makers increase funding for organisations, groups who are experts in doing deep-rooted systemic change work around race to increase their capacity to support schools, hospitals, places of work so communities can see we are all in this together.

As depicted in a schools could do better article by one of our trustees, we would also suggest curriculums must be adjusted to add British history that explains Britain’s relationship to its former colonies, and consider how this relates to current issues and particularly the reasons why people continue to migrate. This might then engender compassion and humanity rather than fear and hatred of migrants.

Travelling while Black: From Dr. Who to Ryanair

Earlier this week many tuned in to watch an episode of Dr Who that featured the civil rights icon, Rosa Parks. The episode has quite rightly been lauded for shining a light on racism but we must recognise that, in isolation, there are limits to the episode’s effectiveness as an anti-racist intervention. Rather than focusing on pertinent examples in the British context (the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott, for example) the show engaged with racism as a problem that is geographically and temporally elsewhere: in 1950s Southern USA, to be precise.

Focusing on racism as a problem in the United States (where it is often more explicit and/or fatal) often comes at the expense of recognising racism as a problem here, in the UK. It is perhaps in running this risk that the show lacked the capacity to meaningfully disrupt contemporary racisms. Given how white fragility impacts upon popular discourse and culture, such disruption would surely have threatened the commodity value of Dr Who.

The show’s abstraction of racism from here and now means it’s not surprising that much of the discussion has followed the familiar ‘post-racial’ script: “look how far we’ve come”. However, the self-congratulatory post-show discussion could not stand in starker contrast to viral footage that circulated on the same evening.

Taken onboard a Ryanair flight heading for the UK, the footage shows an older Black woman being racially abused by a white man. The abuser was so concerned about the prospect of sitting next to the Black woman that his shouts of “ugly black bastard” were accompanied by explicit threats of physical violence.

The disgusting interpersonal abuse and the airline’s incredibly limp response reminds us that travelling while Black presents a range of problems that not only transcend national boundaries, but continue well into our contemporary moment. The condemnation of the racist individual, and even of the airline is to be expected. The problem is, however, that cases like these are viewed (and condemned) as anomalous. By disavowing the supposed anomaly, this condemnation helps to maintain the illusion of a liberal, progressive and ‘post-racial’ society, but this isn’t an anomaly. 

Excavating the wider context allows us to connect the dots: to see that these instances do not occur in a vacuum. This occurred onboard a flight to the UK: a country in which, less than 10 years after the Montgomery bus boycott, the British electorate were encouraged to vote against the Labour party in order to avoid the threat of having a ‘nigger for a neighbour’. Was the man’s concern about sitting next to a Black woman not an echo of this sentiment?

Contemporarily, the UK government have pursued a callous hostile environment agenda that’s seen the indefinite detention and ruthless deportation of those racialised as ‘the other’. The British state has an unrelenting (centuries old!) desire to control the movement of Black and Brown bodies. Is it not an everyday interpersonal manifestation of this power dynamic that the viral footage reveals? Is it not fair to assume that the aggressor is emboldened by the racisms of the state?

Is it not this emboldening that makes it conceivable for academics, journalists and social commentators to ‘debate’ whether “rising ethnic diversity is a threat to the West”? Those in positions of power continue to feed and cultivate a racist system that bears rotten fruit, and rotten fruit is what we see in the viral video! It is only through reckoning with racism in its structural and historically-rooted forms – as a problem that affects us in the here and now – that we can meaningfully begin to tackle a system in which, in so many ways, it is difficult to travel while Black.   

Remi Joseph-Salisbury – @RemiJS90