I had the privilege of being in Glasgow during COP26. My intention is to provide insight and go deep on ´what happened´ and ´what was left to do´ so that we, the inspired, the caring, those who nurture, mobilize, and organize, can redirect our focus with intention moving forward.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), uses the word united as rhetoric to diffuse the tension from their empty promises and claims to protect the planet. But when I mean protect the planet, I don’t only mean the endangered species and plants, but us the people alongside with all the cultural, spiritual knowledge we embody which was gifted through centuries of community building.
What did COP26 do? That is an important question because in this movement to redirect focus we must acknowledge that what happened, what came to light, was already at the center of the conversations of the Black and Brown communities of the world. The communities in the frontlines, which continue to be tokenised and left aside from the main decision-making discussions, knew that these ´UNITED´ spaces did not represent them and would never propose the radical transformation that we desperately need. And so, the first redirection would be to redefine unity, and remove the connotations and disbelief that merely being in the same space with people all over the world is enough to say that we are UNITED… That is not good enough. We need to COLLABORATE, CO-PRODUCE, CO-CREATE, so that representation does not just mean having bodies in a space disengaged from the discussions. Do we see these power structures in the spaces that we are creating? where we don´t collaborate, but showcase without the element of engagement and consent?
I realize that I still did not answer the question. What did COP26 do? For the 1% of the politicians and lobbyists who played the UNITED card on the world, the conference was another game of profit, power, and status. For frontline communities and Black and Brown people, this conference was a death sentence and a great disappointment.
Here in the UK where I’m writing this piece, saying the truth is looked down upon. But I promised myself to never downplay the crisis that we are in. If change does not come, we will face a global catastrophe that will affect us all. But it won’t affect everyone in the same proportion at the same time, it will impact the most marginalized first. So, my second point of redirection is redefining CONNECTION. We need to realize that the fight of the Global Majority, primarily in the global south, to protect their own spiritual, cultural cohesion alongside their land and community will affect the west too. It often seems obvious, but we are CONNECTED. The forest in Abya Yala nurtures oxygen for the globe, not just their territories. We are deeply interconnected, intertwined and merged in ways which this capitalist, patriarchal imperialist society has distanced us from. Do we refer to the resistance in the Global South as a fight that is not our own? Do we take seriously the ideologies and behaviours which are distancing us from our other fellow human beings?
Motivation won’t take us far but feeling connected to what we do will!
COP26 is yet another wake-up call for humanity to come together in solidarity! In reciprocal cohesion between communities from all over the world. Despite the lack of leadership from the UNITED crew in the blue zone (where there were very expensive drinks and greenwashing playing in the background alongside a 95% non-plant-based diet for the delegates)- The alternative spaces which were present like the People´s Summit of the COP26 Coalition, did just that. It provided spaces to come together and realize this movement as one. With experts from all sides, from areas around decolonization, women´s, land-workers, indigenous peoples, Black and Brown from nations worldwide, LGBTQ+ rights! That is impressive! And I absolutely loved it!
So, my third redirection is COMMUNITY, we need our peers to reaffirm, reword and embody alongside us what we want to see in the world. Are we surrounded by people who are willing to have those uncomfortable conversations? Are we actively and consciously challenged by the people we are surrounded with? Are our movements filled with spaces where creativity is valued, where different ways of thinking and looking at the world are allowed?
We need to stay together despite all the divisive rhetoric- We won´t give up!
COP26 did not forge for the change we need. And so, my reflection after my experience at the conference is to redirect our focus to realize COLLABORATION, CONNECTION AND COMMUNITY in our movements. In this way we can aim to continue to work together long term as people. This COP26 ´UNITED´ game is confusing, frustrating, and even disappointing. It is time to look deeper and seek for values which can hold us accountable to our generation, and ourselves. I will never be able to provide all the answers to the questions from this conference. But I can tell you that change is going to have to come from us, the ones that nurture, organize, mobilize, and care for another. History is on our side. And we will be on the right side of it advocating for the wellbeing of our beautiful communities, multiple forms of life and our lands. We are that force of life that is in all and everything. So let us not get confused with the lack of direction that COP26 displayed, I take it as an affirmation: Climate change is a racist struggle, and until we are ready to accept this, in our movements and in the government bodies, we will not listen to the tangible solutions already available for us. COP26 highlighted the big irony, the liberation from this system which only seeks to destroy is tied with the liberation of the people which that system oppressed the most.
In March 2020, when people were asked to stay in their homes, the Racial Justice Network and Yorkshire Resists wondered what our members from marginalised communities with very little income were doing. How were they coping? We began to make calls to our community leaders and advocates to find out.
What we heard led us to launch our COVID-19 response campaign in April 2020. We invited the public to donate toys and activities for children and adults; provided donated mobiles and top-ups, laptops and tablets; and distributed sanitary products, toiletries and antibacterial gel to migrant communities across Yorkshire. So far, we have supported over 600 individuals. We have also convened multiple online meetings with community advocates to hear, support and encourage one another, and set up a WhatsApp group of mutual aid.
In 2021, we decided to undertake interviews with community advocates because we were impressed with how their communities responded to the pandemic despite facing a myriad of barriers and challenges. We wanted to celebrate and acknowledge the inspiring works by sharing learnings about their resilience, resourcefulness, innovation and creativity that surface when communities who have very little respond to a crisis. Above all we want to recognise the unpaid emotional labour community advocates and grassroot organisations do to support each other with little to no resources.
Our report highlights the resilience and resourcefulness of diaspora communities during the pandemic whilst between a rock and a hard place. It articulates the systemic underpinnings of the pandemic’s impact on migrant communities and captures lived experience, not simply as a vehicle for the expression of traumas, but as a form of agency for influencing structural change.
Below we summarise key themes from the report. Please read and share the rest of our report to find out our recommendations and hear the voices of the community advocates who have taken the time to tell their communities’ stories. We are incredibly grateful to them.
We wish to thank and acknowledge Adelaide A’asante, Fidelis Chebe, Florence Kahuro, Mbuuaraa Kambazembi, Tesfalem Yemane, Sipilien Birani, Wendy Lewis, Sada Abdalla, Junie Kay Khine, Masego, and the grassroot organisations who continue to organise, mobilise and support their communities in order to address racial and social injustices, especially during a global pandemic.
Laws, Legislation and Policies Entanglements
Actions taken by authorities did not address pre-existing social, economic and health inequalities.
Migrants have been prevented from seeking vital help from authorities (including lifesaving medical treatment) due to the lack of information in diverse languages and in a simplified English version for non-native speakers in an approachable digital and physical format with regards to 1) lockdown rules, 2) COVID-19 testing and 3) access to vaccines.
Surveillance of people subject to immigration control via schools, banks, landlords, NHS and police forces has had a devastating effect on their trust and fear of authorities.
With no access to universal credit, those with precarious migrant status are often forced to work despite having COVID symptoms out of fear of becoming destitute or being threatened at work.
The Effects of Colonial Legacies During a Pandemic
Asylum seekers are being pushed away from public and political spaces.
Asylum seekers who arrived between 2020-2021 have been subjected to unsafe and unsanitary conditions which has increased their level of exposure to COVID-19.
Deportation of migrant rough sleepers and eviction of those who have lost their appeal – stopped as a matter of public health concern – has been renewed as of April 2021.
Isolation and Mental Health Including Retraumatisation
Some who had migrated from war zones, had been in hiding to avoid persecution, or lived under militia rules, were retraumatised due to lockdown.
Another triggering factor was the impact digital inequality had on migrant parents’ ability to support children with their school work due to school closures and self-isolation.
Burn out and a sense of responsibility had a negative impact on community advocates’ mental health, who at times were the only individuals supporting their communities
Lack of Engagement and Due Care From Authorities and Government Institutions
Local authorities were slow to adopt, listen or meet needs of the most marginalised in their locations during the ongoing pandemic. Decision-making spaces are not representative of affected communities.
The pandemic’s impact on migrant children and youth was neglected by authorities, and the gap in education attainment has widened.
Free school meal vouchers offered to immigrant/destitute children – initially denied at the beginning of lockdown under NRPF6 – either have less value or parents struggled to access them due to rules governing Home Office issued cards.
Resisting and Surviving as a Community
Despite all the obstacles and harmful experiences, community advocates and migrant informal networks generated a multitude of strategies to support each other during the pandemic.
Community advocates delved in translation, telephoning and dissemination through informal networks within the diaspora communities to update their communities of public healthcare guidelines about COVID-19, treatment and vaccination access, and lockdown rules without being payed or receiving formal recognition.
Face-to-face meetings allow the personal, not just the professional, to be present and heard.
We want to highlight the spiritual warmth and gentleness as friends and comrades took on family roles and responsibilities.
We have learned throughout the pandemic the act of loving, caring, resisting and selflessness emanating from migrant communities to assist and support others even though they too were struggling
This report was funded by Queen Mary University London’s collaboration and strategic impact fund for the project “‘Digital Sanctuary’: Exploring expansion of biometric data since COVID-19 and impacts on urban residents with complex migration status”. The University of Huddersfield School of Applied Sciences for COVID-19 internal URF funding provided top-ups for mobile data and financial redistribution for the community advocates interviewed and their communities.
The Racial Justice Network and Yorkshire Resists, in conjunction with Queen Mary University of London, released a new report written to draw attention to the national use of the Biometric Services Gateway (mobile fingerprinting) by police forces. The report discusses issues that arose from new data obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the period of March 2019 to June 2020 to all police forces in the UK.
Mobile biometric devices are handheld fingerprint scanners that police officers can use to check, on the spot, a person’s identity by matching the image of the fingerprint taken against the IDENT1 criminal record database and the Home Office IABS database without taking the individual into custody. The scanners can be connected to any mobile phone or tablet that also runs the corresponding app which allows the biometric databases to be searched.
After listening to concerns coming from the communities we work with, and conducting a report on the local use of the devices, the Racial Justice Network and Yorkshire Resist sought to further understand how the devices were being used across the U.K. felt a report was needed to draw further attention to the unethical and targeted use of mobile fingerprint scanners.
Our first report revealed the main concerns regarding the use of biometric fingerprinting device was the damage to relations between racially minoritised communities and police who were seen as carrying out Immigration Enforcement checks, as well as the dissuasion of reporting crimes by those with precarious immigration status, seeking asylum and visa holders. This second report builds on these concerns by drawing attention to how police forces across the UK are using these devices and further highlights the adverse national impact of increased police powers within the context of increasing surveillance technology.
Key themes identified in our report:
The FOI analysis on the use of mobile biometrics showed the roll out of mobile fingerprint scanners has taken place very quickly with no public consultation or equality impact analysis.
Systematic racial bias was evident in every police force that provided race data.
There is no consistency across police forces as to when or why they use this technology. There is no consistent approach to checking fingerprints through the databases. Each police authority implements a different approach with no clear justification or rationale. It is very unclear why police search only the immigration database (IABS) or the police database (IDENT 1) or both.
England is the only country in the UK that piloted this technology and is in the process of hastily deploying it. Two police forces in Wales piloted the scheme in 2019 and are not continuing its roll out. Police Scotland and North Wales Police emphatically stated they have not and will not use mobile fingerprint scanning given legal and ethical concerns.
Key findings from our report include, but are not limited to:
The highest number of scans per area are Met Police (34 in 10,000), Surrey Police (24 in 10,000) Cheshire Police (17 in every 10,000) and Lincolnshire Police (15 in 10,000).
For every White North European person stopped and scanned in every 10,000 people, 48 Arabic people are scanned on average across the police jurisdictions.
14 Black residents are scanned for every White North European, 14 Asian people, almost 4 Chinese people or 2 South East Asian people for every White North European.
Kent Police overwhelmingly have the highest proportion of immigration arrests (17% of scans led to immigration arrest) and contact with Home Office Command and Control.
We are not only asking for proper ethical duty and processes to be undertaken, we are asking the police force to listen to these concerns. Our survey ultimately demonstrates the introduction of the Biometric Services Gateway runs fundamentally against public interest and that police becoming a border force means inflicting further harm on racially minoritised who they are required to protect under the Equality Act.
Questions of where public resources are best directed remain a pertinent issue and, in the ‘Recommendations’ section, our report points towards the importance of investing in community advocates, organisations and charities who continuously support individuals experiencing police discrimination or who are victims of hate crimes.
There is no doubt that Covid-19 has taken and continues to take a huge global toll on all lives and livelihoods. As of March 27, 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) report shows that there have been over 125.5 million confirmed cases of the novel virus, with approximately 2.7 million deaths worldwide. Obviously, the UK is not an exception to the pandemic. In fact, it is one of the worst affected countries in Europe with the number of infections, hospital admissions and deaths soaring across the country. As of 27 March, 2021, according to figures from the WHO, the total reported infection cases in the UK passed 4.3 million while over 126 thousand deaths were recorded since the start of the pandemic.
In an attempt to ward off the socioeconomic and health impacts of the virus, the UK government introduced drastic measures, subjecting its people to state-imposed restriction. People’s rights, liberties and freedoms have been suspended, giving way to the imposition of emergency laws as the norm. The application of emergency laws has been particularly difficult for the already exceptionalised categories of refugees and asylum seekers. In fact, refugees have always lived under the ‘rule of exception’ in which they are treated as unwelcome, ‘illegal’ and undeserving categories of migrants. Their systemic precarity is rendered invisible by the state in the same way the virus is invisible to its host. Placed at the threshold of the law with limited access to basic needs and rights, these groups of people are exclusively subjected to, among others, abject destitution, precarious status, loneliness and isolation. These challenges were further compounded by the closure of local charities, which offer invaluable social spaces for refugees by allowing them to use their internet facilities and stay connected with their loved ones.
So, how do refugees and asylum seekers cope with the multiple axes of precarities weighing down on them? In this blog, we reflect on refugee-led initiatives among Eritrean refugee communities in the UK. We start with the stories of Hayat, Helen and Hagos, the names being anonymised for confidentiality and ethical reasons while other identifiable data are deidentified.
Sorry, I’ve been in bed all week battling with Covid-19. I could only stare at the mobile ringing because I feel broken, exhausted. Do something to help the community understand the dangers this virus causes. Keep fighting for your rights. And please remember your sister in your prayers.
The above words were retrieved from the last text message sent to us by our late friend and colleague, Hayat, at the end of March 2020. A week after the text message, Hayat was in hospital gasping for breath. She could not flex her fingers to text a message, but, instead waved by raising her left hand to say goodbye for the last time. We yearned to be there and put our arms around her, but that was not possible under the lockdown. A few days later, Hayat lost her battle to Covid-19 and died in peace in the presence of the selfless healthcare professionals who were with her until her last gasp. We neither could bury our best friend and colleague, nor could we console her bereaved family in person; instead, we succumbed to a visceral pain of grief in solitude.
Hayat was a lifelong advocate for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. Eritrean by birth, her community work particularly resonated among Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and elsewhere. Working from the UK, Hayat was extensively engaged in mobilising local communities across Europe to help asylum seekers and refugees integrate in host society. She linked distressed asylum seekers across Europe to reunite with their families and relatives. When teenagers were stuck in the freezing jungle of Calais or in the remote refugee camps of Lesvos, Hayat did her best to help them reunite with their relatives in Europe. In Hayat’s death, we lost a sister, a mother, a colleague and a community leader.
Helen works as a cleaner in a busy shopping centre in Manchester. When COVID-19 cases started to rise in early 2020, many of her British colleagues decided to leave their jobs, citing that the work environment was not COVID-19 secure. For Helen, however, leaving her job was not an option. Helen came to the UK under a family reunion visa with a ‘No Recourse to Public Fund’ remark attached to her residence permit. She is entitled to neither a sustainable residence permit nor state benefit. Her status means that Helen has to apply for residence permit every two and a half years until she becomes eligible for a settled status. It’s worth noting that every application incurs huge financial costs, including application fees, NHS surcharge and fees for immigration advice.
Caught between abject destitution and deadly pandemic, Helen contacted us with the following text message: “Please advise me what to do. I really do not know whether I should continue going to work or stay at home and lose my job. You know, I am not eligible for public funds at all.”By going to work, Helen knew she was exposing herself, her family and the public to COVID-19 infections. Alas, she had a choice but to continue going to work. She is, as the adage goes, ‘between a rock and a hard place’. Consequently, a few weeks later, Helen called us to say that everyone in her family had contracted the virus.
Hagos was an asylum seeker in the UK. He arrived during the peak of the pandemic and was housed in a temporary accommodation in London without any internet access. Thus, when the refugee organisations moved their services to online, Hagos was unable to find a solicitor for assistance with his asylum claim. Nor was he able to seek any help from the charitable sector. His mobile phone was the only lifeline he had. “It was a scary and lonely world”, he recalled, adding, “here, I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t know anything about my case. Nobody seemed to know what tomorrow holds for us. You know, I feel like an encased dog to be honest.”
Hagos is an outgoing and positive person and wanted to make the best of his time while waiting for determination of his asylum claim. He wants to learn English and be ready to move on when he receives a positive decision on his case. He asked us if we could help him with English language registration, which, for him, was not only about learning English, but also a coping strategy against the state enforced exclusion and bureaucratisation of his life. While we were consulting with local charities to arrange English lessons for him, Hagos was transferred to a remote disused military barracks in Wales.
Structural vulnerability and COVID-19
Covid-19 does not choose its host, but it operates in a way that exploits our socioeconomic and cultural differences, health conditions, age and gender, and so on.
However, there is one other factor that exclusively exposes people like Hayat, Helen and Hagos to the deadly virus: their precarious immigration status. Viewed by the state as “disease-carrying threat to the nation state” and, therefore, a threat to ‘national security’ and ‘public health’, asylum seekers are being pushed away from public and political spaces. They are seen as the anomaly of the imagined health society and are being warehoused in geographical and political peripheries of the British public.
Thus, the rhetorical sloganeering of ‘we are together in this’ seems to imply nothing but a mere political posturing. It has become increasingly clear that the ‘we’ is conceptualised by exceptionalising asylum seekers and refugees.
Placed at the thresholds of the state response to the pandemic, these groups of people are systematically marginalised from accessing essential guidelines, basic services, and fundamental rights. Asylum seekers, for example, are forced to live on £39.63 per week and often pushed around between private companies contracted by the Home Office and local governments for basic services such as accommodation. Notably, new asylum seekers have been subjected to immigration detention by transferring them to remote military barracks or even putting them in vacant hotels. Most worryingly, asylum seekers whose claims are refused (and appeal rights exhausted) are effectively placed outside the law – and, therefore, subject to unconditional elimination from the UK.
Moreover, as highlighted by Helen’s story, immigrants with a ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ remark on their residence permits also fall into the category of the naked life placed at the threshold of the legal protection. Deprived of public funds, Helen was exposed to multiple layers of exclusive discrimination. On the one hand, she had to work to avoid abject destitution and was required by the state to self-isolate on the other. The fact that Helen’s immediate family members contracted the virus meant that she might be spreading the virus to the public if she had continued to go to work.
The irony, however, is that the state-imposed destitution on immigrants with precarious status such as asylum seekers and family joiners has never been fit for purpose. It not only fails to protect the vulnerable members of society, but also risks public safety. In fact, this orchestrated systemic injustice remains to be the hidden matrix of the ‘hostile environment’ that is designed not only to exceptionalise immigrants, but also to render them rightless. Hayat’s last plea in her dying moments, “[please] do something to help the community”, emanated from this deep sense of lack, absolute nakedness and rightlessness. Below, we highlight some of the community work we have been doing to help our community survive the multi-layered challenges. We would like to clarify that our work is only part of inspiring community led-initiatives by Eritrean migrants in the UK. This piece should therefore be seen as part, and not representative, of all community-led initiatives to confront the virus.
Resilience in vulnerability – galvanising community response
We have relied on the community’s exceptional acts of solidarity and collective response to confront the spread of the deadly virus. Yet, mobilising community response was not without its challenges. As services in the statutory and charitable sectors moved to remote service delivery, refugees and asylum seekers, already at the margins of the existing digital divide, either as a result of gaps in digital skills or because of lack of financial means to afford adequate forms of communication technology, were left with the daunting task of navigating a new online world Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in the UK were no exception.
COVID-19 guidance and related advice provided by the government were not readily accessible, either in language or format. Barriers to communication, including limited English language skills among refugees and asylum seekers, were not considered important public health issues. As one Eritrean asylum seeker put it: “we are dispersed in an isolated location with no internet or TV access. We do not have access to COVID-19 policy guidance. Sometimes, I ask my friends for information about COVID-19 rules lest I breach the law.”
In their attempts to negotiate the challenges of the digital gap, some refugee parents were forced to push their children into “adultification” – a phenomenon that involves “contextual, social, and developmental processes in which youth are prematurely, and often inappropriately, exposed to adult knowledge and assume extensive adult roles and responsibilities within their family networks” .Yet many others were left on their own.
In the hope of filling this gap,we started by setting up a public Facebook page titled COVID-19 Taskforce where we have been sharing COVID-19 ‘Key Messages’ and other relevant information. The page provides summary translation, in one of the Eritrean languages, of new COVID-19 guidance, including social distancing, face covering, and test and trace. We also assisted community members with welfare applications and provided guidance on the immigration and asylum matters. Through our dedicated telephone helpline, we have been supporting members of our community with online form filling, such as job, housing, travel document and benefit applications. We also offer limited support in remote education and online learning for parents whose children are asked to stay at home because of COVID-19 cases in their schools. And for services that need specialised professions, we direct people to qualified service providers while also offering to interpret for them.
In addition to promoting government guidelines and raising awareness, we have actively developed community-centred best practices aimed at reducing the spread of the virus and supporting those who have contracted it. In consultation with some active community members, we devised what we call the TIME—Test, Isolate, Message, Eat—messaging system. Embedded in the TIME messaging system are an informal and yet efficient contact tracing system, adherence to isolation rules and reliance on local support networks. People with the virus voluntarily message their friends and community members with whom they had been in close contact and advise them to isolate and follow the guidelines. As implied in the choice of the acronym TIME, the time, speed and consistency with which the messages are delivered are crucial.
Once the COVID-19 guidelines were translated to a language the community members understood, it was easy to disseminate the government guidelines and messages. We used popular social media platforms and large virtual groups to target community members having COVID-19 symptoms and encouraged them to adhere to the government guidelines and follow the TIME messaging to reduce the spread of the virus. With every contact traced functioning as a contact breaker, the informal community contact tracing system contributed to containing the spread of the virus within the Eritrean diaspora community in the UK.
Since the start of the pandemic, our community has been gripped by a palpable pain at the loss of some members and contraction of the virus of others. When the tragic news of deaths such as Hayat’s broke, many Eritreans asked about the funeral procedures. Funerals and burial rituals are important cultural practices in Eritrean society; surrounded by relatives and friends, the family of the deceased say their final goodbyes, followed by days of people gathering in the bereaving families’ house. Burial rituals are held, prayers said and bereaving families encouraged not to fall into perpetual grief. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has suspended these important aspects of the community’s human-to-human relationality. However, a section of the Eritrean community gathered online to discuss comforting bereaving families and people regularly made financial contributions, conducted memorial services and offered bereavement counselling to families.
Supporting individuals with the virus during isolation has been the easiest task and a heartening experience, mainly because of the community’s inherent values of radical solidarity and resilience. Following a successful recovery from the virus, Helen described the support she received from community members as follows:
The side of my main door was always filled with bags full of food, toiletries and other essentials bought by well-wishers in our community… With our community, you do not feel that you’re in quarantine. There is always someone at the door with cooked dishes and your phone rings 24/7. This kind of community spirit and solidarity played a crucial role in helping me and my husband see through the difficult times of our isolation.
These acts of social solidarity are rooted in community trust, relations and collective actions. While the refugee communities continue to remain constitutively excluded from the mainstream society, we rely on our community cohesion, social solidarity and long-established coping strategies.
Furthermore, alongside other active community members, we were involved in laying the foundations for community-led initiatives such as Shama Baytona. As part of our effort to mitigate loneliness and isolation during the lockdown, we initiated a virtual community space for people to stay connected. The initiative started with a small group of Eritrean refugees and has now developed into an online YouTube channel, Shama Foundation, an important online site where we discuss socio-political, economic and community issues that concern our communities, both in Eritrea and in the diaspora. It is this unique social space that nurtures genuine sociality and communal relationality which, in turn, serve as a cohesive social glue that brings people together.
Alongside our community responsibilities, we are also involved in co-organising academic workshops and seminars. Among others, we led an online discussion entitled ‘Spotlight Eritrea’ on the 75th anniversary of UNESCO’s founding in London and co-organised the Decolonising Forced Migration seminar series. Organised by UNESCO Chair Refugee Integration Through Languages and the Arts (RILA), the 75th UNESCO anniversary celebrated Eritrea’s tangible and intangible socio-cultural contributions. It was an honour and humbling experience for Eritreans in the UK to have Patrick Grady MP tabling an early day motion in the UK parliament and Professor Alison Phipps roasting traditional Eritrean coffee in zuria dress. The event created a warm social atmosphere where host and guest communities discussed ideas and shared gifts. Professor Alison Phipps opened the inaugural lecture of Decolonising Forced Migration – a seminar series we co-organised with colleagues at the University of Leeds – with her fascinating talk on the theme of Why Integration is a Delicate Art that Needs Everyone’s Language.
These events and seminar series were the highlights for many of our community members. As stated, the collective acts of solidarity and unconditional hospitality overshadowed the prevailing ‘hostile environment’ against undesirable immigrants and, undoubtedly, contributed to the refugee community’s resilience.
As shown, structural violence operating in tandem with COVID-19 has deprived the Eritrean migrant community in the UK of the very meaning of community life and their right to an orderly life. Despite the multi-layered structural vulnerability, however, the Eritrean refugee community has shown extraordinary resilience in dealing with the deadly virus. Carrying out Hayat’s last exhortation to “do something to help the community” and in fighting for our rights, we continue to make what Groeninck et al. call “resilient moves” or “relational practices based on negotiation between practitioners from, and in various relationships to, refugee families and the material world.” The support we have received from the Eritrean community in the UK, the host community, professionals and local charities was exceptional and humbling.
With the extraordinary work of scientists in developing a protective vaccine against the virus and the NHS successful inoculation campaign, we hope the end of the pandemic is now in sight. However, as migrant communities adapt to new ways of living in a post-COVID-19 world, it is important that they are not again left behind. And, we also believe that our work with marginalised communities is essential, and given the necessary financial and scholarly support, we hope to develop the work we have started even further.
Mieke Groeninck et al., “Resilience in Liminality: How Resilient Moves Are Being Negotiated by Asylum-Seeking Families in the Liminal Context of Asylum Procedures,” Journal of Refugee Studies 33, no. 2 (June 1, 2020): 5, https://doi.org/10.1093/jrs/feaa031.
Content warning: this piece contains discussion around sexual violence, police violence, war, murder, and death
Earlier this month, the much anticipated Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC) was published by the Home Office. Since then, it has passed its second reading in parliament, but the parliamentary process has been delayed as a result of the huge outpour of rage and solidarity that arose after the police violence witnessed at the gathering to mourn, grieve and protest Sarah Everard’s tragic murder. Most recently, protests in Bristol have renewed the conversation and put the spotlight on the Bill, as well as the role of police in our communities.
Rushed through parliament by the government, little time had been allowed for the PCSC Bill (nearly 300 pages long!) to be properly scrutinised. Regardless, many campaigners and community members have picked up on strikingly draconic aspects of the Bill, that increase already violent police powers to an extreme. Some examples include, the risk of ‘annoyance’ or disruption that could allow police to shut protests down and jail protestors for. Both dangerous and ridiculous in expecting a demonstration or protest not to disrupt (what is the purpose of a demonstration?!), the addition of ‘risk’ raises the questions of how and who will analyse what could be a disruption. Refusing protests to take place near the symbolic centre of power (parliament) is among other aspects highlighted in the Bill. Another, is the increased sentences for defamation of statues (like that of slave trader Edward Colston) to 10 years in prison, with reference to the ‘emotional’ value that these statues hold.
Whilst the state should not dictate to us how we protest, nor expect us to seek permission from the state to protest, these examples and the way this Bill has been rushed through parliament exemplify how this government has continued to erode our rights and legitimise the increase of powers that protect them and their interests. Legislation no longer even wrapped up with the language of rights, the government has been audacious enough to reveal their intentions.
We protest for the survival and life of our communities. Is the death of our communities not an ‘annoyance’? Do our communities, our youth, our elders not have emotions that deserve to be respected, or even just recognised, like that which the state and police forces are willing to give to statues of men that supported, upheld and profited from some of the most heinous acts?
Whilst there has been an outpour of renewed rage in light of the scenes witnessed at Clapham Common, we must recognise that the violence of policing and the police has been experienced and resisted for as long as its existence as an institution. In the UK, campaigns and groups like INQUEST, the United Families & Friends Campaign (UFFC) and Black Lives Matter UK have long campaigned against deaths and violence at the hands of the state and police. Last year’s uprisings saw, again, the especially discriminatory violence of the police against protestors, as documented by Netpol’s report on the policing of BLM protests.
The implication that Cressida Dick’s role is important in the fight for ‘all women’ by one of the organisers of Reclaim These Streets exposes a shallow understanding of police violence (amongst so much other violence, Dick’s involvement in Charles de Menzes’s murder cannot be forgotten). This trampling on so many of our communities for superficial changes that fail to deal with the underlying oppressive structures precisely ignores most, and harms all women. It allows the state to exercise it’s oldest and most harmful ‘trick in the book’ – to divide and rule.
This conversation around police violence and gender violence is inseparable to the violence of racism and class, and our solidarity must extend to women failed and assaulted by the state, and forgotten by a lot of the public, like Blessing Olusegun, Shukri Abdi, Belly Mujinga, Bibaa Henry & Nicole Smallman, as well as those killed directly by the state, in custody or in prison like Sarah Reed and the 194+ women whose deaths have been recorded. It must show in our campaigning to resource facilities and institutions of care and safety from the horrors of domestic violence, and in the fight to end carceral systems that kill our sisters and communities, whether in custody, in immigration removal and detention centres, on borders, on our streets or in our homes . This rage and solidarity must be inseparable from our fight for an end to the hostile environment, for justice for Grenfell, and justice for Moayed Bashir, Mohamud Hassan and Christopher Kapessa,
Policing powers have also been increased and deployed to criminalise already criminalised communities as seen throughout the pandemic under emergency powers and the Coronavirus Bill. With this context, it is easy to identify the limited ‘solidarity’ and care that many politicians have expressed with women, especially in the ways shock, disappointment and anger at the Met’s policing of the Clapham gathering was conveyed. Whilst abstaining from or voting for the Bills mentioned above, the Hostile Environment or for literal wars, their ‘care’ for women is clearly deficient of substance. It is crucial therefore, to realise that although the PCSC Bill is particularly outrageous in its clarity on the clampdown of protest, this type of legislation is not new, nor contradictory to the purposes of policing institutions, nor to the attitude and actions of this government.
These policing practices are not isolated to the UK – they have also been used to surveil, control and harm communities across the globe for centuries, from their very inception. Earlier this month, we saw the return of the annual Security & Policing fair hosted by the Home Office. At this atrocious event, in which delegates from across the world are invited, police techniques, equipment and technologies are shared and sold, whilst officials ‘network’. Beyond the sharing of policing tactics, sales of police equipment or/and trainings offered to state institutions later to be used on populations (in sometimes lethal ways), the practice of policing also extends to and beyond borders. This is evident for example, through the continued legacies of colonialism (as explained in our #ENDSARS video), through the operation of arms corporations in policing European borders, or through paramilitaries and state actors that provide direct British global policing. Policing on borders, and of migrants which will no doubt be extended under Priti Patel’s most recent asylum plans are not to be sidelined in this conversation. Locally, massive investments in arms and fossil fuel companies by West Yorkshire councils (amongst the largest in the country) have funded and profited from the policing of communities at home and abroad, reminding us again that our struggles are inseparable.
Britain’s historical and ongoing role in policing the world, to accumulate wealth, crush dissent and surveil communities needs to be part of this conversation. A reckoning with this bloody and ongoing picture and a holistic understanding might help expose problems in attributing ‘violence’ to acts of protest. One of the most symbolic representations of this contradiction was evident in Boris Johnson’s condemnation of protests in Bristol and calls for protesting to be done ‘peacefully and legally’ whilst he was visiting one of the world’s largest arms companies, BAE Systems, that has played a huge role in the war on Yemen, even throughout the pandemic.
In our local communities, we continue to see money being poured into policing whilst our living and community services are underfunded. Earlier this month, West Yorkshire police announced the building of two new police stations in Kirklees. Just over a week ago, it was also announced that West Yorkshire police would be receiving £1.5million from the Home Office. And a few days ago, West Yorkshire Police declared a surge in the deployment of police bikes in Calderdale. This is not to mention the investment in policing (often racialised) communities beyond those in uniforms, through schemes like Prevent in schools, hospitals, workplaces. Where is the investment in education, housing, health, and leisure, that could radically better our communities and contribute massively to the prevention of problems the police claim to deal with?
Within the last few months, the Racial Justice Network has published two reports: ‘Hate Crime & System(ic) Injustice’ and ‘Stop the Scan(dal): A Report on the public perception of police fingerprint scanning’. Both have outlined the ineffectiveness of policing in protecting our communities as well as the continuous violence and criminalisation of (particularly racialised) communities by the police. Considering this criminalisation and ineffective nature of dealing with hate crime, and the fact that victims of hate crime do not receive monetary compensation, questions continue to be raised around the consequences of increased policing of our communities, especially with the recent announcement of an £8million investment to reduce crime and support victims in West Yorkshire. Importantly, within these reports, we shed light on new technologies of policing like fingerprint scanning and the transfer of data between the police and Home Office, and how it is clear that for example, border and police violence are entangled, and can only be resisted together.
Whilst we outlined attempts at dividing our struggles above, a collaborative understanding of the ways in which gender-, border-, racist-, colonial- violences are inherent to police (violence), can allow us to continue the call and organising for a radical, collective resistance and movement in which we prioritise our communities and life rather than violence and death, leaving no-one behind.
The delay of the Bill, the pressure that changed the Labour Party’s abstaining stance into opposition, and most importantly the mobilisation of thousands in the last weeks are huge victories. With this, comes the opportunity to grow our movement collectively, fighting against institutions and practices that are killing our communities in different ways.
It is not enough to call for reforms or promises from institutions dedicated to the protection of institutions and bodies that kill and harm our communities, at home, on borders, and abroad.
Instead we must fight for an end to structural violence for which these institutions are fundamental to, and invest our capacities in building our communities, looking out for and protecting one another, and investing in community resources, facilities and practices that foster and flourish life.
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:
Fight against the erasure and whitewashing of history.
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.
Disrupt overwhelmingly white spaces using your privilege to bring voices into the room that are sidelined and silenced. Pass the mic.
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.
Continue to create, attend and support spaces, individuals or groups that teach unsanitized history (including non-traditional classrooms) spaces that attempt to repair harms.
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
Flashing images of protesters, police, far-right supporting the police, fire burning and mentions of Jacob Blake returned a short focus on Black Death and Black Pain all whilst the debate about the relevance of the words in rule Britannia are in contemporary times was going on. A couple of weeks ago, a few of us had started to wonder if the furore, outrage and pledges following the murder of George Floyd had been forgotten. Had we moved on? And now after yet another incident of a Black man at the hands of the police, the first think that came to mind was.. really? Where were the officers when the whole world erupted because of police racism and brutality?
Looking at racial injustice closer to home and I find myself swinging between outrage and apathy, between demanding change and being overwhelmed by the amount of injustice everywhere. Like the recent reported deaths of 5 people seeking sanctuary. I say ‘reported’ deaths as I imagine there are others who do not make the headlines or to the media. Others are dying as you read this article. Four were in the UK going through the asylum system and Abdulfatah Hamdallah drowned before he arrived. The horrific image of Mercy Baguma being found dead with a toddler beside her lingers and I wonder what this child would think or ask of this government when he grows up and learns his mother died because of a piece of paper.
This paper for most of individuals risking their lives crossing the English Channel, the meditarenean, climbing over fences, freezing at the back of lorries, surviving in camps, this piece of paper means life or death. And the majority of people who take on the treachaorous journeys are fleeing situations which are most likely instigated by colonialism meaning Britain had a hand in those conditions. Some are probably tired of hearing but it is iperative to keep foregrounding colonialism and coloniality because the past is really not the past and if anything there is a debt that is owed to the maangamizi and the like. They are running to the UK to survive and somehow dying to live.
So whilst we point to the US and the visible racist institutions like the police (yet again), as calls and echoes to defund the police grow louder, we need to be looking at ourselves and at the invisible institutionally racist policies that come in the form of a paper. Policies and laws that dictate that one life is worthy and another unworthy, that one is believed and another is not believed and therefore results to preventable and unnecessary loss of fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, sisters and mothers like Belly Mujinga, Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah Alhabib and others.
We should go further and question the rest of the institutions that stand by and do nothing to fight for those whose statuses are not legalised. Who have been criminalised because of socioeconomic factors, birthright lottery and ethnicity. There are a lot of questions like; Where are the children charities, feminists, mental health organisations, education institutions, local councils and authorities? ..some of whom have immersed themselves in ‘race and anti-racism trainings’. Where are those who stand or swear by the equality act but step back from those with no recourse to funding which equals to being bystanders and complacency. Does all humanity have to be monetised? Are we humans before we are citizens? Where is the collective pressure on lawmakers? Why are they not supporting or reinforcing work that is challenging Patel and posse policies? Why are individuals who have defied odds and arrived in this country dying to live?
Bob Marley asks, ‘how long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?’ Listening to Jacob Blake’s sister Letetra Widman poignant words ‘ I am not sad, I am angry, I do not want pity, I want change’ should be a rallying call to everyone out there. Because if you are not with us, you are for them. Time and time again we as Black activists, organisers involved in movements have said everyone should be actively doing something, racism is not a Black problem and pathologising whiteness would go along in overstanding that white supremacy has a lot to answer for. Those benefiting from the system should be doing more, much more because your silence is compliance, choose courage over comfort and this includes dismantling structures that continue to dehumanise and kill like the migration policies.
During the past two weeks, we have had hundreds of new followers on our social media accounts. As much as we would like to believe it is all related to the launch of our short documentary on our decolonial resistance efforts with comrades/siblings in Kenya, we are very aware it is also to do with what is currently occurring in the US following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police.
So we will begin by saying we are devastated by yet another murder of a Black man. In the murder of Black people, the US continues to produce the consequences of a white supremacist system. In February we lost Ahmaud Arbery. This month we’ve also lost Tony McDade, a Black Trans man murdered by Florida police officers and Breonna Taylor, shot in her own home by police in Kentucky. Solidarity with our Afrikan American siblings.
The oppression and destruction of Black and Brown bodies is global. The use of state forces against the most marginalised is global. The narrative of white liberals believing that we’re somehow better than the US is false and self deceiving. Just earlier this month we saw the shocking footage of police tasering Desmond Ziggy Mombeyarara in front of his young son. Yesterday we learned the news that Belly Mujinga’s death will not receive any further action. Sean Rigg, Sheku Bayoh, Sarah Reed, Mzee Mohammed, Christopher Alder (and many many more) have all been murdered while in police custody in the UK. This is not only a problem of individual police officers, but an institutional problem. This is also exemplified by how the force can be unaccountable .
The new powers given to the police in the wake of the pandemic has meant that Black people are 54% more times likely to be fined during lockdown and suffer from the excessive use of force. We always knew this would be the case which is why many anti racist organisations campaigned against them.
We have seen people outraged and frustrated, and moving to claim solidarity but this needs to last longer than the newscycle – our lives depend on it. We are also aware there are some who are willing and want to do something but are unsure about where to start. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Follow, join, interact with anti-racist orgs. Check out that they’re lived experience led and not of the white saviour kind. These organisations can do more harm than good. Beware of orgs that are ‘personality led’. Those thirsty for the front can get in the way of real change. If there are no current active groups near you, organise and start one (and research, learn from, connect to & build upon the history of activism in your ends). Link your org and actions with others. Collective action is the only action.
2. If you are Black/Brown, from a migrant-background, and feeling triggered and traumatised by the images/stories out there, It’s ok to step back and refuse the emotional labour of educating others. Seek spaces that can assist your repair. Collective repair is resistance.
3. Hold systems to account. Hold cultures to account. Racism isn’t one person. It is historical and systematic. The lack of access to healthcare, housing, education, and employment have been embedded into the fabric of a racialised capitalist society for a long time. Change harmful systems to change society.
4. Do not expend energy on trying to convince white supremacy that we’re humans. If they didn’t know that before it’s not your job to help them with that now.
5. Solidarity can take many forms. Continuously reflect on your positionality, pledge on what you will do and can do and do not demand answers from an already traumatised community. Hold yourself and your surroundings accountable, learn from it and do better.
RJN is a lived-experience informed & led anti-racist organisation whose work focuses predominantly on racially minoritised communities who feel the full brunt of racism and the legacies of colonialism. Can you offer dedicated time to learn, share and organise with others? Support our work with:
Stop the Scan campaign: help us demand the end of police use of biometric fingerprint machines connected to the Home Office database and a firewall between the Home Office and police be installed. Join the Yorkshire Resists collective in resisting the UK governments Hostile Environment racist anti-migrant policies.
Finding resources to support our regional and international efforts including opportunities on public platforms.
Join our public forums and let us know how you will use your anger to fuel your antiracist efforts, how you will channel your anger over the ongoing murder of Black people in the US and around the world.
Donate to support the protesters in Minnesota and elsewhere, but also donate to support our work, and the work of other anti-racist organisations in the UK.
“When you’ve been silenced and hurting so long, all that you’re left with is a scream.”
Brazilian sister at Women in Movement Dialogue Conference in Rio De Janeiro, 2019.
Rest In Power George Floyd
Article by Desiree Reynolds, Dr. Laura Loyola, Peninah Wangari-Jones and Dr. Remi Joseph-Salisbury
Following the current situation involving Amy Cooper, it felt appropriate to repost this article published here two years ago… Anaïs Duong-Pedica reflects on white fragility, white women’s tears, and the innocence of white women.
Similarly, Mary Beard’s recent tweets have prompted many to pay attention to the continuing existence of racist and colonial ideologies among British leftist intellectuals. Her tweets sparked responses for two reasons: First, the wilful ignorance behind her tweets on the cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by Oxfam staff in Haiti and second, Mary Beard’s reactions to being challenged online. She first tweeted that she was crying, and then shared a selfie showing her crying and visibly upset. While this seems to have appeared childish to some, this type of reaction will not be unfamiliar to people of colour. In fact, while we have seen a few takes on white feminism emerge out of this, many people, especially women of colour, have written about this in the past.
Crying, being visibly upset or stating that one is upset is a strategy used by white women when they feel at threat of being perceived as racist or accused of racism. These strategies can be called “moves to innocence”. They are emotional responses which are in part related to white fragility or the fact that white people’s ability to endure racial tensions is very low. Not having to think about race or to think of themselves as racialized render white people “fragile” to these conversations, as opposed to people of colour who grow up and live seeing themselves through the eyes of white people.
These demonstrations of emotions are also due to the fact that some white people know or, at least, have an idea that they benefit from white supremacy and racism while at the same time understanding that it is unfair. White people, including white women, are invested in avoiding being seen as racist because of these conscious or unconscious understandings of racism as being unfair.
However, because white people are socialised and live in white supremacist societies, they are more invested in upholding white supremacy (which will ensure that their privileges are safe) than they are challenging it. This is why rather than prioritizing continued engagement, constructive exchange, reflection, and learning from their mistakes when they are challenged on their complicity in racism, too many white people prioritise deflection and avoidance.
White women’s tears act as a shield against accusation of white privilege. The white woman’s tears work both for the white woman and against the person who is making her uncomfortable (usually a person of colour). In this way, their function is twofold. First, they re-centre the white woman through her emotions and create feelings of empathy and compassion for the white woman. Consequently, race and racism are no longer the focuses, the white woman’s emotions are. After Mary Beard made her emotions visible, many replies showed support to her and called for those who engaged with her to be more compassionate.
Similar responses were triggered at Rose McGowan’s reading at Barnes & Nobles after having been challenged by Andi Dier, a white trans woman and activist, on her antagonism with regards to trans women. Rose McGowan became angry, stood up, raised her voice, then cried while Dier was removed by security. The audience tried to soothe McGowan by telling her she was “amazing” despite her clear abuse of power. In a similar fashion, many white women were quick to remind everyone of the importance of Mary Beard’s work, achievements and of her right to be human and imperfect despite her show of racism, therefore prioritizing her protection over a constructive dialogue around racism.
The second function of the white woman’s tears is to shift the roles. If the white woman feels accused of racism, her tears turn the aggression towards the accuser. The one who is seen to have caused the white woman’s tears is now an “abuser”, a “troll”, a “bully”, a “harasser”. David Olusoga, a historian and friend of Beard’s, used the term “lynch mob” with regards to those who addressed Mary Beard’s racism. In these instances, the white woman and her feelings are centered and any attempt to remove her from the centre will be met with resistance by her and those invested in maintaining her (white) power. Moreover, because white women’s display of emotions is a strategy that deflects one’s attention from the issue at hand and re-centres the white woman as a victim, the creation of the victim, through tears, also creates, by association, a perpetrator/offender. If the individual who makes the white woman uncomfortable happens to be a woman of colour, and especially a Black woman, the binary victim/abuser will be reinforced. The white woman’s tears act as a way to differentiate her from the Black woman. The tears exacerbate the social differences between them. The white woman is innocent and upset, the Black woman is aggressive and angry. Even if the Black woman who challenges the white woman cries, her tears will not be valued as much as the white woman’s. Individuals are not equally assumed to be or seen as innocent.
Likewise, the display of emotions in order to appear innocent isn’t accessible to all equally. Maybe we can speak of a racial hierarchy of emotions that determines who can display emotions within particular social interactions and how productive or counterproductive these emotions will be. In this context, we need to question whose emotions matter and whose emotions are so valuable that they can be weaponized. In this sense, white women’s moves to innocence and fragility, more generally, are ways in which the status-quo is upheld. They are deployed to silence those who speak against racism (usually people who are not racialized as white) and to safeguard the privileges and comfort of white people, including white women. Many white people believe that western societies are post-racial in that all individuals seem to have the same rights and access to the same opportunities.
To believe that racism only manifests through extremely violent policies such as racial segregation, normalization of physical harm against racialized bodies or racist name-calling is naïve. Racism and whiteness are continuously changing. They adapt to their socio-political environments. If a racist practice becomes unacceptable (Racial segregation for example), acceptable racist practices will continue to exist and new racist practices will appear. In fact, in postcolonial western and predominantly-white societies, racism and white supremacy become less and less visible because anti-racist social movements have made many people conscious of the fact that they were unacceptable. Therefore, not seeing racism and white supremacy does not mean that they are not there. They may have taken more subtle forms, like white innocence and fragility. At this point, it should be said that I am not problematizing the fact that white women have feelings. Being upset, sad, frustrated, angry are normal and expected in these situations. Social change is an emotional business. Rather, what I am problematizing is what is done with these emotions. If one has been socialised as white and as a woman, these strategies will come naturally. White women just do it, without necessarily thinking about it (although some do think about it).
Therefore, two important take away messages would be that white women realise and honestly acknowledge these behaviours and their consequences for those who are on the receiving end of white women’s innocence. White women have to internally resist what pulls them toward innocence, what tells them to interpellate particular racial narratives about themselves and the individuals who are making them uncomfortable. If the white woman makes herself a victim by the use of emotions, then she is responsible for also making someone an abuser. White women urgently need to engage, reflect on and be accountable for their actions without centering themselves. While many think that emotions are only “natural” and personal, they are also very much social and political and can be dangerous. As Aisha Mirza writes, white women are dangerous “because they’re allowed to be soft – innocent until proven innocent”.
Crying, being visibly upset or stating that one is upset is a strategy used by white women when they feel at threat of being perceived as racist or accused of racism. These strategies can be called “moves to innocence”.
NOTE: THE RACIAL JUSTICE NETWORK WROTE THIS BLOG 03/03/2019. WE ARE REPOSTING IT IN RESPONSE TO COMIC RELIEF’S DECISION TO NO LONGER SEND CELEBRTITIES TO AFRICA.
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.
Our greetings to all who are present. We call in all those who are not fully present and we all acknowledge the life within us and around us which supports us and which we too can be in support of.
Here is a moment for us to all be in acknowledgement of the life that connects us through our breath and beingness.
As much as we may often claim, in our works, a commitment to the Earth, how do we really demonstrate that commitment?
Have we really, truly and deeply recognised and felt within our hearts, the capacities that we have for being at one with this Earth who bears everything that we bring to it.
There is nothing that we have taken in that does not first arise in the Earth, in the spirit of selfless giving.
There is nowhere that we move that is not in some way supported by the complete altruism of Earth connection and generosity.
All that we lose from ourselves that is waste, in any form, at any level of human organisation, is absorbed and reprocessed by this planet.
So do we come even close to being in a place of humble acknowledgement of what Earth is to us and in relation to that, the fact of our belonging to the Earth makes it necessary also to be in full acknowledgement of each other, not only across the face of the Earth, but also over the deep time of this planet’s existence.
We owe it to ourselves. We, literally, owe it to ourselves.
Even though some humans have been foolhardy enough to take upon themselves the authority and misguided perception that the Earth belongs to them and so have decided to exploit the Earth’s body, breath and substance, as if there is no tomorrow, literally as if there is no tomorrow… we really ought to know better.
Who has created life? I am not speaking here of artificial life forms, those that are based upon firstly studying and then trying to replicate life forms, I speak of the kind of creativity that life alone possesses and can reproduce. I am speaking of being able to generate the capacity to give, receive and be in the space of the breath that connects us, impartially, without agenda and with something that surpasses this human word ‘Love’.
The moment that we can answer that question with the honesty it deserves, is the moment that we cease to crave and demand possession of more than that which we can reasonably be accountable for.
It is a space and time of acknowledgement.
When we aspire towards that space it is as if the scales can fall off our eyes and we truly see all of life in its beautiful nakedness and at the same time fullness.
In that space and in that time there is neither unity nor binary, there just is and in that space and time we can afford to be completely generous with ourselves because we understand our completeness and the completeness of all beings, none greater or lesser than the other. None with any greater or lesser capacity to contribute than the other and so we cease to clamour for growth because we recognise that any growth that is beyond our sufficiency must be cancerous. Cancer comes with the gift of great responsibility and accountability and who is the one who has the capacity to rise to the place in which the cancer has no role in the continuity of life.
Colonialism or coloniality is such a cancer.
We have not yet arrived at a place in which we know how to look it in the eye and send it back to the place of brokenness from whence it came. For it is such a place and time that it arises. That place is anyplace and that time is everytime. The moment we seek to claim life over and beyond that which we can be fully accountable and responsible for, we are colonising. We seek to make these claims because we feel we are broken and lacking, we feel incomplete and so we steal from others in a variety of ways and inevitably we are in no position, because of this brokenness and feeling of lack of capacity, to remedy the destruction we cause by this extractive behaviour.
Unfortunately colonialism is addictive behaviour, manifesting in many forms, arising in many places. It bears hallmarks of both blindness and illusion, for other are emboldened to imitate this behaviour believing that they become adorned by possession.
Have we no idea how disfiguring it is of our humanity to carry the weight of hundreds of deaths and deformations on our bodies, in our places of habitation and work, in the food we eat, and water we use, simply because we have been unable to face the internal cracks and breakages: the wounds, ancestral wounds within ourselves?
Colonialism produces waste. We can never have enough. The waste tends to accumulate around those who have taken most. Imagine if in the places where there is most extravagance the Earth was to first implode, but no, in the scheming, greedy ways of the most broken, that waste is exported and so the environmental damage accumulates around those who cause the least damage.
Climate change? Climate Crisis? Climate emergency? What is this thing called climate that we study as if it is not the same Earth being impacted by the brokenness of humanity? Why do we not call it what it is: Climate Change is Human degradation: the devolution of the human outside of balance. Climate Crisis is the crisis of Human sensibility: the way in which it is beginning to realise that it is trapped in a kind of paralysis of madness. Climate Emergency is the emergency being faced by humans in their inability to control their own greed, namely the trauma which has emerged and is causing so many to be stuck in a vortex of lust and inertia.
Let us not look outside of ourselves, rather let us look at each other and within. Let us not seek to assign fault to the blameless earth: it practices everything we can aspire to. No, let us find within what we call nature and environment the ways in which we can heal our brokenness, beginning first with our breath and moving the breath into beingness with our complete selves.
Let us remember who we are and to do this we must Sankofa into the root of our beingness as belonging to the completeness of being Earth and the knowledge that that is enough, it good and is whole.
If we wish to practice generosity and humility then let us offer to lend our full support and solidarity to those who have been studying Life for long. We know who they are. This is the work that heals and these are the ones who do not raise their voices stridently, but who simply go about the work of Life and who are often punished for it by those who are broken and who are ashamed.
Let us close on a remembering. Remember your breath.
Acknowledge the Breath of the Earth in all its manifestations
We are a working group with members from ZHRO (Zimbabwe Human Rights Group), ROHR (Zimbabwe Restoration of Human Rights), MDC-A (Movement for Democratic Change Alliance) and ZAPU along with other Zimbabweans living in the UK and various organisations who have been coordinating efforts to stop the deportation of people back to Zimbabwe.
We have gathered numerous pieces of evidence (see below) of the dire situation in Zimbabwe. Our country is in the grip of several concurrent crises – political violence perpetrated by the ruling Zanu PF party, economic crisis, medical chaos caused by looting of funds and resources and judicial corruption which mainly favours the ruling elite and their looting/land grabbing.
The Home Office has taken to face value that the Zimbabwe government will help those being deported without providing any real evidence of how this support will be implemented nor the safe guard mechanisms needed to keep people who fled because of political, trade union, religious or other fears.
We urge the public to take immediate action to stop the flight to Zimbabwe scheduled for 21 July, 2021.
ACTIONS TO TAKE IMMEDIATELY
Write to your MP and demand the flight be stopped. Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC UK) have written a template. Link here
Sign the petition launched by BARAC UK but supported by Restoration of Human Rights (ROHR) Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Human Rights Organization (ZHRO), Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSMigrants), Right To Remain, Voice for Voiceless Immigration Detainees Yorkshire, Actors For Human Rights, Bail for Immigration Detainees, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. Link here
Tweet @ the Home Office to say deportations are cruel and inhumane and we say #ENDDEPORTATIONS
Keep sharing on social media and throughout your networks
Guest post on behalf of the Unlearning Racism Collective, a project of The Racial Justice Network (RJN).
If you’re white-identified and resident in West Yorkshire, you can now enrol for an individual or organisation-sponsored space on our intensive Unlearning Racism course, which will be running over Zoom beginning Wednesday July 28th. Details are at the bottom of this post.
Countless individuals and organisations have been in touch since to express interest in this work. As a small unpaid organising group our capacity was overwhelmed, so in the Autumn we took a step back to reflect and strategize how to meet this encouraging groundswell of demand, without losing integrity to the relationships of accountability we stand for.
We are extremely grateful for the unflinching trust, belief, solidarity and visionary support offered from Peninah Wangari-Jones from the beginnings of our journey to the present. As well as a wider community of movement mentors generously offering their wisdom and expertise during our period of strategic reflection and internal capacity building. We’d like to uplift and appreciate; Erika Thorne, Farzana Khan, Jamie Schearer, Julian Walker, Laura Loyola-Hernández, Nusrat Faizullah and others for their ideas, insight and support, as well as the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for resourcing our development towards a more sustainable, scalable and accountable solidarity network.
Among other things, this allowed us to converge on a purpose ‘to contribute to and support anti-racist work led by Black and Brown people with lived experience of racism’. By ‘engaging and mobilising white people and communities to unlearn racism in order to take action to dismantle the structures and systems of white supremacy’. Yet as we largely organise within white-identifying caucuses, the pivotal questions are; how accountable is our work, and how effective is it, in meaningfully contributing to movements for racial justice?
As Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), state; ‘Accountability ensures that those most impacted define what counts as winning, and challenges us to build within our communities to develop tangible support for that vision’ We recognise that without lived experience of racism we cannot have a comprehensive perspective on it. The structurally enabled advantages that people racialized as white hold limit our understanding, and make it impossible to be objective on race, racialism and racism as white supremacy was constructed to serve us. With credits to the wisdom and expertise of our generous mentors, we recognise how essential it is to embed principles and structures of accountability into our practice if we are to meaningfully work together towards our collective goal.
As one of our mentors Erika Thorne, a trainer at Training for Change and organiser at SURJ-TC (Twin Cities, one of many SURJ-National chapters), reflected to us – ‘Accountability is only as good as the actual relationships that white organisers have with movements led by People of Colour, Black and Brown activists. Which is only built through showing up’. Her powerful insight prompted us to more deeply examine relationships with RJN, as well as how we mobilise and show up for action beyond training delivery.
This led us to develop our work in three ways. Firstly, with support from RJN, we have revised the Unlearning Racism Course content to be more oriented towards action throughout. Secondly, to ensure scaling delivery remains true to our values without being overly demanding on RJN, each course will have a dedicated Mentor whose role will be to support accountability as well as guide opportunities for action throughout the 8 monthly course modules. Mentors joining this wave of courses include the phenomenal Mama D Ujuaje and Esther Stanford Xosei.
In addition, we have recently developed an Accountable Action peer support group which will follow the courses we deliver, so each cohort will continue supporting each other in taking anti-racist action in their social lives, communities, institutions and families beyond the training room. In trialing it so far, the Collective have developed a loose structure for conversations in which we share tools, insights and reflections to help us to move towards more effective anti-racist action. This informal space is set up to be responsive to the needs of our Accountability Partners and Mentors, who send calls to action, support requests or might attend as guest speakers as and when mobilisation or targeted action is valuable. We will continue to evaluate and learn from our mistakes and strengths, and share learning with others as we develop this work.
What can I expect if I sign up?
The course covers a range of topics including; how race was constructed, whiteness and how it shows up, deepening self awareness, and supporting participants to build the practical skills necessary to disrupt cycles of oppression through personal accountability, constructive challenge and collective accountable action.
Places are likely to be highly in demand; you can sign up at the link below. We look forward to meeting you soon!
We are working on plans to expand the work into other regions, as well as to offer a package of support specific to Organisations. Sign up to our mailing list to keep up to date on any announcements.
We’d like to acknowledge the phenomenal support, direction and encouragement that the trustees and team behind RJN have given us to get to this point, and to thank them for enabling this message and work to happen.
People in West Yorkshire have voted for a new regional mayor – which includes the role of Police and Crime Commissioner. With the incoming regional mayor, and the current conversations around policing (heightened especially in light of the recent attempt at passing the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill through parliament) – we think this would be a good opportunity to discuss community related issues in West Yorkshire and how the future Mayor hopes to represent the region.
Set up five years ago, The Racial Justice Network is a West Yorkshire based antiracist charity committed to fighting racial injustice in our communities and addressing colonial legacies. The Racial Justice Network (RJN) brings together groups, organisations and individuals from across the West Yorkshire region to proactively promote racial justice.
Within the last few months, The Racial Justice Network has published two reports: ‘Hate Crime & System(ic) Injustice’ and ‘Stop the Scan(dal): A Report on the public perception of police fingerprint scanning’. Both have outlined the ineffectiveness of policing in protecting our communities as well as the continuous violence and criminalisation of communities, (particularly racialised communities) by the police itself. Given that whoever is elected will inherit PCC functions and responsibilities, along with our work on policing we think issues around policing is a crucial point of discussion for this election.
This discussion is even more pressing in current circumstances, and especially given that marginalised communities are increasingly discriminated against. Hate crime has become a growing public concern in recent times. Our report emerged as a result of individuals seeking out support through RJN as a last resort having experienced hate crime and police inaction themselves. We observed the similarities in their experiences of hate crime and thought it imperative to tell their stories.
This report is not only attempting to remind us about the intersection of oppressions but begins to question what actions are being taken by the government, police and wider society to address these vital and important concerns of the intersection of Brexit, Covid-19 pandemic and the hostile environment policy as we move forward.
Along with Yorkshire Resists, we have been working to draw attention to the impact of biometric services gateway (mobile fingerprinting) on both the communities targeted by police and the wider public. Mobile biometric devices are handheld fingerprint scanners that police officers can use to check, on the spot, a person’s identity by matching the image of the fingerprint taken against the IDENT1 criminal record database and the Home Office IABS database without taking the individual into custody. We know this technology is used to disproportionately target Black and Brown people – as the head of the PCC we recognise that the future mayor will never be on our side. But we want to know how the Mayor hopes to combat disproportionate police targeting of minoritised communities.
The Racial Justice Network’s Race & Climate Justice group was set up just over a year ago. The group aims to address the international impact of climate change on a local level through a framework being referred to as the 13th recommendation.
It was recently revealed that nearly £10bn worth of investments in fossil fuels, including oil and gas companies such as BP and Shell, were found in local government pension funds in the last year. Councils in Greater Manchester, Strathclyde, West Midlands and West Yorkshire had the biggest investments in fossil fuels, accounting between them for nearly a fifth of local government pension fund fossil fuel investments in the UK. West Yorkshire’s investments alone amounted to £504 million.
While councils have declared ‘a climate emergency’ it’s vital we interrogate their commitment to climate solutions. Our mantra – Leeds is not an island – demonstrates the importance of engaging with internationalism. A focus on individual responsibilities deflects from the biggest climate destroying players, and fails to provide a wider and truer understanding of climate destruction and resistance to it. The failure to expose the wider conversation around carbon emissions is too a problem, with calculations on a local and national level ignoring the outsourcing of carbon emissions is too a problem, with calculations on a local and national level ignoring the outsourcing of carbon emissions to the Global South, for the vast amount consumed by communities in the UK.
Oil companies such as Shell have wreaked havoc on communities in the global south, damaging the environment and devastating the lives of millions. For example, over the last five decades, oil and gas extraction have caused large-scale, continued contamination of the water and soil in Ogoni communities in Nigeria. The continued and systematic failure of oil companies to clean up polluted rivers have left thousands of Ogoni people facing serious health risks, struggling to access safe drinking water, and unable to earn a living. Divestment is one way we can resist against oil and gas companies, as well as ensuring that we’re holding our councils accountable for climate justice.
Across the UK we have seen councils commit to divest from fossil fuel investments – we want the same for West Yorkshire. How will the new mayor ensure that climate justice is implemented beyond just rhetoric?
The Racial Justice Network aims to raise awareness about race inequality and injustice by listening and working with disempowered communities to challenge and hold powers accountable. We hope the incoming Mayor of West Yorkshire listens to the needs of the community.