RACIAL JUSTICE NETWORK, 2019 round-up, looking forward to 2020


It’s been a busy, remarkable year for us. Whilst we try our best to respond to the continued and worsening hardships that are undoubtedly on the way, we have striven always to keep our core beliefs and lived experiences at the heart of our practice. We do not want to paint a picture that is so bleak that we can do nothing, and yet we do not want to shirk away from what is to come. In our experiences, we have seen hate crimes increase and institutional racisms deepen. Simultaneously, the resources needed to resist are becoming increasingly (over-)stretched, and often entirely absent. 

We understand that we are in a time of great upheaval, reflection and regrouping. We will continue to work and listen, in order to build anti-racist resistance. Throughout our work, we will continue to place race and the legacies of colonialism and empire at the centre of our analysis. 

Despite the continued emboldening of the far-right, we saw many successes in 2019. Particularly worthy of mention are our Collective Conversations series, our Unlearning racism course, and the continuation of the Stop the Scan campaign. We also hosted our first AGM, secured funding, have made significant progress in our building of international solidarities, and launched our new website

Our Collective Conversations series has been a huge success and has brought more and more people into our network. Focusing on a different topic each month, whilst always centring race and racism, this series has seen us consider important issues, as suggested by our members. The sessions covered, ‘Race and Education’, ‘Race and Policing’, ‘Race and Disability’,’Race and Sexuality’, ‘Feminisms for Men of Colour’, ‘Intergenerational Activisms’, and several more. It has been nice to raise awareness about issues, and to create a space for people to talk, share and vent. 

The Unlearning racism course was developed to move away from the expectation that racially oppressed communities do all of the anti-racist work. We also wanted to counter the continuous fragmentation of movements and campaigns due to a lack of necessary race analyses. In 2019, we ran two classes over 8 weeks supported by a collective of 6 volunteers. The course ‘graduates’ were encouraged to apply their learning by joining the collective to develop future courses and support anti-racist work in their own environments. 

Stop the Scan, is a campaign, in collaboration with other groups, that draws attention to police use of mobile fingerprint scanners with links to immigration databases – an extension of the ‘hostile environment’. This is a real issue that will, unsurprisingly, disproportionately impact upon racially minoritized communities. We encourage everybody to read more about the campaign here

The building of international links has been one of the key aims of our last two annual round-ups, and is driven by our desire to understand the global nature of the colonial legacies we seek to challenge. It has been great, therefore, to see this work really strengthen in 2019. Our director returned to Brazil for the second year running, to attend and participate in a dialogue on women in movements and strengthening global alliances conference. A  delegation from our network also attended a conference at the University of Nairobi, and spent time with activists and community organisers in Kenya. In January of 2020, we return to Kenya for ‘Decolonising Education Kenya 2020’ collaborating with activists and academics in Nairobi, as part of a programme of events focusing on the decolonisation of activism and education. We hope that these events will lay the groundwork for a long and enduring series of collaborations.

Our culture and media work has continued, being invited to speak at numerous spaces like film screenings, in collaboration with local independent cinemas and film makers. In this time of greater cultural output being seen as progress we feel it has to be supplemented by a more critical (race) understanding. For this reason, we have also spoken at events across the country – in universities, and community spaces , and have started supporting Afrikan History Classes in Leeds. 

We are very proud to announce the introduction of two patrons to our network –  reparations activist and scholar Esther Stanford- Xosie, and rapper and activist Lowkey. Both patrons reflect our values and vision, and are deeply committed to anti racist work. They share our commitment to the necessary unpacking of global oppressive histories to current forms of neocolonialism now. 

When Human Suffering is Not Enough

A four year old boy sleeping on a floor wasn’t enough and that feels shitty. But that four year old was never enough, neither the elderly Jamaican man dying in a country he never knew, or that woman under the rubble created by UK arms dealers, or the species that are being choked by big business, the deaths on universal credit, None of it. But for some reason we’re still not talking about capitalism. 

Thatcher destroyed the unions, Blair destroyed Labour. That is when the rift started. So now middle class Londoners are more Labour than working class northerners. Orwell would be having a field day. And solidarities have disappeared. Working Class solidarities don’t hold up under racial scrutiny. The left is being accused of piety, being preachy, far too distant from its base. Really? And the right isn’t preachy? Curious. I wonder how many people have died at the hands of a far left extremist recently. The right comes with entitlement over bodies, women’s bodies, Brown and Black bodies, working class bodies. And those bodies are still commodities. 

Society has always been broken. There has always been the haves and the have nots. What has happened is that the haves have managed to convince the have nots that they are working in their best interests. 

Brexit was never about sovereignty but about elite ambition and money. Look at how much Rees Mogg has made since the referendum. Capitalism. Like salt it runs through everything. 

Look at whose to gain from Brexit, look at who gets the tax breaks, who gets the most help. Not our most vulnerable. Those that spent time and labour, out canvassing and making phone calls and writing op eds and signing petitions were doing it for that thing that feels more invisible today, that sits tasteless on the tongue and just in the shadows of our vision, the hope of something better. But when will we learn we must always follow the money? If you’re shocked by this result you’re part of the problem. If you thought anything else could be possible then you haven’t been watching. It doesn’t make it any less shitty tho, it doesn’t mean our hearts can’t break. 

We have no answers, but we continue to fight, to agitate on behalf of those that can’t or won’t, to defend and organise. We hope you join us.

By Desiree Reynolds @desreereynolds (RJN Trustee)

Hope not Fear, This Election…

As an anti-racist organisation, we are urging everybody that can to get out and vote in what looks set to be one of the biggest election in our lifetimes. 

Whilst we maintain that change primarily occurs outside of electoral politics, there is simply too much at stake to stand by in this election. Indeed, as the last decade of austerity has shown, when inequalities deepen, racial minorities are too often at the sharp end.

If we turn out to vote, Black, Brown and migrant communities have the power to influence this election and we must take it. We must also count on others to stand in solidarity with us, and we must vote for those of us who can’t. 

The choices at this election could not be starker. There is a real opportunity to vote for change that will improve many lives. 

We must push to end the hostile environment, to save the NHS, to tackle poverty, invest in education, deal with the climate emergency and address the mental health crisis. All of these issues disproportionately impact upon our communities.

Look beyond the tabloid press and unsubstantiated claims by a skewed media and look at the track-records of the party leaders on issues of race and racism.

Whatever happens tomorrow, we will be ready to hold the new government to account and our grassroots work and commitment to Race Justice will, necessarily, go on. Let us do so in hope, not fear

By Remi Joseph-Salisbury @RemiJS90

What Blackness Can Do

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Story is a film about love not violence.

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

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

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

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

RJN contribution to the Leeds Climate Change Citizens’ Jury

In October 2019 RJN were asked to present testimony to the Leeds Climate Change Citizens’ Jury.

Our chosen theme for this testimony was the need for an international perspective to be considered in all thoughts, recommendations and action.

The 15-minute presentation from RJN director Peninah Wangari-Jones and trustee Sai Murray is below (from 13mins 29):

In addition, we were posed several questions around the need to consider climate change from an international perspective. Videos available below:

We look forward to hearing the recommendations for the city of Leeds and will continue to engage with our local and global communities to push the agenda of climate justice, recognising the climate debt owed to the majority world from exploiting countries (such as the UK) and striving towards the goal of holistic, economic, spiritual, environmental and cultural repairs to end racial injustice and to address legacies of colonialism.

Christchurch massacre: a symptom of deep-rooted Islamophobia

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

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

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

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

Let Go of the Baby

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

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

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

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

By Desiree Reynolds @desreereynolds @racejustice