Archive for August, 2016

 

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In the wake of the Donald Trump Presidential victory, the fatal interactions between blacks and the police as well as Brexit; many black citizens on both sides of the Atlantic are feeling as if their position in society is under threat. Whether this is a justified feeling or not, it is worth discussing the ways in which people have responded to this idea of institutional racism. BlackLivesMatter have proved to be the major group in fighting for an improvement in racial civil rights, however I believe that the success of this movement largely depends on how much they have learned from the civil rights movements of the 20th century. Mainstream media outlets have simplified the BlackLivesMatter movement and are unwilling to question the principles and the methods that BlackLivesMatter have adopted. Whilst I agree with the core philosophy that BlackLivesMatter have. I believe that a deeper historical analysis of this group is needed to understand who they are, what exactly they are fighting for and the obstacles that they may face.

When it comes to discussing racial equality in the ‘western world’ (A term I am growing to dislike), one has to be careful not to regurgitate the perspectives of previous writers, journalists and academics. The debate has been argued from many various points of view, some with legitimacy and others with less so. Over recent years, we have seen a lull in discussion particularly in regards to black-white formal relationships. But the recent media exposure of police brutality has opened a new dimension or outlook at racial treatment across the Atlantic. It feels as if an outpouring of emotion and anger has erupted after a decade of ‘apparent’ racial harmony between blacks and white. I believe this sentiment has being expressed from both sides of the socio-political spectrum, it is no coincidence that Far right wing groups alongside the BlackLivesMatter ‘movement. This feeling of rage and disgust is somewhat justified after witnessing several  years of racial abuse and oppression from law enforcement agencies. In this vein, I feel as if BlackLivesMatter is the birthchild of resentment and resistance towards injustice. Guardian Columnist Gary Younge stated that he was ‘not sure whether BLM was actually a movement yet‘. Whilst I agree with Younge on the infancy of BLM as an organization, I believe that BLM is more of a socio-political ‘mood’ that seeks to bring awareness to the plight that black people encounter on a frequent basis as opposed to an organization with clear political and social goals. This is mainly because that BLM is mainly operating in two regions(UK and US) with a different historical context this means that each branch of BLM is interpreting what it means to have civil rights in a different way.

The harsh realities?

Firstly, I think it is important to establish some facts. This is an issue that is enriched with societal pain and anguish and it is easy for people to misrepresent statistics or points of view and it is even easier for people to be fooled by the manipulation. In the US, various groups have argued about the racial discrimination that consists in law enforcement, whist I don’t doubt this; I also believe there are harsh some truths that BLM need to recognize. One truth, is that the US and the UK police do not disproportionately kill blacks more than whites. Several studies from lawyers of different academic and cultural backgrounds have outlined that ‘Black people are actually 22 to 24 percent less likely to be shot at by police.‘, one study has even claimed that  ‘“officers took significantly more time to fire their weapons if the subject was black,” and that “officers were slightly more than three times less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white suspects.” However these same writers have also clearly outlined that ‘On non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police.’ Even if you look at UK statistics, FullFact and INQUEST both state that from 1990, 10% of all identified deaths in police custody were from black and ethnic minority backgrounds (figure will be lower if you just look at black deaths), which is only ‘slightly’ disproportionate to the demographics of this country. But we still come in to contact with comments such as ‘the police are disproportionately more likely to kill black and Asian people in custody or shootings’. Without trying to get bogged down in the detail, it is clear that there is a misconception of the figures of police brutality, secondly the cause of deaths referring to those in police custody is unspecified which means that the influence of police forces on custody deaths must remain disputed. Of course, it can be ignored or denied that the black and ethnic minority forces face overly stringent attention by law enforcement agencies (Check out Theresa May’s Prevent policy). But one must take the media’s stance that black people are being killed disproportionately with a pinch of salt.

I think its important to question some popular conceptions about Britain’s racial composition and the effect this has on the Uk BlackLivesMatter movement. Firstly, Britain is considerably less racially diverse than the US especially in urban environments; in the US you can actually witness cities where most residents are black or of close black descent. A sense of racial solidarity against injustice can be visualised in many American cities, the protests in Chicago are good example of this. However, UK statistics demonstrate a very different picture. The media and pop culture often likes to reference certain British regions with the term ‘Black Ghettos’ or ‘black areas’ such as Brixton, Peckham or Toxeth but the contrasting research shows that only that only 25% of those regions consisted of black people. Indeed if we look at this in a larger perspective; 86% of the UK are White British compared to 3% of Black Briton whereas the in the US, there are 77% whites to 14% percent of blacks. One author has even claimed that because of the racial and ethnic composition of the UK in comparison to other Western nations it becomes “almost ridiculous to describe Britain as a multi-racial society” In my opinion, this has a significant impact on the BLM UK movement. It is because the UK black population is much smaller and spread out across the British cities – in comparison to American ones –  that it becomes harder for black Britons to unite in solidarity against police brutality. I believe these contrasting figures are also important because the media can manipulate these statistics and claim that the plight of black British people with the police is illegitimate and that the BLM movement in the UK is just a pointless distraction to the American situation. I will explain more about how the BLM can overcome this issue later.

Moreover,  I feel that the media already has a psychological advantage to racial civil rights. In 1996 it was reported that 97% of all blacks in the US were born there, but that only 50% of blacks in Britain were born here. Could it be possibly argued that blacks in America seems to fight for civil rights with a more stringent focus than British Blacks because of their closer relationship to their country? Of course this is a simplistic question which overlooks the historical and exceptional struggle the black American population has faced. But subconsciously, could it be argued that conflicting and impassioned patriotisms that Black Americans have with their native country makes their fight for civil equality much more successful and poignant?

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Has the legacy of the British Empire changed??

BlackLivesMatter’s historical predecessors

It is important to remember that BLM is not the first civil rights campaign in the UK. During the turbulent period of the 60s, 70s and 80s, several organisations were created with the purpose and scope for dealing with racial conflict in the UK. The interesting point to note is that these were not grass-root organisations, they were formed in the image of a national body that sought to oversee all cases and issues of racial discriminatory nature. As Sociologist and Historian Stephen Small said: “A lot changed in the 80s, the vast majority of major organisations adopted equal opportunity policies…this was spurred on partly by the pressure of black organisations and some non- black organisations“, this is particularly true if we take in the efforts of the Commission for Racial Equality’ and also Ken Livingstone’s leadership for the Greater London Council. Although the Commission for Racial Equality lacked the legal foundation to undertake employer disputes, it operated as a high profile body to ensure that employment, housing and education agencies followed an informal racial equality policy. The CRE was the first official organisation to publish a set of guidelines for how public and local authorities may ‘fulfill their obligation to promote racial equality’, you may look at this as just another meaningless initiative engineered to give the image of progressive civil rights, but these sort of guidelines were published for the entire UK population to read and reflect upon. Not only did it provide the exposure of progressive racial equality policies but it allowed the public to hold the government to account if it did not follow through on these guidelines. Secondly, I believe the influence of Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council is worth mentioning, particularly in today’s socio-political climate. Ken’s legacy of promoting racial equality is now seen by many as the birth of a bad politically correct society. Whilst there may be some truth to this; I believe the growth of far right politics in Britain has skewered this image. After all, he was the Mayor that created the GLC which helped to push for equality legislation such as the Race Relation Amendment Act of 2000. Furthermore, Livingstone helped to foster a sense of regional pride in London’s multicultural character which eventually built an atmosphere of change; this is particular evident in the Human Right Act of 1998 which came in to full effect in 2000.

Racism and British Devolution

This link between local authority power, regional support and national change is something that I believe BLM can build upon. Appearing as a pressure group is certainly effective if they wish to bring awareness, but if they wish to enact real change if they must work more closely with local authorities to have a significant impact. I believe this is particular relevant as the vote on our Independence from the European Union has seen hate crime rise in particular parts of Britain. I believe it is the duty of BLM and other social equality groups to stem the flow of discriminatory feeling from the root of these regions. It is important to recognize that it is the racist sentiments in these communities that encourages and supports the practice of police brutality; it is no surprise that the region(North East) with highest reports of hate crime this year is also fourth in the list of counties(2014-2015) where allegations were made against the police. Institutional racism is not bred from the offices of police head quarters, it roots lie in the day to day activities of the local community. It is therefore essential that BLM pressurise local authorities to combat this issue, as it would help to bring greater awareness and action in support of hate crime victims. As the Chief of Hate UK has said ‘it is a sad fact that the numbers of all hate incidents are extremely under-reported”.  Local authorities in particular seem to be stuggling to fulfil their obligations in eliminate racial discrimination; political commentator Val Hagen has stated that the gap between reported cases of racist abuse and prosecution is too large. I would argue that a more devolved and federalized UK may give local authorities more power to challenge racist rhetoric in communities, furthermore the support of BLM in these type of initiatives would not only instill confidence that local authorities can effectively fight for justice but it would bring a sense of legitimacy to the BLM as they would be perceived to be working with official organizations rather than the media perception of a haphazard grassroots group.

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Can this hatred be stemmed through a more devolved UK?

BlackLivesMatter Leadership

Secondly I think it is important to stress that the leadership of BLM, in particular BLM uk, leaves itself to be vulnerable to misrepresentation by the government. One of the key members of BLM UK, is Caprice Willow who has considerable influence when it comes to organizing BLM events and has underlined her abilities by managing to encourage roughly 3000 protestors to rally in central London earlier this year. Although it may sound simplistic, it is with regret that I say that her age has made her a considerable target for media tabloids to denigrate her profile and stigmatize her actions as well as her experience. In reference to the central London protests she organized; The Daily Mail commented that ‘In the past six months, the model and actress, from Waltham Abbey, Essex, has blogged on visits to Turkey, Denmark, Germany and France…..Her blog is littered with photos of exotic beach scenes and yachts.’ Anybody who researchers her name through well-sourced websites will see that she has often discussed how ‘she thought that studying and learning was the best way to take action.‘ and how much she enjoyed her experiences at Epping Forest college, but the above quote presents her in an image that is befitting of a stereotypical youth who spends their time on leisurely holidays without doing anything that is productive or constructive for society. This is not to say that Caprice isn’t one of these characters, but the way the media has presented her is in no way fair or neutral. It is these sort of factors that distinguishes them from the more experienced civil right activists of the 1960s. One more famous black civil rights activists in Britain was Claudia Jones who was instrumental in the creation of the first weekly newspaper that focused on the injustices committed towards black people in the 1950s and 60s and also created a African, Asian and Caribbean solidarity committee which brought a greater awareness to racial discrimination. However, Claudia managed these achievements by the age of 40 when she had already considerable experience fighting for civil rights across many states in America. Although, BLM UK may have noble principles, it is the leader that often catches the headlines and grabs the attention of casual onlookers (the sort of audience that is decisive to the success of progressive politics). Unfortunately, we live in the of age of ‘The Celebrity Cult’ where the thoughts, opinions and policies mean nothing to the onlooker if they can not see a leader to command them.

 

BlackLivesMatter’s message

Although the media can often be accused for portraying BLM in a negative light, one could argue that the overall message of BLM has been incoherent and has thus given the media the opportunity to manipulate their viewpoints. However it must be stressed that the reasons for this incoherence do not lie solely with BLM but resides more in the cultural and historical character of both the UK and the US. After much of the racial equality legislation was passed in the 80s and 90s, Stephen Small commented: ‘the situation in England shows that once you have gone beyond a certain level of integration, the goals seem confused’. Whilst it is true that BlackLivesMatters’ goal is self-explanatory, I believe that some of their polices for achieving this are underdeveloped. BLM aim to make ‘the racial makeup of police departments reflect the communities they serve’. I have picked out this point because I believe that racial integration is the most effective of tool to eradicate the racist culture that harms police-ethnic minority relations. However I feel that BLM need to consider the difficulties and complications in using integration to fight 21st century police racism. The American Civil Rights Campaigners of the 60s discussed de-segregaton as a way of showing the inequality in everyday civil life. I feel that it is harder to apply this to the modern UK situation as firstly, finding the balance between having a police force that meets a racial diverse standard and a police force based on meritocracy can be problematic. Secondly, it also worth mentioning that the UK’s law enforcement system is not federally governed like the US where the regional community has considerable influence on local matters. One could argue that a much more racially integrated UK police force would thus have little impact on endemic institutional racism . Secondly, the issue of extremist Islamic terrorism has blurred the lines between race and religion; particularly when we consider the racial profiling that has existed in several ‘counter-terrorist’ schemes by the government such as Prevent. It has made integration a much less feasible strategy as religion is operating as a second layer alongside race for discrimination. We have seen recently how these obstacles can be overcome with the inclusion of the headscarf in the Scottish police uniform; we need to see more of these initiatives across the UK if BLM is to make a significant influence towards increasing integration inside and outside the police force.

I think a large detrimental factor which separates BLM from the civil rights moments of the 60s is the lack of a tangible set of rights that can be fought for. BLM is fighting against a cultural practice whereas the the 60 movements were fighting for actual laws to put in practice. The lack of tangibility can be further expressed by the fact that in the 60s a court case outlawing segregated public services could clearly demonstrate that racial inequality existed, whereas now the issue of police brutality is heavily reliant on witness testimony and unreliable technology. One Lawyer commented on a recent case of disputed police manslaughter. The family described the incident as ‘cold bloody murder’, but the Lawyer stated that “There is no reason that we can tell why the initial officers fired at the fleeing car….There was no kind of imminent threat to them or anyone else…The second set of officers may not have understood the situation…. Shots were being fired near them; they may have concluded the offender fired shots at them…” The fact that video tapes can offer more questions than answers not only adds an element of inconclusiveness to these cases but makes the fight for civil justice even harder. Secondly, video technology often relies upon interpretation which can be easily skewered to fit a particular narrative.

Furthermore, I believe the fight for civil justice is often hindered by the current mentality and attitude towards criminal cases of racial nature. In the 1960s, the notion of empire and colonial attachment resonated with black Britons in a way that most of the current generation will never understand. To add, legacy of Empire and Imperialism tends to act as an historical fact to most of the current generation. It is no longer operates as a memory to motivate our citizens to fight for social change. I believe this exists primarily because cultural integration has blurred our recollection of racial heritage and this has weakened our ability to witness racial misconduct. This is not to say that integration has helped to hide racist behaviour, but more to say that racial integration has changed our perception and understanding of racial abuse. Integration should be used to highlight the positive parts of each others ethnic past, but instead it has made us forget about the historical injustices that still affect us on a daily basis.

To add, I believe we have a conflicting ideology of how to adopt the principles of BLM. For example, many of us are not sure how much government intervention is required to eliminate institutional racism. Many people believe in the political independence of police force, but does this conflict with the level of state interference that is needed to eliminate institutional racism? Secondly, many people often criticise the spending cuts to the police force as a right-wing political agenda to place pressure on our law enforcement, but there are many that argue that it is the ‘left-liberal’ activists (of which BLM has been associated with) that have placed pressure on the police force. Whilst I support the political neutrality of the police force in all nations, I do think there is a responsibility on all of us as citizens to ensure that the jobs of the police force are as smooth as possible. Although the BLM has an honorable and noble message at the heart of its movement, it is stigmatized by violent and divisive rioters who wish to hijack the movement and steer it towards a path of darkness and destruction. There are many theories that suggest that conservative elites have hired violent thugs to present BLM in a bad light, whilst others suggest that the violence is the true nature of the BLM movement. Whichever side the audience wish to believe, it is important that BLM’s leaders continue their efforts to distinguish themselves between the dark elements surrounding their movement otherwise they will become the victim of a public opinion that is ever so manipulated by the media.

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Does this really represent BlackLivesMatter?

BlackLivesMatter and Internationalism

One aspect I have noticed whilst researching the racial civil right movements of the 60s is how they linked their main vision with the global injustices that were occurring outside of their main goal. For example, Black Panther activist Tony Soares based his foundations upon the events that were occurring between the US and Vietnam in the 1960s; ‘”We were influenced a lot by what was happening in the States before the US black Panthers“, namely Vietnam‘. Soares wanted to see an end  to American Imperialism and its influence across the non-western world, he tried to do this by forging relationships with Black Americans who were exiled in countries such as China, Switzerland and Algeria. The creation of transnational intellectual networks across the globe would support the civil rights movement in two ways. Firstly, by supporting various national Self-determination campaigns, it would place the campaign for racial justice in a global perspective. Secondly, Soares’ managed to establish several bodies to support his internationalist objective; both the Afro-Asian Liberation Front and the Revolutionary People’s Network distributed several newspapers and pamphlets discussing the methods in which they could combat oppression from ‘imperialist’ powers. This network of information helped to unify the concept of civil rights and provided support for all citizens who faced institutional abuse, regardless ethnicity, race or class. For example, a pamphlet published by Soares regarding the Congolese Civil War was said to ‘be exchanged and distributed on an international level between all oppressed and struggling peoples who are actively engaged in the international proletariat revolutions’. I would like to see BLM replicate the efforts of these black activists not simply because it promotes peaceful cooperation but also because we live in a globalized and digitized environment where the flow of information is much easier to undertake. With the events occurring in Syria and Iraq, some BLM activists will be able draw upon the same sort of feelings as the ones felt by Syrian and Iraqi citizens. Both groups claim that they are encountering brutality from an oppressive and violent organization. It may to different extents, but the civil injustices that both groups have faced in recent years is undeniable. It will also create some solidarity with the UK authorities who also claim to be tackling ISIS at its core and it will force the UK government to properly address its civil treatment of Syrian refugees. Another large benefit that BLM will receive from working with or supporting oppressed foreign groups is the exposure of BLM’s message across the world. We have witnessed in the past how oppressed nations have admired or adopted the principles and actions of black civil rights groups in the America and the UK. Indeed, one IRA leader called Cathal Goulding said in 1970 ‘When we helped to initiate the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, we copied to a great extent the approach and activities of the Negro people in America‘ and these thoughts were echoed from another Irish republican activist, Bernadette Devlin. ‘Our movement didn’t start from university conditions, from youth culture or students in Paris or London…What we related to was the American civil rights movement.‘, and even more remarkably she goes on to say ‘within the institutionalized discrimination of the State we saw ourselves basically as Blacks’. This association goes far beyond a simple admiration for the American civil rights movement, it supports the concept for a shared racial identity that transcends national boundaries and fights on the side of progressive  politics. If this sort of political relationship could occur in the racially charged 1970s, then just imagine what sort of impact BLM could make today in other civil right movements, particularly in world that many believe is much more racially tolerant than it ever was.

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Does BlackLivesMatter need to broaden its global reach?

I will conclude by suggesting a few overall ideas that support objectives of BLM as the vision of a harmonious relationship between black citizens and the police force. The police force needs be more than just a guardian of the law, it needs to be positive presence in the community. Founder of the 1829 British Police Force, Robert Peel once said “The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.” It is a sad eventuality that we have strayed so far from this ideal, but it is one that we can return to if we have the social commitment. Instead of having employment quotas which often give the impression of ‘half-hearted equality’ why not have festivals or conventions that celebrate the positive elements of law enforcement, this could take place in non-academic environments that have public access, such as parks or libraries. Some may argue that schools already offer these sort of schemes. But seeing as schools are now seen by many as harbors of institutional racism, this may not be the wisest idea. A more relaxed and open setting could mean that ethnic minority children would interact with the police in a manner that doesn’t feel forced or pressured. I believe that BLM would gain a lot of credibility and respect if there were able to organize these types of initiatives with local law enforcement agencies. It may seem like a trivial and small project, but history has shown that small efforts by lots of dedicated people can create fundamental changes.

 

 

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