Throughout history, the journey to Black liberation and racial equality for all has had many hurdles. In a practical sense, Black people have had to fight systemic racism to be recognised as fully human under law, to be given equal economic opportunities, to escape state-sanctioned violence and much more. In addition to this very practical battle, the problematic ideologies that underpin these systems also have to be challenged. Abbie Ametewee and Chris Gaisie discuss some of these ideological hurdles and how we can overcome them together.
We should move on from slavery
I have witnessed many people who say talking about the atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade, is just supporting a victim mentality. They say to get over it and that it has no impact on life today. But slavery, and the violence of colonisation that led to it, still has present day implications.
The postcolonial landscape is one in which countries in the Global south have been gutted of their resources, politically destabilised and left in economic debt. We can’t seek to help people living in poverty if we don’t recognise how they first got in that position. Furthermore, while the wrongs of colonisation have yet to be made fully right, those on the wrong side of history have somehow been rewarded. Did you know that up until 2015 British tax money was paying off the compensation slave owners were given once they lost their slaves? And yet countries who fought for their independence are still in debt to their former colonisers. Make it make sense.
Remembering history and recognising its impact today, is crucial in finding true justice. We must learn from history to make sure it’s not repeated. We must right past wrongs, and not just dismiss them because they’re no longer happening. Like Rene August said on the Together Podcast; if I stole your car and that meant for a year you weren’t able to get to work and so had no money to live, a suitable apology wouldn’t be to just say sorry. I would need to make it right by returning the car and also compensate you for everything you lost during that time. In the aftermath of slavery and colonialism that has yet to happen. So we must continue talking about it, until the wrongs are made right.
Being respectable will bring freedom
Respectability politics have long existed to tell marginalised people that if you just carry yourself a certain way then you won’t be treated badly. In the discourse of Black liberation this looks like telling people to always dress ‘smart and professional’ in order not to be discriminated against. It means telling Black women not to wear their natural hair at work. And it goes even further to say that when a Black person is killed by the police, that they should have just complied or maybe they did something to deserve it.
Respectability politics is dehumanising. It tells marginalised people that they’re only valued as a human when they perform to an imagined standard. Furthermore it doesn’t even hold any weight. Martin Luther King Jr is iconically one of the most eloquent speakers and composed men throughout history, and he was still assassinated. Multiple instances of police brutality, whether here in the UK or elsewhere have not been stopped by compliance. In fact, the current #EndSARS movement in Nigeria is exposing that being submissive to an immoral system, will likely end in being harmed by that system.
We must work towards a just society where how you’re treated isn’t predicated on how you conform to societal ‘norms’. If a Black person is murdered by the police, even their possible criminal history (which always seems to get published no matter how irrelevant it is) isn’t justification for their death. Respectability will not save us, true equality will.
I don’t see colour
I’m pretty sure at one point in time it was woke to say ‘I don’t see colour’. However, as stated in the Diversity Day episode of The US Office, ‘we don’t have to pretend we’re colour blind – that’s fighting ignorance with more ignorance’. Not seeing ‘colour’ means not seeing someone’s lived reality.
If I was to say ‘I don’t see the countries in Europe, I just see Europe as one people’, would not France and Poland have something to say about that? They would tell me they are not the same. Even within the UK, if i was to say I don’t acknowledge the different counties, I bet there would be a fight between a Cornish Pasty and a Yorkshire Pudding.
Seeing what is different about how we live and the cultures that raised us is good. But it’s better when you can see how some differences mean you may have access to a lift where some have a ladder – with steps missing. Please see ‘colour’, see race. Not only is there life in our differences but it’s the only way to be an ally. When Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28 that we are all one in Christ, that wasn’t to the detriment of who we are, but rather inclusive of who we are. We don’t have to lose colour to be part of the kingdom.
‘White privilege’ is racist
And while we’re here, let’s talk about why race and class isn’t the same. Perhaps you have recently seen some articles or tweets from Laurence Fox or Calvin Robinson. They are both advocating that the term ‘white privilege’ is both racist and is also gaining prominence at the detriment to working class white people. That’s a really wild perception of what white privilege means.
Classism is certainly an issue – having grown up in a northern, working class area I can testify that the system doesn’t necessarily work for them either. In fact the concept of ‘intersectionality’, coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, helps to explain the way we may be discriminated against because of our various identities. White privilege doesn’t mean that white people will live a life free of problems. White privilege is trying to highlight that white people exist in the world as the norm – working class or not.
The colour of plasters being for white skin tones, the separation of the ‘World Food’ aisles in supermarkets, the absence of ‘strong white lead’ on Netflix – are a few everyday examples of this. Don’t let the fight for racial injustice be diluted by those who want to invalidate the fight for racial equality.
We hope as we all work to end racial injustice, we can overcome the ideological hurdles that prevent us from doing so. If you’re looking for more resources on how to engage with these issues, please do check out Tearfund’s Black Lives Matter toolkit.