White Noise

As the last year fades away and the chanting of Black Lives Matter become just a distant memory and seemingly “small” acts of racism are converted into micro aggressions, our will to protest are reduced to a symbolic disagreement and diminished by the empty carnival of virtue signalling. Do we need to consider how far we wish to collaborate with this slightly perverted version of anti-racism…. and is diversity and multiculturalism a diversion and simply White Noise…..if we fail to tackle racism.

The burden of tackling Racism has very often been led by Black people and although some would argue that many White people have been involved in the struggle, very often, Black people are the ones who have much more to lose and are much more identifiable in the conflict. I am not talking about developing policies and strategies, I am talking about calling it out and challenging individuals about their racism. The problem is that we, of all races, are conflicted because too many of us have interests in the systems that underpin the racism that we are enduring. When we examine history, we will see that, very often, Black people have been at the forefront of challenging racism in the UK and other ethnic minorities and others have benefitted from that; and this is rarely acknowledged.

George Floyd was murdered by the Police on May 25th, 2020, and the condition for Black men in America has changed very little. An unarmed Chris Kaba was shot by British police on September 5th 2022 and the enquiry will inevitably be drawn out and the momentum will be lost…...and the Windrush scandal continues, and many are still waiting for their situation to be resolved. We are all aware that Brexit resurrected a deep feeling of who belonged and who didn’t…..and re-established a mindset of superiority ….and some of us may be old enough to remember the old English phrase “Wogs begin at Calais”, a term used to express an attitude of insularity and hostility to foreigners attributed to the British, especially the English. While many choose to recognise Racism as an historical phenomenon there is a view that it is declining and although that is convenient for some it reduces the capacity of all of us to take ownership of that condition. After all, how can this country be institutionally racist if it has a Prime Minister of Indian origin and a cabinet sprinkled with many of varying complexions. I think it was James Baldwin who said “ It is a sentimental error to believe that the past is dead”.

Recording our history is such an important an essential part of understanding who we are….and yes, it is sometimes easier for some of us not to recognise who we are….and that non recognition can have serious consequences. In Southampton we are starting the process of recording our histories. We have some works in the “Bank” but there is so much more to collect. The lives of the early migrants are a crucial aspect of what we as Black people are and we are making every effort to collect those memories.

There has been a recent call for antisemitism to be taught at schools and I wholeheartedly support that proposal and it is regrettable that the Holocaust such an important example of how low the human condition can get, together with the Transatlantic Slave Trade, is something that is not an integral element of the education curriculum and should not be airbrushed out of history…..particularly at a time when individuals and families who are connected to this are living witnesses to this horror. Some of you may be familiar with my book “The Black History of Southampton from 16thCentury to 21st Century”, and I have been trying to encourage other cities to provide similar publications for their own territories because as times go by, we will lose that memory of who we once were……and where we originated from. Silence and collaboration are very often close friends.

We can address Racism by education but sometimes we need to be a little more direct and simply calling it out should be the bare minimum….and how much do we want to contribute to the way it is. Clearly , the systems to address Racism directly are no longer considered a good investment and individual organisations and authorities are left to their own devices to determine what the racism is, who or what is responsible and unilaterally decide what steps they will take to address it. It very often comes in the form of a publicly declared strategy, the launching of some diversity initiative and the identification of a nominated BME type point of contact. To be frank, I do not blame these organisations for doing what they do as there is no recognised means by which Black communities can register their position on any of the main issues and again we are contributors to our own condition. The reality is that although many speak about BME or BAME communities it is becoming increasingly clear that all the groups within this category have very little in common with each other apart from Racism which is interpreted and addressed or not very differently by each of the groups and it is logical that those groups who are bound by religion and language are best placed to carve out advantages that suits their individual communities. The thing that bound us all together was the Racism that saw all of us as one homogenous group of foreigners and it works to the advantage of the powers that be that we are divided and even more that some of us choose not to recognise the Racism that informs our condition as we seek advantage for our specific communities.

The strategies devised back in the day to combat racism are not as effective as they used to be and although there are some who still love the theatre of public protest it dies quickly and withers on the vine, and to tread that path as we used to do does not really cut it anymore apart from making old school campaigners feel useful again. The institutions and authorities that posture anti racism are now well practiced in saying the right things without making any real changes and Angela Davis once famously said “ There is a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference and the change that brings about no change”. It seems to me that our tactics need to change and perhaps we need to take a steer from the George Floyd playbook and identify individual cases of racist wrongdoing and use those individual cases as the rallying point; but to do that individuals need to be brave and be prepared to stand up and say it loud and BME communities need to come together not only by nationality and religion but as Black people but time is against us as some of us scramble to redefine who we are.

Nonetheless I remain optimistic in the hope that despite the trials and tribulations Black people have endured they made significant contributions to world history and despite the fact that much of that contribution is neither recognised or remembered it is so important for us to never be limited by other people’s limited imagination.

Happy New Year!