Racism is alive and kicking in Britain. Two incidents showed that last week.
The vicious racist attacks on shadow home secretary Diane Abbott from the press and politicians have been disgraceful.
And they have given the green light to the most vicious racists on the fringes of society to launch an online campaign of abuse.
“I receive racist and sexist abuse online on a daily basis,” said Abbott. “I have had rape threats, death threats, and am referred to routinely as a bitch and/or nigger.”
The second incident was the police invasion of grime artist Stormzy’s home.
Cops received a call after someone saw him entering his flat in the posh Chelsea area of London.
Presumably a neighbour saw a black man entering and assumed it was a robbery.
Both of these examples explode the myth that we live in a “post-racial” society. They also show that racism and oppression are experienced across classes.
No matter how rich or successful you are as a black person, you cannot escape the all-pervasive racism that infests British society.
When the Black Lives Matter movement exploded onto the streets of Britain last summer old questions about how to organise to defeat racism re-emerged.
Do all black people suffer racism in the same way? The other side of that question is, do all white people benefit from racism?
Abbott and Stormzy’s treatment show that all black people can be the victims of racism, no matter how successful.
But the answer is not to argue for more black people in high places, or for more black owned businesses.
That doesn’t challenge where racism comes from—capitalism.
The Marxist WEB DuBois argued that white workers in the Jim Crow South felt they had a “psychological wage”—they felt as if they benefited from racism.
But studies have shown that where racist division exists between workers, both white and black workers’ wages are lower.
In other words, there may be a perceived benefit for white workers, but not a material one.
So it is in the interests of white and black workers to unite for immediate economic demands.
But it is also in our interests to unite to bring down a system which pushes racism on us in the most brutal way to better exploit us.
From its inception, capitalism has sought ways to divide the people whom the ruling class exploit for their profits, the working class. Biological racism was developed first as a means to legitimise the transatlantic slave trade.
But at the same time, racism was used to drive a wedge between the Irish and English working class living in Britain.
Karl Marx laid the basis for a Marxist understanding of both of these aspects of racism. Firstly, “Labour in the white skin can never free itself as long as labour in the black skin is branded.”
Secondly he said of the division between Irish and English workers that “this antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation.
“It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And that class is fully aware of it.” Unity across the working class is therefore essential in the fight against racism.
But socialists must also be forthright within this struggle and put forward the argument that racism is intrinsically linked to capitalism.
Diane Abbott said in a Guardian newspaper article last week that she had to fight against racism and sexism to get into parliament.
She also said that, if she had known in 1987 about the racist abuse she would go on to receive, “I think that even the young, fearless Diane Abbott might have paused for thought.”
She was elected the first black woman MP in 1987 alongside four other black MPs.
Their victory came against the backdrop of the black and Asian youth movements of the 1970s that pushed back the racism which fuelled the growth of the Nazi National Front. But her success hasn’t shielded her from racism—far from it.
The youths around here believe the police were to blame for what happened on Sunday and what they got was a bloody good hidingLabour MP Bernie Grant in 1985. Times have changed a lot
One disgusting Tory councillor even tweeted an image of a gorilla wearing lipstick in reference to Abbott, suggesting that she is less than human.
Racism is fluid, and can take different forms at different times and in different places. But “scientific” racism lurks in the background of new forms and feeds into them.
And interventions such as those of Trevor Phillips, chairperson of the Equality and Human Rights Commission between 2003 and 2012, bridge the gap between old and new.
Phillips claims that the “values and behaviours” of specific groups—Muslims—mean they can’t integrate.
This is the new form racism takes—differences in “culture” mean that certain groups are incompatible with a mythical “Britishness”.
Phillips’ “analysis” rests on the idea that certain groups of people are fundamentally incapable of “integrating”.
This analysis appeals to the hard racist core of the Tory party membership. These are also the dregs that Tory Brexit minister David Davis appeals to.
Texts were leaked last weekend in which he claimed that he wouldn’t sexually assault Abbott because he’s “not blind.” So Davis thinks sexual assault is acceptable, but only if he deems the individual to be attractive.
As you would expect, Diane Abbott hasn’t simply put up with these attacks—she has fought back.
Her staff have reported attacks to the police. But no action has been taken to date.
If the shadow home secretary can’t get the cops to make an example of some of the haters, what hope for the rest of us?
The police don’t take racist attacks seriously and have covered up investigations time and again.
And fame and wealth are no protections from their racism as Stormzy, real name Michael Omari, found out when cops broke into his flat last week.
“Woke up to Feds destroying my front door coz apparently I’m a burglar who burgles his own home” he tweeted.
Stormzy doesn’t go for the idea that racism stops at the US border. It’s been a central way of dividing the British working class since the mid nineteenth century.
“Don’t be the stupid idiot who thinks because we live in the UK that black people don’t experience racism from the police, don’t be so flipping naïve,” he said.
“We have black brothers and sisters dying in the States and we’d be cowards to just brush it off, this is all of our problems. That could easily be me or my little brother or my sisters.”
The police in Britain have a long and brutal history of racism, corruption and killing.
The Metropolitan Police were branded “institutionally racist” for blocking the inquiries of Stephen Lawrence’s grieving family after he was murdered by a racist gang in south east London.
They covered up their reluctance to investigate the murder because the father of David Norris, one of the killers, was a police informant.
Police killed Cherry Groce in her Tottenham flat in 1985, which sparked riots.
Bernie Grant, then leader of Haringey council, blasted the cops. “The youths around here believe the police were to blame for what happened on Sunday and what they got was a bloody good hiding,” Grant said.
He had his name dragged through the mud by politicians and the media for his stand. But people in Tottenham respected him for speaking out and voted him into parliament in 1987 alongside Diane Abbott.
Grant’s response stands in stark contrast to that of his successor, David Lammy, after the 2011 riots sparked by the police killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham.
He parroted the same line as Trevor Phillips—that too many years of soft Labour liberalism had led to “mindless” looting.
“Many of my constituents came up to me after the riots and blamed the Labour government, saying, ‘You guys stopped us being able to smack our children’”, he said.
That gave the green light for the brutal police response to the riots. Children were given custodial sentences for taking bottled water.
The law courts were packed in an unprecedented show of the punitive might of the state.
Unfortunately, Diane Abbott’s response was little better than Lammy’s. “You are trashing your own communities,” she said to the rioters.
We can’t look to people in positions of power to carry the anti-racist struggle forward. It is a fight for the whole working class.
Just as racism will never be defeated as long as capitalist exploitation exists, the fight to bring down capitalism will never be successful if it does not tackle racism head on.