Socialist Worker

This movement must try to fight all forms of racism

Although different groups are affected differently by racism this must not divide the struggle against it says Yuri Prasad  

Issue No. 2710

It will take a fight by all of us against all forms of racism to smash it for good

It will take a fight by all of us against all forms of racism to smash it for good (Pic: Anthony Crider/flickr)


Should Black Lives Matter protests focus solely on one type of racism?

It is a question being posed by some in the movement—and one eagerly supported by a layer of academics focused on questions of ethnicity.

There is, they argue, something so specific about the way African-Caribbean people are treated that their struggles should not be “subsumed” into broader categories, such as Black Minority Ethnic (BME) or even into “anti-racism” more generally.

So Lebanese-Australian professor Ghassan Hage wrote in the Guardian last week that, “anti-black racism is historically one of the most lethal racism there is. 

No one has to inherit the combined traumatic history of colonialism, slavery and racial exclusion the way black people do.”

They are right to point out that black history and identity has been largely erased from history. 

And it is certainly true that racism does not impact all groups affected by it in the same way—and that prejudices have different social and historical roots.

But to argue that black people are the primary victims of racism, while the experiences of all other ethnic minorities are somehow secondary, is a major error.

Are all white people racist?
Are all white people racist?
  Read More

First, and most importantly, it divides the opposition.

Playing one group off against another was the hallmark of the British Empire. 

In India they pitted Muslim against Hindu. In what became Nigeria they engineered conflict between the Igbo and Hausa people.

To engender hatred they would grant relatively petty advantages to one group while denying them to the other. So successful was their tactic that a relatively small occupying force of white Britons could sit atop of nations of millions of black and brown people.

Boris Johnson would be delighted if the Black Lives Matter movement shrunk to narrowing itself to only fighting forms of discrimination that primarily affect black people.

Second, creating a league table of oppression and placing black people at the top of it does not acknowledge the way that racism is constantly shifting and prioritising new targets.

Boris Johnson would be delighted if the Black Lives Matter movement shrunk to narrowing itself to only fighting forms of discrimination that primarily affect black people.

Think of Muslims in Britain in the era since 9/11.

Contested

Since 2001 that state has targeted them as the “enemy within” and given itself hitherto unheard of powers to oppress.

Muslim houses are raided and innocent people are shot by police. 

And one misunderstood word can result in even Muslim children being informed upon, designated as “in danger of radicalisation”, and forced into the Prevent re-education programme.

To suggest that the experiences of British Muslims, who are overwhelmingly South Asian in background, are less tangible than those of black people is blinkered at best.

This points to another problem within the argument for a black-centred movement. The notion of who is black is contested.

Professor Kehinde Andrews pictures a black “nation” that spreads from America to Europe to Africa. But his conception does not include those African Muslim populations he says were conquered by the Arabs.

What does that mean for the black Muslim people of Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Somalia?

Have they in some imagined way surrendered their blackness?

There is a way to overcome these infernal divisions, and that is to seek to unite all those who face racism with all those committed to fighting it.

Most importantly, we must understand that racism, in whatever form, has a single point of origin—the capitalist system and its need for divide and rule.

Socialists understand that oppressed people don’t make common cause automatically—and that people’s experiences of racism are not all the same.

And when we push back racism in any form it greatly improves the lives of our class as a whole.

Socialists say that unless we find ways to struggle together the oppressor will defeat us all.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.