In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, Black Lives Matter (BLM) made great advances in the struggle against racism, and what it means to be an anti-racist.
Now the racists at the top of society want to push it all back.
After Millwall football fans booed players for taking the knee—a symbol of defiance against a racist system—Tory politicians suggested the booing was defensible.
Cabinet minister George Eustice claimed that opposing Black Lives Matter was not the same as being against racial equality.
“Black Lives Matter, capital B, L and M, is actually a political movement that is different to what most of us believe in, which is standing up for racial equality,” he said.
In other words, he wanted to separate the horror at racist killings that sparked BLM from the radical political demands that the movement raised.
He wants to blunt the radical, political edge of what it means to be an anti-racist.
The right are trying a similar offensive over the issue of deportations. The Windrush Generation scandal of 2018 made deportation in general much more difficult to defend.
Before the scandal, the Tories had been happy to talk openly of the “hostile environment” they had created for migrants.
They would boast of sending criminals and people living in Britain undocumented “home”.
The backlash they faced after the Windrush scandal made that much more difficult.
Now they’re using recent deportations to Jamaica to argue that it’s right to deport people who have criminal convictions.
By getting people to accept that it’s okay for some people to be deported, they hope to make deportations more acceptable again. If the Tories think this can be a turning point for them against anti-racism, anti-racists have to be prepared to defend their political demands.
A spokesperson for Black Lives Matter UK responded to Eustice by saying, “Taking a knee is not a political statement or showing support for any political group.”
Yet the power of the BLM movement is that it points the finger at a racist political system and has dragged radical demands into the mainstream.
Taking the knee is a political act.
It began as a refusal by athletes in the US to stand for the national anthem of a state that killed them. Black Lives Matter is about defunding the police—and insisting that they are institutionally racist.
It’s about tearing down the statues of slavers as a symbol of the racism the system is built on.
These are the ideas and demands that make BLM so threatening to those at the top—and why the Tories are so keen to push the movement back.
They have to be defended.