It is no coincidence, writes JACKIE WALKER, that among the tools used to undermine and fracture the left is the appropriation of anti-racist language
THE global economic crash, the crisis of capitalism, has resulted in the rise of demagogic leaders.
The forces of the right, aided by the mainstream media, first undermined the vocabulary of liberation as “political correctness” and then appropriated our hard-fought-for formulations of identity, our histories of oppression, in order to enhance their reactionary narratives.
We see this, for example, in an increasing tendency to normalise constructions of whites as a group under siege.
Of course this crude populism, a reaching out to the “common man” — very rarely the common woman — reinforces the power of the establishment these demagogues claim to challenge.
In Britain, the left is now under sustained attack as a consequence of its success in knocking at the doors of power.
It is no coincidence that among the tools used to undermine, fracture and attempt to defeat us is the appropriated language of liberation — in particular that of race.
Since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, we’ve seen the most sustained attention on racism I’ve ever known in an ongoing debate focused around anti-semitism.
Of course, all racism, whether Islamophobia, anti-semitism or any other is abhorrent.
But the palatable nature of critiquing a racism decoupled from notions of power, or the lack of it, has proved a powerful tool for the Establishment to attack the left — and they have run with it.
This whitewashed version of antiracism is one where racists are not Tory ministers who ridicule the appearance of people of African descent; it certainly isn’t those complaining of a Muslim woman reporter wearing a headscarf.
Conveniently, it’s the left who are the culprits in this new racism.
And on the left, it’s our very commitment to anti-racism that is used against us to undermine the unity we so badly need in order to resist this particular onslaught, as well, of course, as an inability to get access to the mainstream media, however much we have tried.
It is not a coincidence that the most oppressed minorities have barely registered in this dialogue — except as the accused or at best being called ignorant where racism is concerned.
Black voices have yet again been effectively silenced, this time under a wave of self-righteous indignation, voiced by some of the most reactionary forces in and outside the media.
This new anti-racism simply has the effect of continuing the oppression of minorities it pretends concern with.
The exclusion of working-class people, the exclusion of the left from power, by all means that can be mustered, adds to a growing sense of the divisions between “us” and “them.”
That the very few of “us” who get any influence are speedily, and easily incorporated or destroyed.
We inhabit a world where politics increasingly appears like a fraud perpetrated by interest groups, backed by an economic and political elite who control what is said, what you can say, and disseminate what they choose, in order to keep control of what they increasingly have.
No post-war uplift has raised blacks from ghetto to power.
Historical injustices against blacks remain barely acknowledged, let alone commemorated; it is with trepidation people of colour lift their head to speak truth to power on any issue, even those that relate to their own history and experience, for fear they find themselves derided at best, the subject of witch hunts or threats of violence at the worse.
I am told by people who should know, that the campaign against me, not just the online abuse, but the well orchestrated attempts to have me excluded from speaking at meetings, to exclude me from political activity is something people have not seen before.
For to tell the truth, to disturb the “intentional ignorance” of Euro-US society, is to infringe a taboo that is savagely policed and maintained.
Of course, there are and have been individual voices that have gained attention but in Britain, black academics lack numbers to be significant. The best universities and schools remain mostly closed to us.
Except in popular culture, sport, prisons and arriving too early at the graveyard, people of colour continue to be excluded at all levels, including from left-wing politics, where too often we are used as tokens to decorate some faux-liberal agenda, or moved like pawns to further other people’s careers, where we are repeatedly asked — or told to stay silent — “Let’s just get power first and we’ll deal with ‘you’ next.”
Or even worse, “We know you’re right, but if we do anything, the media will rip us to shreds.”
Yet if it is our duty to speak truth to power, as black and oppressed peoples, as people who seek the liberation of humanity, those of us who heed that call must act on it, in whatever way we are able, and let’s be clear, the cost can be high, it can be everything.
Brought together by revolution and resistance to the 1950s US, he a communist, she a political activist, my black mother of Jewish descent and my Russian Jewish father were joined by this call.
They risked their lives, were tortured, derided and disposed of.
Their people were black and white, Jew and gentile, their concerns encompassed the liberation of humankind and so I, as my mothers and fathers did before me, fight for emancipation, refute ideologies that put one people’s suffering, one people’s claim to nationhood, as more important than any other, rejecting boundaries that separate, refusing to move to the back of the bus, to play the minstrel, to remain dumb and blinded because the media, or anyone else, says I should do so.
“I don’t want no peace, I want equal rights and justice.”
This is the demand Peter Tosh speaks, or rather sings of.
He dances as he lays his challenge at the door of an Establishment that presents itself as valourising peace and quietude while simultaneously enforcing a violent and destructive status quo.
Tosh’s speech is directed to the mass of the people, his ideas formulated in a genre that can be heard by any who choose to hear and take up its rhythms.
Developing Tosh’s words, “No justice, no peace” has become the marching cry of black activists and protesters on both sides of the Atlantic, these are the intellectuals of our movement, the mothers and fathers, cooks and cleaners, the unemployed, fast food workers, the office workers — all are our intellectuals, all who resist while standing witness to the truth.
Until the streets become the classrooms and the classrooms the streets our task as intellectuals will be incomplete.
It is a necessary journey. It will be a long and perilous one.
Jackie Walker is a Labour activist and former vice-chair of Momentum.