Cllr Graham Campbell is the National Campaigns Director of SNP Socialists and this week at SNP Conference was re-elected as BAME Convener on the Party’s National Executive Committee winning with 971 delegates votes.
I spoke loudly at SNP Conference 2020 on for an intersectional approach to equalities and for anti-racism policy in Scotland to be meaningful and deliver equality of outcomes which is not marginal or a distraction from Independence – they central to it. I put forward the three main asks of the BLM movement and said that Women, Disabled, Older, Younger, LGBTQI people – including Trans folks – and BAME people between us all – we make up the majority of Scots. If we want a Yes majority then we have to win all of these groups to Independence.
The last six or seven months of politics has seen some extraordinary shifts in the level of importance and column inches given to discussing racism against Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in Scotland. From the the dramatic exposure at the Park Inn hotel of the UK Government’s racist hostile environment for International Protection Applicants (IPAs aka asylum seekers) through to the disproportionate effect of Covid 19 on BAME healthcare workers in a report published this week https://beta.isdscotland.org/media/6740/20-12-02-covid19-publication_report.pdf. From the disproportionate level of stop and search for Black youth and the casual everyday racism through to the lack of decolonisation of the curriculum in schools and the need for Scotland to fess-up to its slavery and colonial past.
“It’s unfortunate it had to take young people losing their lives again for them to be listened to, but I think now is that time,” “And to be honest with you, we wouldn’t be seeing this level of protest if we didn’t have this for the last five years. Black Lives Matter really set this idea of how we fight and how we protest into action.”PATRISSE CULLORS – CO-FOUNDER, BLACK LIVES MATTER
Our Recent History
Origins of BLM – from Womanist hashtag to mass social movement
The meaning of Black Liberation in Scotland
The role of white people in the anti racist struggle
A number of dynamics previously underreported are now more apparent – the class dimension to the question of race inequality and how that intersects with gender and sexuality. The Unison Scotland report into the experiences of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic NHS and Care home staff published earlier on in the crisis https://www.unison-scotland.org/wp-content/uploads/UNISON-Scotland-Black-Workers-and-Covid-19-x.pdf showed that BAME staff were more in fear for the jobs, more at risk due to proximity to higher numbers of clients with high levels of Covid 19 exposure; were less likely to stand up for health and safety reason and were more likely to not have sick pay and not be able to take paid time off work.
We are more and more beginning to connect the dots when it comes to the origins of racism in Scotland in its slavery and colonial past. We must now name and shame the system it created which we all live under today: racial capitalist patriarchy.
Freedom. Liberation. Equality. None of these concepts can have any concrete meaning unless Black people are free, women have equality and class exploitation has been eliminated. As many in the BLM movement say – when ‘Black people are free – all are free’. So when we try to construct a genuine anti-racist movement in Scotland based on the BLM inspiration that has brought so many people onto the streets and into the movement – the more its direction and orientation is up for grabs. I believe fighting institutionalised racism necessarily means tackling the underlying origins of the ill-gotten gains of Scotland’s landed elite and bankers. Racial equality cannot happen without economic democracy and the redistribution of that wealth under the control of the representatives of the working class majority in Scottish society.
Many anti-racists will argue as I have done myself for short to medium term changes within the limits of the capitalist system to change the life chances of BAME people living under that system now, within our lifetimes. But the way we create that movement from below requires of us to seek to build within it the kind of active anti-racist political culture that we would like to see reflected in the wider society – especially as it goes through important transformations in the direction of Scottish independence. I have written previously on how anti-racism was one of the key ingredients – alongside the anti-war, anti-nuclear, anti-climate change and anti-imperialist strands – of the broadly radical and left-wing Yes movement in 2014. Anti-racism will be crucial in the battle ahead for independence.
Perhaps as many as 30,000 took to the streets of Scotland’s cities and towns on June 7th. This was a key moment of Black political arrival which has been 15-20 years in the making. BLM Scotland was formed on July 4th as a network of the local BLM group organisers who set up the protests events which took place between May 31st and June 7th. BLM Scotland published its radical organising principles in August 2020 https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=108238954329556&id=104127378074047
After BLM however, those for independence now have to convince BAME people that we actually have a plan in our future nation state for removing institutionalised racism, and for making Holyrood a true reflection of the gender, differently-abled and ethnic diversity of Scotland.
As an African-Caribbean community activist I’ve observed Scottish born and raised 2nd and 3rd generation African and Caribbean Scots developing an identity of their own. I have seen a growing sense of Pan African solidarity and interaction between younger folks of differing African and Caribbean roots – alongside a growing acceptance of the African influence in our wider Scottish popular culture. We’ve moved on considerably from the days of young Black Scots being excluded from night clubs due to the illegal colour bar. Now many of those clubs will have some of their best nights playing Afro-Flava beats. That cultural acceptance however has not yet given way to better employment or career progression in the jobs market or access to funds to start our own businesses.
I have also carefully observed the efforts of committed young people from South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Kurdish, Middle Eastern, East and South East Asian and Afghan backgrounds as they build communities of resistance and establish themselves socially and politically. Yet despite high levels of degree-level education BAME youth find themselves disproportionately unemployed or underemployed. And that was before the Coronavirus hit. The need for a radical BAME politics of Black Liberation in Scotland that unites all those who face racialised oppression is fairly evident and has been particularly created on Scotland’s streets largely led by African Scots.
Black unity always requires a degree of ‘necessary essentialism’ as the late Prof Stuart Hall termed it – that initial drive for the oppressed to look to achieve agency by unifying based on common identity of our experiences of racism. However if we unify based on the theoretical toolkit that white supremacist European dominated societies have to offer – we will inevitably be trying to liberate ourselves with the very un-liberating theories of nation, identity, gender, sexuality, ablesim and class that our oppressors want us to uphold. That includes any attempt to create a national feeling in Scotland (whether by unionists or ‘nationalists’) that fails to deal with that colonial racist past. A ‘nation’ which fails to remove or replace the symbols that glorify that imperial past that gave rise to capitalist industrial revolution – or which fails to have a programme of restitution, reparation and remembrance of those Africans lost and still affected today in the Caribbean, the US and Africa – is frankly doomed. Doomed to keep repeating the cycles of creating and recreating the interlocking systemic oppression of institutionalised racial capitalist patriarchy and perpetrating a white supremacist legacy.
Origins of BLM – from Womanist hashtag to mass social movement
Black Lives Matter in the US began with discussions around theories of racism and feminism and Intersectionality – a phrase coined by US civil rights lawyer Dr Kimberle Crenshaw in her crucial 1989 paper “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Anti-discrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”. It was further developed by Dr Patricia Hill Collins into an intersectional theory of racism which exposes how “interlocking social institutions [that] have relied on multiple forms of segregation… to produce unjust results”
Derived in 2012 by its originators Alicia Garza of San Francisco, Patrisse Cullors of Detroit and borrowing largely from those Black feminists thinkers like Patricia Hill Collins and bell hooks, they developed a multi-layered intersecting feminist theory to explain the oppression of not just African American but also Latinx and other marginalised women whose intersecting experiences of race, gender and class create specific forms and systems of oppression. Systems which are more than just economic in nature but cultural and which are institutionally discriminatory.
But #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) as a hashtag and as a concept really began as a social movement in 2013 against police killings and injustice born from the triggering murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida. That and the subsequent failure of the system to act until people had gone on the streets across the country. If 2015 was the moment BLM went US-nationwide in Ferguson, the 2020 George Floyd moment was when it went global – challenging racialised policing everywhere from Australia to Mexico. After the death of George Floyd BLM encapsulated that anger, fear and frustration that Black people worldwide feel at police racism and systemic racialised discrimination.
This viewpoint is often dismissed by economistic white leftists as ‘identity politics’ or even ‘privilege theory’ which shows they fundamentally and deliberately don’t want to understand where Black people – especially Black women – are coming from. You might say why am I bothering with theories of racism and anti racism? Well clearly any successful social movement stands or falls on its liberating foundational principles. For too long the presumption that Scotland is by default a non-racist society and that its institutions are free of racism despite the overwhelming evidence of BAME people saying different has seen various excuses given for it over the years: ‘there’s not many Black people here’; ‘people are integrated’ ‘we can all unite at the workplace at the point of capitalist production of wealth’ ‘the false consciousness of racism is imposed on us by the bosses – this can be defeated by workers unity’. These kind of ‘false consciousness’ theories have dogged the anti-racism movement in Scotland – they are deflections aimed at avoiding a serious discussion and combatting of racism.
The days when the anti racism movement can be content with preaching to the converted are certainly over. As is the presumed and privileged white leadership of most anti-racism movements. BLM has changed all that for good in Scotland.
Whether they are liberal integrationists or socialist revolutionaries or even white anti-fascist football fans – what they often have in common is that they presume to speak or act on behalf of the victims of racism without ever actually consulting them in advance or making themselves equal partners in any alliance that’s not under their direct leadership.
When most BAME people experience their daily racist micro-aggressions and many suffer verbal and physical racial abuse it is mostly coming from working class white people – not just from managers or bosses – and usually from random white people they don’t even know. How are we to understand why racism of this direct nature is so prevalent?
Working class people are not all actively racist – of course not – but their national identities are tied up in a falsified history of themselves as subordinate white subjects in an empire that once dominated the world. It is therefore not a surprise that racism has ways of recreating itself institutionally and politically that seem to escape the attention of some well-meaning anti-racists. That’s because they do not respect or misunderstand the self-organisation of the victims of this form of oppression in the way they would respect women’s organisations fighting women’s oppression or respect LGBTQIA groups leading the fight against homophobia and transphobia. Quite rightly no one questions the self-organisation of those sections of the population.
Yet continually white activists have tried to co-opt, commandeer and exploit the imagery of 20th century Black radicalism and exploit it for their own ends. They were doing it again with BLM protests. For the purposes of liberals for increased ‘diversity awareness’ training and advisory race consultancy opportunities. For the radicals they’re doing it for more recruits to their otherwise irrelevant ‘ultra-left’ sects. The last thing these sort of groups wanted was an empowered self-organised voice of Black people in Scotland to emerge. In Black Lives Matter Scotland they have now got exactly what they don’t want.
The meaning of Black Liberation in Scotland
A discussion that has been latent within BAME communities and in anti-racism circles that has dared not show its face until now is that the victims of racial oppression do not experience racism equally. In fact the racism within our communities (colourism and deeply internalised racisms in African and Asia about dark and light skin); racialised discrimination from other BAME communities towards Africans and vice versa; and the class dynamics of community politics within the longer established South Asian/Pakistani Muslim communities. What it has meant to be politically ‘Black’ in Scotland has largely been determined by the successes and failures over 60 years of established BAME communities which are now – more than ever – divided by class and by ethnicity. Building a pro-Black political consciousness is necessarily a challenge.
The US BLM movements are an African-only movement as a result of the relative privileges that other ‘People of Colour’ communities have in relation to African Americans within a highly segregated system. There are dangers in simply importing wholesale BLM models to Scottish and British conditions where traditionally BAME communities are not quite as ethnically and socially segregated from the majority or from each other. The majority of working class South Asians still live in poorer situations of low pay, limited employment, overcrowded or poor housing, higher rent etc – sometimes at the hands of people who are prominent within their own communities. For decades many in the aspirational middle classes of the African community have sought to emulate apparent Scottish Asian success by seeming to repeat patterns of economic positioning within niches of the Scottish capitalist economy or for influence within the political structures of party and government.
I have often remarked that the reason our 2015 incarnation of BLM failed to galvanise Africans in Scotland behind the campaign against Sheku Bayoh’s killing in Kirkcaldy, Fife – were a lack of solidarity between African Christians and Muslims and a lack of Pan African solidarity and awareness with the death of someone from the small Sierra Leonean community living in a small town away from the large urban centres. Had Sheku been from one of the major African communities in Scotland or been taken from us in Glasgow or Edinburgh there’s no doubt his death would have been much more of a cause celebre. It was a lack of solidarity from the predominantly Pakistani-led Muslim communities – where the term Muslim and South Asian has become inter-changeable despite the fact that nearly one-third of Scotland’s Muslim community of 120,000 are from Africa the Middle East and other parts of Asia. Sheku’s death was also an act of brutal Islamophobia where he was responded to by police as if engaged in a ‘terror’ incident.
Put that all down to a lack of political Black awareness and consciousness back in 2015. Not now though. In 2020 Sheku Bayoh’s name is now everywhere thanks to people making those connections with police brutality and injustice overseas with injustice right here in Scotland.
Most Africans arrive in Scotland with a degree level education behind them. They probably expected to be middle class professionals when they arrived but like generations of first generation migrants in decades before them they have found themselves reduced by the racist socio-geography of housing and poverty to working class status. They are class conscious only to the extent they want to escape being working class for a better life. However UK recent history of migrant communities’ integration shows conclusively how capitalism as a system has failed to look after even some of the basic needs of BAME people. Only a small minority are ever able to join the table of prosperity – the vast majority of BAME families and workers are stuck with low incomes households whilst facing the additional burden of supporting family back in their home countries. Even when working for the state or for local councils the presence of Black people in the ranks does not remove barriers to progression within those hierarchies.
The role of white people in the anti racist struggle
Across Scotland BLM events and Facebook twitter and WhatsApp groups were formed by well meaning white Scottish people of all ages but mainly young people. That gave BLM speakers and Sheku Bayoh campaign representatives Kadi Johnson and Aamer Anwar many opportunities to address online meetings across the country from Dumfries to Oban and Orkney. However the elephant in the room is how to be a good ally? What exactly is the role of white people within an anti racism movement that is led by the oppressed themselves?
We know what kind of allies we don’t need. Such anti-racists as described above cannot be good allies (not yet) because they do not in practice or theory recognise the right of self-organisation of the oppressed. Their form of organising also fails to address the racism that white working class people hold close to their chests. They also fail to recognise their exploitative relationship to the trappings of Black radicalism whilst recruiting and exploiting BAME recruits as poster boys and girls of just how ‘integrated and inclusive they are’. But in doing so in such a way as to isolate those very BAME recruits from the BAME ‘communities of resistance’ that gave them the strength to come forward and fight for their equal rights in the first place. There is no recognition at all that the systems and processes of racial capitalist patriarchy that operate in wider society also inevitably operate within their own organisations – much to their protestations and denials the best of Performative Anti Racism where Black friends as used as convenient stage props to show just how non-racist you really are. Only an anti racism that is actively cognisant of that dynamic – the impact of white supremacy even upon progressive well-meaning people – will ever produce a successful movement of anti-racist allies.
We answer that question all the time in Glasgow in our daily work with IPAs where radical grassroots activists from Glasgow No Evictions Network (against Mears and Serco), The Unity Centre and tenants union Living Rent all work daily with self-organised refugee rights groups like Migrants Organising for Rights and Empowerment (MORE), Ubuntu Women’s Shelter and LGBT Unity. They do so by respecting the self-organisation of the IPAs themselves to lead the fight, but organise themselves in supporting role. Using whatever levels of white privilege they have – from being less likely to be arrested whether it’s the greater risks a fully-fledged citizen can take whilst being on a demo, to their capacity to write fluently in English – sharing those skills with IPAs – thus equalising the power imbalances and skilling up people to remove barriers to equality within their groups.
These are key organising principles for a more respectful, more equal relationship in circumstances where IPAs are uniquely vulnerable whilst so racistly disempowered and infantilised by the Home Office and Mears.
IPA activism with such allies offers dignity and self-determination in a struggle that most directly affects them but which is not dependent on ‘white saviours’. If we see the parallels with anti racism movements – we can see that white saviour anti-racism isn’t ultimately helpful. Anti racism as public iterative performance that demonstrates your ability to treat people different from you as equals or to care about their lives by posting on social media – frankly deserves no medals nor high praise since being a decent person ought to be a given. Being an active anti-racist means to be prepared to admit that society may influence you to forget the levels of privilege you have. That you may in fact benefit from the racist system being white and that by consciously deciding to actively disavow those privileges and advantages it gives you in Scottish society.
Do not be surprised to get a lukewarm reception if and when you appoint yourselves as champions for Black and BAME people without bothering to link locally with existing BAME communities that are not that hard to find. As BAME people we always are in plain sight every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at mosque, temple, church or gurdwara. Black people in particular – 90% of whom are African Scots have shown by their mass mobilisation that they are more than capable of leading themselves. What they demand of you is to commit to standing up to racism when you see at work, in your family, on your social media etc. Anti-racist work needs to be done by white people speaking to and challenging the racist thoughts and deeds of other white people using educational materials and strategies developed by and with Black activists.
An independent Scotland offers the chance to create a country that instead has empowered citizens in a socially just more equal society in which wealth is commonly owned and controlled and where Scotland’s relationships with countries that it has hitherto exploited, are transformed through reparative justice into partnerships of equals.
Post-Covid, post-Brexit, Green New Deal and post-technological change policies for a future Independent Scotland will need to also tackle race inequality as a fundamental issue. An independent Scotland will need to implement Green New Deal policies of Just Transition to protect employment whilst reducing carbon emissions in ways that take account of environmental racism: BAME communities’ disproportionate proximity to pollution zones near to factories, landfill and airports and the resultant negative health effects (i.e. asthma).
An independent Scotland must build more social housing for larger-size intergenerational families and at the same time impose rent controls in the private sector. It must also draft new anti-discrimination laws with properly enforced targets with short and medium term timescales for public sector bodies to achieve their Race Equality Action Plan aims by 2030 (within a decade of independence). However these must now also apply to all employers in the private and third sectors – with the public sector leading the way.
Each of these ‘Black Manifesto for Scotland’-type ideas (by no means solely my own) are unachievable without a heavy concentration upon all aspects of the interlocking systems of oppression. END
Graham can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org