My identity, Our history, The politics: Part 3.
A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend about definitions of racism. He put it to me that racism only exists in explicit circumstances, outside these circumstances, it is just prejudice. I believe he got his definition from either Louis Farrakhan or Elijah Muhammad but I haven’t had much luck actually finding anything I can attribute.
The basic premise was this, prejudice is when you actively dislike or discriminate against someone based on any facet you choose. Everybody is prejudiced, we have all been brought up disliking one group or another because they smell, eat funny food, look funny, are dumb, are thieves [insert any old rubbish reason here] etc. Racism however is the application of prejudice within the context of race or ethnicity, such that you can impact on the other group, socio-economically. This means you can disenpower them and prevent access to education, housing, employment and social mobility.
This is interesting, I have a strong affinity for this definition of racism because in so many ways it feels tangible. Do I care if you like me? Not particularly. Do I care if you can stop me from eating and feeding my family? Hell yes.
I’ve often seen the above view of racism used as an excuse for why non-whites can’t be racist, because we don’t hold the position of power, we cannot disenpower others. Not sure I agree with that. In many ways, I see regular examples of racist behaviour that don’t seem to meet acceptable lines of racial division.
For example, I would argue that in the UK, the domination of the black hair and black food industries by asian and Turkish shop owners is an example of racism as defined above. On my parent’s high street, a Ghanaian grocer was driven out of business when 6 other shop owners (2 off licences, 2 butchers, 1 grocer and 1 newsagent) who all belonged to the same Pakistani family, started to stock his produce and using their collective buying power, slashed their prices to drive him out of business. He fought for 2 years. As soon as he closed, they all increased their prices again.
The same model is replicated all over the world, where one group has the benefit of scale, or political influence they use that advantage to economically disempower another racial group, thereby being racist.
There are two strange places I want to take this now, the first is the recent riots in England. I spent quite a while trying to find all the various links and articles I read about this to post here and have decided against it. Let me speak with my own voice.
I hate the police. Harsh but true. Not often the position taken by educated, armchair liberals such as myself but its true. I am under no illusion that they are here to protect and serve so long as its politically, financially and culturally beneficial to them or some elected official. ‘The police’ is not my police. I have been stopped by police in my car and felt the indignance of being treated like a dickhead, I’ve witnessed countless examples of bullying and abuse of position by the police. I also happen to live in Tottenham, about 200 yards away from where the riots kicked off on that fateful Saturday in August. Did I see any of it? No. I stayed in my house and prayed for peace.
My feelings of disappointment in this case however, are aimed at the rioters. The disenfranchised, the disenpowered, the forgotten, the destroyers, the hooligans, the enforcers of racism. Yes. I believe that the rioters, allowed themselves to be the tools of racism, they destroyed livelihoods, homes and businesses often on their own doorsteps. Looting from JD Sports, or the off-licence was not a victimless crime, it meant a shop couldn’t open, any staff who worked there are probably not compensated for that. People were burned out of their homes, just so they can become victims themselves, anything they had managed to achieve, or acquire, stamped out and turned to ashes. The riots did far more direct damage to ethnic minorities in one week, than the ConDem coalition could have hoped for in a year.
Marginalised communities allowed themselves to become agents of racism, and it’s a blurred colour line here, in this scenario we can include the poor whites, blacks and asians as victims of overt racist activity.
The second scenario I want to discuss is the attack on blacks in Libya. In the west, our news broadcasts talk often of “Gaddafi loyalists”, they don’t ever discuss paid mercenaries. They talk about rebel groups clamping down and launching successful attacks, but are only just slowly (and really quietly) starting to mention brutality, random racist attacks, looting, rape and torture of black people ‘suspected’ of being Gaddafi fighters.
In Libya right now, we have a UN backed attack on any dark skinned person living in that country. They have no rights, their property is being taken away from them, they are being degraded. Other north African countries (such as Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt) are watching with some amusement, they’ve long wanted to rid themselves of the black pest and their persistent attempts to get to Europe anyway. Now the Libyans have a ‘legitimate’ reason and means to do as they wish, to denegrate, and take racism to new heights, all in the name of a tyrant who isn’t himself dark skinned. This is racism, but it doesn’t feel like many people want to call it that, the only voices are the usual suspects, activists and social commentators, but are not having much affect, there is too much to gain for the west.
In Part 1 of this post, I talked about how Cress-Welsing’s book The Isis Papers had set my mind all a-flutter in agreement and disagreement about who I was and how I relate to other races. In Part 2, I then contextualised this around ideas of shared history or experience with black people around the world, and expressed my disdain with how easy we find it to homogenise and round everything up so we can give it a name, but actually find that any accounts of history are only ever the perspective of a group or individual, they do not always represent reality and are definitely not the whole truth.
When I apply my identity and awareness of my history and the history around me, I end up with views on present day politics as expressed above. It’s not cleanly divided along a racial line, because I’m black, I don’t default on excuses for black people. Because I’m educated, I don’t subscribe to silly ideas of how great this wonderful democratic land I live in is….it’s clearly not. But ultimately, because I choose to see and continue to look for my truth, I will always call things as I see them.
I’m not in the business of making others comfortable, I’m just in the business of me.