Rebranded revolutionaries was always supposed to be a series. It was always going to include UK Black Lives Matter (UKBLM) at some stage. Every issue was always going to be controversial. I have no issue with any of the criticisms. It is absurdist and glosses over incredibly deep issues. It is meant to highlight media narratives and the facts they ignore.
Yet I’m annoyed that I feel the need to write this piece. I’m annoyed because I feel like I’m repeating myself. I’ve written before about BAME issues. I’ve also written about how society likes to put people in predefined boxes.
I’m a socialist. I’m a Labour Party member and I support Jeremy Corbyn. But I can feel myself being pushed towards another box. Not because I want to fit it, but because the silence and words of my ‘comrades’ are painful.
Recently UKBLM have become far harder to ignore. They have mounted two high profile protests, yet solidarity seems to have disappeared. Dismissed for not having ‘real’ issues, they are chastised for causing travel disruption. But the Labour Party have largely remained silent, while some members are critical.
With this in mind I want to look at two individuals who were prominent in the civil rights movement. Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. The two fought for the same issues, but with very different tactics – and leaving behind very different public impressions.
The hypocrisy of the left
Solidarity is rarely convenient, in fact it usually is a struggle. As I’ve written before it doesn’t require endorsement of tactics. Solidarity with Palestine does not endorse the death of Israeli’s. It doesn’t require you to be affected by the issues, it requires you recognise they exist. You are required to stand shoulder to shoulder with your comrades and denounce forces of oppression. It isn’t about your comfort, it’s about the plight of another group.
I will not continuously reference everything I’ve previously written, but there is one thing I’ve been consistent on. I am not a spokesperson for UKBLM, BAME or minority issues in general. I’ve attempted to speak up for every oppressed group, whether a member or not. I am not female nor Jewish, but I stand with my comrades.
So why does the onus fall upon me to defend BAME issues? Yes, I am a ‘writer of colour’, but that does not define my political interests. I’ve previously defended Chuka Umunna (not that I enjoyed it) because he is an MP. He happens to be of a BAME background. He did not present himself as a BAME representative, nor have I presented myself as a BAME writer.
But the longer I feel forced to cover these issues, the longer most stay silent, the less freedom I have. I am becoming that ‘angry black writer’ who has a new ‘issue’ every day. And that is far easier to dismiss than what I am. A socialist, of mixed heritage, who enjoys writing and analyses.
The fact I’m writing this leads me to a simple conclusion. Most of you would not have lifted a finger to help Parks. Many would have complained because your bus had been delayed.
The hardest thing to do is confront your own prejudices. Not because we aren’t aware we hold them, but because acknowledging them feels like a moral failing. It is always easiest to side with the status quo. You are a leftie, you are a Labour supporter, but UKBLM? It’s all a bit much, isn’t it?
Well is it? If you ever engage with UKBLM, their arguments and the statistics, it’s hard to disagree. Take this example of BAME deaths in police custody and subsequent prosecutions. None of you can think that is right, can you? If you think the statistics are wrong, please do say – but if not, I can’t hear you.
UKBLM make no apologies for making themselves noticed, and why should they? I attended the BAME hustings that Corbyn held, and there were people from UKBLM there. They had a banner, they chanted “Black lives matter” and engaged in ‘traditional’ politics. Now tell me how much press coverage that got?
Sometimes the conventional methods of complaint are ineffective, so people opt for civil disobedience. When that is ineffective some cross the line into acts of criminality to highlight the issue. There is a further step though. Violence.
Not a person reading this would think Parks was incorrect, but from what I can ascertain UKBLM do not have a fraction of the support. Ironic that both high profile cases have been related to causing travel disruption.
I want to make something clear, I am not condemning you for not supporting UKBLM. It is not that you could not be my ally. I am telling you that you haven’t been. I have numerous screen grabs of people mocking either the goals, or methods; but this isn’t about blame. It’s about trying to open your eyes. When Parks famously refused to move from her seat there are three things worth noting.
Firstly, she technically was not breaking the law. Driver’s were given some discretion when it came to allocating seats, but she was sat in the “coloured section”. It was through social attitudes and convention that she was condemned. The officer who arrested her simply stated “I don’t know, but the law’s the law, and you’re under arrest”.
Secondly, she was arrested. This is partially covered in the first point, but she was arrested and her mugshot is available. She was also bailed out, she wasn’t released because she hadn’t broken the law. She sat in the “coloured section” and did not move when the bus was full. This complies with the letter of the law. But that is rarely applied universally in any society.
The final and most important point – she was allowed to be arrested. She was on a bus that was full of people, and yet nobody with a voice spoke up sufficiently. Nobody who the driver could be convinced by offered her support. The entire bus didn’t empty in outrage, there was not an immediate boycotting of that service. Rather Parks was arrested and service was resumed.
I’m not saying you are the bus driver. I’m not saying you are the police officer. I am categorically stating that you are a bystander. Feel free to stop reading and unfollow me on Twitter now if you wish. You only ever paid lip service to solidarity.
History likes to overlook Malcolm in terms of his significance. We are taught to focus on Parks and Martin Luther King Jr’s commitment to non-violence. But why is that? Is that even logical? That the most significant figures in a movement were those who scared the establishment the least? Faced with defending a state against protest, who of the three would concern you most?
Images of sit-ins during the civil rights movement are powerful. Drinks pouring over the head’s of black people. Parks’ being removed from a bus, arrested and charged. Yes, they are powerful – but they aren’t empowering.
They show an establishment that has crushed true resistance from the oppressed. They show a society that will help ensure change does not occur. So where in this is the empowerment? In the civil rights act? Are we to wait for our oppressors to change their minds? If you want an image of empowerment Malcolm is the only person to provide it:
“It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
What would have been empowering is a bus emptying, or being destroyed. If the people involved in the lunch counter sit-ins had reacted. If anyone who saw the injustice, regardless of skin colour had turned on the aggressors.
What would have been truly empowering (if less popular) would have been adopting Malcolm’s philosophy. Just take one look at this picture, but specifically the caption. They are simply discouraging protest.
But please don’t tell me your tweets are not the same as those drinks. Don’t tell me your silence is better than their laughter. Don’t tell me you are sitting next to me, when you do all you can to distance yourself from the struggle and the issues.
“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.”
As you may have realised, I am out of sympathy. The violent, revolutionary known as Malcolm X had sympathy for those who were yet to be awakened. The issue is that you believe you are awake. I see your ‘Twibbon’ expressing solidarity with Corbyn, but have you ever stopped to consider what Corbyn stands for?
I was irked by the rhetoric of the Corbynista and previously rejected the term. Yet I find myself troubled. I’m troubled because I have listened to the man speak, I know his values and on this basis he has my support.
I know electorally supporting UKBLM is unwise, so I never ask Corbyn for comment. Not because I think he wouldn’t, because I worry he would. I won’t ask because he is one of few politicians with a long history of solidarity. I won’t ask him because I don’t need to.
But I do need to ask you. I need to ask you because I’m tired. I’m tired of being the person to write about these issues. Irritated by having to read offensive tweets from Corbyn supporters. I’m bored of having to pretend that I don’t see them. They exist and I’m ask you to call them out.
I am not a spokesperson for any minority, but that is now what I am reduced to. Not because nobody else will speak up, but because that is what being a socialist means. It means solidarity, it means listening to the concerns of your ‘comrades’.
Principled objection to UKBLM is welcome
There is absolutely nothing about supporting Corbyn, Labour or being a socialist that requires you endorse UKBLM. You are more than welcome to ignore the movement, but I’d ask why?
Is there an aim you disagree with? Have you done research into the claims they make? Or is it just easiest to go with the mainstream narrative? The one you usually hate?
The condescending claims I hear disgust me. Are you of the belief UKBLM essentially hold flash mobs with no underlying cause? When the junior doctors’ called off their strike, it was too late for your solidarity. When Owen Smith opens his mouth (or somebody finds an old tweet about a Gobstopper), being mortally offended isn’t solidarity. #LunaticGate? #CockGate? #TrainGate? This isn’t politics, it doesn’t even have any principles to it. None of these things show solidarity with anyone. They are self-righteous smears.
As a sufferer of mental health problems, I have no issue with Smith’s comments. I am entitled to speak out on behalf of that community. People are happy to allow me to speak on behalf of BAME groups (If your sarcasm detector is dodgy, double check it).
UKBLM have far more in common with King or Parks than Malcolm. They possibly made your life slightly less convenient. But that’s statistically unlikely. They haven’t attacked you. They do not grandstand, nor berate Corbyn for not being more vocal in supporting them. So why the lack of support in return? What happened to solidarity?
Parks, King and Malcolm all inspired movements, including UKBLM. It is still my hope Corbyn can have a similar effect. But his supporters need to reach out, as their few allies are rapidly diminishing – and I include myself amongst that number.
If UKBLM had Corbyn Twibbons, I wonder how differently people would react?