A lot of people have woken up to the uncomfortable reality that racism exists in Britain. So what can you do about it?
Leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party Nigel Farage poses during a media launch for an EU referendum poster in London. The poster was widely criticized as promoting xenophobia during the campaign. © REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
By Wretched of the Earth
Jul 1, 2016
In the days since the Brexit vote was announced, it seems Britain’s white liberal Left have suddenly become aware of an uncomfortable truth for the first time: racism. And most notably, its prevalence. From shouts of ‘solidarity to my friends who feel less safe in Britain overnight’ to ‘so it seems it’s now okay to openly be racist on the streets’, many are presenting this well-established phenomenon as a genuinely new discovery.
So where have they been in the last few years when racism – both from the state and on the streets – has increased in Britain? From the introduction of prevent duty across educational institutions to ‘Go home’ vans targeting black and brown communities; from the rise of the English Defence League and Britain First to the vastly disproportionate use of police stop-and-search powers in black communities; from the increasing use of immigration detention centres across the country to the growth inviolent islamophobic attacks – and even brutal murders – on our streets… Let’s be honest: has there ever been a time when black and brown people have been safe in this country? It is clear that violent racism and xenophobia have increased since the referendum result was announced. Various police forces up and down the country areinvestigating numerous reports and MPs are raising questions in the House of Commons. It’s only a matter of time before reports galore are thrown our way outlining this increase in attacks.
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White people seem to think that there is a small, fringe group of racists in Britain, but the reality is much more uncomfortable and implicates a large part of the white population in more and less direct ways. There are different forms of racism, from microaggressions in the workplace, to violence on the streets, to government policy targeted directly at black and brown bodies, all of which contribute to a racist society. We can, however, change this together, starting by undertaking acts of allyship with those experiencing the current spike in this country’s long history of racist scapegoating. Get informed on where racism and xenophobia come from and learn how to dispel the numerous myths regularly doled out by the mainstream media. Listen to people when they open up about their experiences of racism and xenophobia and don’t be dismissive of people’s feelings and fears. Saying things like ‘it wasn’t about race or nationality’, or ‘you’re being overly sensitive’, or ‘it’s a class issue, not a race issue’, only reinforces your privileged position by denying the very real feelings and experiences that others have to face.
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Moving on from awareness to action, here are some practical things you can do to demonstrate active solidarity with those experiencing increased discrimination, hate and violence in post-Brexit Britain:
- Call out racism in your workplace, your family or on the street. See a colleague facing discrimination? Ask them how you can best support them and do it. Racist uncle spewing a load of nonsense at the dinner table? Make sure you know what’s what and call him out on it or even call him in. Witness racism on the bus? Intervene. If someone is in distress on the street, it only takes one person to stand up and say something for others to follow. Acknowledging and calling out racism on social media is great, but calling it out in person is even more important.
- Visibilize solidarity. Whether through ‘Refugees Welcome’ signs in your window, or by brandalizing a bus advert, we can all take steps to use the spaces we share to make anti-racism explicit. We know that messages of hate in headlines or graffiti all contribute to feelings of insecurity and fear in communities of colour. Messages that challenge these manifestations of hate are a simple way to offer a reminder that there are allies in every community in this country willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with those most affected, to challenge racism in all its forms. They are a simple reminder that we are not alone.
- Intervene in a Stop and Search. Black people are 28 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people in Britain. When those getting searched don’t know their rights, police have been known to abuse the system beyond its inherent racism. Print a copy of this document which outlines your rights under stop-and-search powers and keep it handy, in a purse or wallet. Get familiar with it. If you see a person of colour being stopped and searched, you can pass it on to them and be there to explain it, if they ask. If the person being searched consents, you can also legally film the police on your phone, to help hold them accountable. A watchful eye can be a powerful form of solidarity.
- Call an airline to challenge a deportation flight. When a deportation is underway, the incredible folks at Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary (MFJ) will shout about it as loud as they can and get as many people as possible to bombard the phone lines of complicit airlines to stop them doing the state’s dirty work. Airlines are waking up to the fact that it simply isn’t worth the hassle to support the government with deportations. Constant pressure on them can lead to a halt in airlines helping with deportations altogether, and can help keep individual people and families from being forced out of the country in the meantime. Sign up to updates from MFJ and follow them on social media to keep an eye out for callouts. (And when you’re ready to go a step further, join an MFJ action outside of a detention centre.)
- Help stop immigration raids in your community. Keep an eye on the @AntiRaids Twitter feed. Form a local group. Put up posters in your area explaining what rights people have if they are approached by immigration officers. Physically get in the way of the van. There are many possible steps, but most of them are based on forming a small local group that can be contacted when support is needed, as well as helping inform others of their rights. This is a practical, direct form of action that can prevent racially targeted arrests and deportations, and for which a bit of white (and other forms of) privilege can be incredibly influential on the officers carrying out the raids. Here is all you need to get started.
We’ve named a few of the things you can do to demonstrate active solidarity with those experiencing racism and toward dismantling white supremacy in this country, but they are only starting points. Don’t wait around for something to happen to speak up. In whatever places and groups you find yourself in, be vocal about who is welcome here and what attitudes aren’t. Silence is violence and allyship is not something to be done in secret. Together, our voices and actions can overcome the chorus of hate.
Wretched of The Earth is a collective of over a dozen grassroots Indigenous, black, brown and diaspora groups, individuals and allies acting in solidarity with oppressed communities in the Global South and Indigenous North. Twitter: @WretchedOTEarth Facebook: wotearthEmail: email@example.com