The weekends #NUSBlack16 shoved the discussion of political blackness to the front. As someone who has organised in these circles – thought I would throw my thoughts on the matter into the mix.
But first a few things:
- NUS Black Students’ Campaign (BSC) is an autonomous and democratic student campaign that organises for UK students with African, Asian, Arab and Caribbean descent. Those pro/anti/undecided on the name are all united in agreeing the work done by BSC is both relevant, incredible and needed. So all those white people using this as an opportunity to show your racist self, please take yourself elsewhere
- There has been a lot of foolishness about BSC being shared on Twitter – most of it untrue – and I am happy to unbunk some of these but not in this article. Ask in the comments and I may reply
Political blackness is an inherently British term which was used to unite the African and Asian people in the 70s onwards. Both of these peoples were called the N word for example and when signs saying “no blacks” was put up it was meant for everyone who was not white. It was therefore a unifying term used to organising. You had the Black trade union divisions and creators of Black History Month UK was originally meant for Asian and African histories.
Over time, this term has become less and less common. And now, black means sub-saharan people – those who we racialise as black and face the oppressions that come with that.
Even with students, when I ask students to come to Black Students’ events they answer with “but I’m not black though” or, for those who are, “this not what I was expecting”. So the name can serve as another barrier to getting students who are already disenfranchised involved.
This gets even more complicated when you consider the racial oppressions other communities (including my own) cause onto those racialised as black. Some would argue using the term politically black is co-opting the oppressions whilst not addressing these issues. We are not a homogenous community and within ourselves we face our own oppressions – e.g. the attainment gap, treatment by police, treatment by PREVENT officials – and it is important to tackle each of these. I will note here that BSC has worked on all of those things and more.
The other side is loosing the the rich and unifying history we have with the term. There is no other term that is so politically charged specific to British histories and goals. BME was defined to us by our oppressors. And once again reminds us we are the minority – even though this is not the case. No name chosen for us will empower us and will always be used to our detriment.
Then I guess the question that begs is do we teach people that they are politically black or do we use language people identify with in everyday rhetoric, I’d suggest the latter. But similarly those that have the privilege and luxury to be ‘out’ define the LGBT+ movement and this is something the ‘NUS LGBT’ and similar campaigns really need to look at and consider. And I’m sure far more people are going to be interested in this status discussing a division between PoC [people of colour], than one discussing the ridiculous racism myself and the other few students of colour experienced at ‘NUS LGBT’ conference, question yourself why. Sips tea, but I digress…
Black is the identity I’ve known my whole life. Black is what connects me to the people of the Sub-Saharan diaspora all over the world – given we are the most displaced people in history. Black is my hair, is my body, is me. I can’t wake up and decide not to be seen as black – nor can I choose to adopt it as a political identity, whilst exercising racial privileges that lighter skinned people *may* be afforded due to colourism in many communities. – Melissa Owusu, Leeds SU Education Officer
The newly elected Black Students’ Officer, Aadam Muuse, has promised to start an open discussion on the name of BSC with plans for next summer conference to have a unified motion put forward based on the discussions had this year.
My own view is to go with students of colour. I know there is no British history/context to this term and it has been popularised through US struggles but with social media and ease of access to information, I think the lines between the two struggles are growing weaker and weaker. And in unity we will grow. I believe our prioritises should be inclusion and unity – and if a name change is called, then so be it.