Compass 

On my commute to make my money. White mask on. I need to remember I am more than this. I need to be more. 

For my brother. For my sisters. And for myself. 

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Politically Black

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

Bringing down the system 

I have been invited to work for “special teams”. And by that they mean the police, ministry of defence, home office and so on (and yes even the ones I can’t name).
My immediate reaction was hell no – they won’t let me in. Then I realised, well actually they will let me in.  I haven’t broken any laws and I am a British citizen. Maybe I can change the system from the inside? So I started the process to get security cleared.

But now I am not so sure. See, I will be doing project work – not starting a one person revolution. I will be not only upholding the structures that oppress me and my community but improving them. I may be told things that will haunt me and I will not be able to share them. And let’s be honest, they very well could kill me – that is how little trust I have in those teams.  

So now I’m in two minds about the whole thing. And the guy who invited me in the first place – a white, upper class, rugby-playing lad tried to persuade me to go for it. “What are you all ‘fuck the police’?” he asked. “Yes I am actually,” I replied.

And then I described my reality with the very people who I pay to protect me. I have seen them beating up a young boy in the street while the others stand in a circle, their backs to this incident. I see them dragging students by the hair during peaceful and legal protests. I see them stopping black people for no reason whatsoever. I see them snarling at me and my friends. I see them not believing me or even caring when I reported sexual abuse. I see them to be the oppressive force that protects the rich and keeps the poor, black and brown down. Over 1500 have been killed in police custody since 1900 and not one officer has been charged. That is my reality with the police.

He listened and nodded.

A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect

I apologise for being lost over the last few weeks. Working all day and volunteering all evening has left me with so much to say but so little energy to say it with. 

Self-care: my weapon and shield 

Self-care is an act of political warfare. Learn to share only when you have the strength to do so. Say no when you do not. Say nothing when even this is not possible.
Our pain matters. Our words are worth something. Our experience is real. 

We are not exotic. We are not submissive or unduly angry. We are not different to the others.

There is a difference between offensive and oppressive. And we know when we are being oppressed. By their words, by their actions, by their systems. We can recognise the dull pain it causes deep in our stomach.

And so we do not have to explain it. Not why we do what we do. Not why we want what we want. And certainly not when we hurt the way we do.

Expecting marginalised peoples to disregard their own emotions to calmly educate you is the epitome of entitlement

Being poor: save our council homes

The Torys have put forward a proposal to stop new council tenants from having lifelong tenancies. Instead tenancies will last only two – five years, after which their position will be reconsidered and they may be removed. This is just another  attack on the poor – now being told having a stable home is too much of a privilege that they can’t afford.

Council housing are often the only form of housing working class families can afford – rent being sky high and too unpredictable. And we all know it’s near impossible to actually own a home here.

Imagine your family having to move around every five years – your children having to move schools – affecting the friendships they form, their studies and confidence. Just making friends with the neighbours and then having to move again – would you even bother making friends? Wasting money on decorating when with the current cuts you can barely afford food and clothing – would you even bother redecorating?

Living in a house – not a home. Uncertain of your future. Whole neighbourhoods destroyed. Community spirit forgotten.

I grew up in a council house and still live in a council estate. I remember the upheaval in the early days before we got our permanent home now. We were living out of suitcases, homes were often damp and horrible and I was always the new kid. Having a stable home meant I was able to go to one school – get to know my teachers, make lifelong friends and being able to bring friends round, not worry about where I will be living. I am now a graduate and working – having a stable home played a huge part in this.

Just because we are poor does not mean we don’t deserve a home. Being poor is not a crime and should not be punished. A stable home is simple decency.

This proposal makes no sense for anyone apart from the rich. It puts further strains on councils to do extra processing and means they can never plan ahead.

I urge you all to sign this petition and help save our council homes.

Black History Month

Black History Month is here! As a non-black person of colour, BHM is not something I paid very much attention to ’till last year. Before then, my school didn’t focus on it at all, I was taught MLK was the good revolutionist and Malcolm X was the bad revolutionist, I thought BHM was a time to be sad about the trans Atlantic slave trade, and that was the only history black people had.

Last year I was introduced to a whole new world of activist, I was taught what euro-centrism is, what solidarity means, what liberation feels like, how political Blackness unites us. I went to a variety of events – from panels to performances. The veils around my eyes blew off and the glass of false pretence teaching us all that the world is fine and everything horrible happened many moons ago shattered. I was empowered.

And that is what BHM is to me. A time where we can focus our energies in teaching ourselves – about our heritages and strengths and struggles. And of the heritages and strengths and struggles of our brothers and sisters across the globe. And we can be empowered to not sit back and let the glass continue to encapsulate the many of our brothers and sisters who still sleep.

Yes our heroes should be remembered but our struggles are more than three (MLK, Rosa Parks and Ghandi) people – with even their struggles being summarised to being passive. Black History is so much richer than that – in all areas of the world, in all fields, in all cultures. Black history is world history, and until it is recognised as such – BHM is vital in empowering us to at least remember so.

BHM for me is a start, a reenergiser, a reminder. When we can come together and celebrate. We are here. And then we can plan and organise. We can organise against racist laws such as the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. We can organise against Apartheid Israel. We can organise against the White curriculum. It is not just a month, but more like a start of the year.

Even if your experience of BHM has not been brilliant – even if you don’t see the point of it – do check out the events your local area are organising. Whether that be in your university or community. Don’t limit yourself.

“We should emphasize not Negro history, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.” – Carter Woodson

Old Boys Club

My university organises regular career events, inviting alumni back to talk about their experiences in the big bad world, providing little tips and tricks, and allowing the space to network. Unfortunately, the majority of the panellists, sometimes all, are white.

So I worked with the careers team to hold termly events where the entire panel will be alumni who are also people of colour. Everyone would be welcome to the event, but it would also provide an opportunity for students of colour to ask specific questions that white graduates just do not understand or have expertise in.

The first event was a huge success, with over 100 students attending and received very positive feedback. So, we were very excited for the next event – which would be focusing on graduate schemes. The day of the event came and as I welcomed the guests in, a white man approached me, introducing himself as a panellist. Continue reading

The F word

I am a feminist.

There I said it. This word has become muddled and twisted, said by many but understood by few. I have so much to say and obviously a 500 or so word blog won’t be enough to cover this huge topic but here are a few of my initial thoughts.

Feminism is simply the movement to get equality for the sexes. It is that simple but yet, I think mainly due to the toxicity around the word, people are ashamed or reluctant to call themselves a feminist. At the end of the day, I don’t think it really matters so long as you believe in the values. But to me the word brings solidarity and strength. And so I own it.  Continue reading

Dear white people

These are the things I want to say to the white left. To the white right – I can’t even deal. 

Racism is not classism. I will not elaborate on that here today because I have so many little things I want to start with. The basics (…for basic people…) – let’s go:

Why is it offensive to call you white? Are you not white? We need to tick the same boxes you tick ‘white, black, asian, arab’ (and what is up with those categories – ethnicities, races, geographical places all mixed into one – why haven’t they fixed it yet?). How am I meant to call you out of your racism, or on institutional racism if I can’t even name my oppressor?

Black people and brown people are called such every day. And yes we are lowered when we are called such. And yes yes many brown and black people get offended when they are called these terms because of that but you are not. And yes yes yes I acknowledge the viewpoint that we are all human and we should stop using these terms. But we are not living in a post-racial world yet (if you believe you are, you’re wrong). Stop getting offended and start listening to what I am saying before or after I say ‘white people’.

Continue reading