I’m about to go all millennial and use a Harry Potter quote for politics. “There are all kinds of courage. It takes a great deal to stand up to our enemies but just as much to stand up to our friends.” For that we should award ten points to Abdi Duale (or maybe to Labour’s poll ratings!).
For those who are unaware of who he is, Abdi is an Ealing Labour activist of BAME roots and, frankly, a wonderful asset to the party. Recently there was a dispute between him and Clive Lewis MP about the remarks of the Kensington MP, Emma Dent Coad, who had made remarks deemed offensive to black people. Many, including Abdi Duale took issue with this, condemning it. In stepped Clive Lewis MP, slamming Abdi for supposedly being silent when the Tory MP Ann Marie Morris was found to have made racist remarks.
And then came a maelstrom of criticism and scorn for Abdi, from, not exclusively, white left-wing members. Of course Guido Fawkes published this to make Labour look bad. Yes, they don’t actually care about anti-black racism. All of these things can be true and it doesn’t detract from the fact that her comments were troubling to someone like Abdi. That’s all you need to know or care about.
As someone who is brown but not black, it’s not upon me to decide what anti-black racism is. So Aaron Bastani, if you’re reading this, pipe down mate. You only get to define racism for your experience. You’re BAME but you’re not black. More generally, some members from Momentum took issue with Abdi, implying his outrage was born out of a political agenda rather than the glaring obvious that he as a black man might find racist remarks, you know, racist?
It raises the issue of racism within the Labour Party. We’re a left-wing party, progressive and liberal, so we can’t be racist, right? We are a racist party, we just don’t see it. We openly tolerate anti-Semitism as free speech against Israel. We openly stand with Islamists because apparently they’re the only shade of Muslim that exists. When it comes to BAME voices we are, and listen closely to this, truly shit. We blast the Tories for their poor representation but let’s be real that we’re almost worse because we parade our anti-racism credentials in the most disingenuous manner.
Sure, we have BAME Labour, we have that token gesture of recognition that other people exist, but that’s it. When it comes to racism, there is a tendency for many on the white left to see ethnic minority communities as a homogenous bloc. Everyone thinks the same way, and those with moderate anger towards racism are only moderate in their anger because their experiences to racism just aren’t real enough. Kemi Badenoch, the Tory MP, described this on Twitter as “an assumption that there’s only one way to be black and anyone who doesn’t confirm is a coconut, or race traitor.”
That’s why we assume BAME votes to be naturally Labour. The idea that BAME people can think independently, and vote Tory, seems implausible. Surely they would vote Labour, the white saviour party of BAME people, here to “unlock the potential” because didn’t you know it, Jeremy Corbyn really is the messiah? We think that beyond racism there’s nothing else to BAME people. This isn’t confined to Labour. Society will frequently look to BAME people to talk about issues related to race but nothing else.
Look at the Labour Party, from Momentum to Labour First to Progress. Your lack of ethnic representation is disgusting. When we talk about Brexit and freedom of movement, we rarely allow EU migrants within the party to shape that debate. When we discuss foreign policy, how many activists or speakers from Arab or Muslim backgrounds get to have their say unless they conform to the narrative? Think back to Stop the War Coalition stopping Syrian activists from speaking.
Don’t think it doesn’t happen here. Labour is not immune to racism, we just do it with smiles and hugs. We have the racism of low expectations. We think black people are simply defined by experiences of poverty, crime and drugs and that’s all they can talk about. We look at Muslims and think they can just talk about terrorism and Islamophobia. And anyone from these groups who doesn’t have the understandably angry reactions to these injustices is seen as not worth listening to.
BAME voices within the party are treated as token gestures. People are disingenuous on racism, only willing to look at ways to dismantle their enemies with it. It’s easy to blast the Tories for their racism, you don’t have to be a fucking sociologist to spot the institutional racism lurking in the party, but it’s harder to spot it in Labour. Harder, or just less looked for? Here tribalism shapes everything. Tony Blair was no friend to the BAME community, but his comments about black culture and knife crime have sometimes been used as political weapons against his entire legacy by left-wing activists within Labour. Likewise, those on the right of the party might criticise the saviour complex of the hard left but how bad is your representation of BAME voices?
If the Labour membership wants to be progressive and radical in fighting racism, be prepared to tackle your own internalised stereotypes about us. Realise that not all black people think and vote the same way. That not every Muslim is an angry Islamist nudged into extremism by a war that happened over a decade ago. Don’t treat us as children. Don’t think all of us will go along with your victimhood agenda. Don’t piss on our experiences because you want to make your opponents look bad.
Be sincere in fighting racism, be prepared to step aside and giving the platform to an equally talented BAME voice.
When I think about the most talented Labour activists in the party who have really impressed me most of them are from backgrounds not heard enough in the party: women of colour, EU migrants and so on. Whatever wing or faction of the party you’re from, you are not doing enough.