Stronger Together: How anti-racist networks are uniting against hate in UK
By Manisha Ganguly
The Bakerloo line on a Sunday: a woman in a hijab sits down; across from her, a white man yells, “Paki! Go back!”. Two white co-passengers get up, cross over, and begin talking to her, cutting off the first man and diffusing the situation. This is England: where racism is countered with solidarity.
This year’s International Day of Tolerance on 16th November, celebrated by the UN to commemorate the spirit of co-existence advocated by Mahatma Gandhi, is of special relevance. In the global political earthquakes of Trump’s election and Brexit referendum result, racism has been embraced by the state institutions meant to shun it. The hate rhetoric employed in both political campaigns focussed on “other”-ing minorities or any person of colour, fuelled by a false sense of “patriotism” and white national identity. The unprecedented spike in racist and xenophobic attacks in Britain in the wake of Brexit are therefore not surprising, but there is a silver lining to this cloud: anti-racist networks are joining hands to present a united front.
The rise in racism has led to a rise in anti-racism at a scale not seen in recent years: the internet has made trans-national solidarity and organising easier. With the new spate of racist attacks, organisations like Worrying Signs, HOPE not Hate, Movement for Justice, ReSisters and Autonomous Womyn’s Front are changing tactics post-referendum, standing up to the challenge posed to them by the far-right groups. Their strategies are the age-old ones used by the Left: Educate, Agitate, Organise.
Worrying Signs was one of the first online projects that documented the rise in racism in UK post-referendum through reports of attacks via social media. With the spike in group membership requests post-Trump’s election, they recently opened it up to US members. Says Natasha, one of the founders of the project, “Since the US presidential election, we are acknowledging that what has been happening in the UK is part of a wider global picture and that we can’t look at this in an isolated fashion. Hate spreads across borders, what we are seeing in the US is so synonymous with our experiences in the UK and is symptomatic of a wider, global issue.”
Their recent efforts have included morale-building projects like the #MoreTeaLessHate campaign, which saw participants from London, Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Bognor Regis, Kent, Newcastle, Durham, Liverpool, Worcester, Berlin, Athens and Valencia hosting tea parties to celebrate Britain’s diversity. “We firmly believe that we are stronger when we stand together.”
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors human rights in Europe, released the hate crime data for 2015 yesterday. “One trend that emerges from the 2015 hate crime data is the continuous under-reporting of hate crimes”, said Cristina Finch, Head of their Tolerance and Non-Discrimination department.
HOPE not hate (HNH), a citizens’ anti-racist group based in UK has already begun counter-active measures to this problem of under-reporting.“Our new training module deals with racism in public spaces: how you can defuse a situation, support the person targeted and report the incident”, says John Page, Head of Organising at Hope not Hate. “Most people who are the target of such an incident will tell you that what troubles them most is not the incident itself, but the lack of action by anyone else. Our training teaches you how to support the person targeted and report it afterwards.” HNH has so far seen participation from 216,000 citizens in their anti-racist campaigns.
It has proved to be an effective method. A few months ago, when a Jewish community was being targeted in north London, HNH got Christian, Muslim, and local community leaders to speak out and join a symbolic action (decoratingGolderns Green with Gold and green ribbons) while successfully ensuring the police move a racist demonstration and investigate those organising it.
The fundamental problem of racism surrounding Brexit and Trump’s election is not the political process but the symbolic manifestation of it: it reinforces the insidious racism in people, which stems from fear of minorities they are alienated from. Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary (MJAMN), another activist group, has sought to counter this hate-filled rhetoric. “The danger of Trump’s elections and Brexit is that it gave a huge boost to every far-right fascist, white supremacist, and racist misogynist. Now Farage is seeking to call out the spectrum of Britain’s racist and far-right fascist groupings to try to impose a secret Brexit deal as a fait accompli. His inspiration is Trumps success at utilising anti-immigrant bigotry to win the US election, as Brexit was an inspiration for Trump before to focus his campaign on just repeating anti-immigrant rhetoric over-and-over. It is up to everyone now to rise up and reverse the effects,” says Antonia Bright of MJAMN.
The resultant manifestations of this hate speech are horrific. Natasha recounts the worst report they’d received on the Worrying Signs group, where a Muslim pregnant woman in Milton Keynes was followed to the car park and kicked in the stomach, causing a miscarriage. “I couldn’t rationalise the level of hate you must feel to justify doing that to another human being.”
MJAMN has been doing a speaking tour across Britain on how the attacks on non-whites are enabled by the anti-immigration policy put forth by the Tory government. “We are calling for a mass protest, to stop the racist mobilisation which Farage has called at the Supreme Court on December 5th. It is important that any racist mobilisations called on to the streets now be stopped, not just complained about, before Britain, Europe and the USA sink even further into a hostile and violent environment.”
Re-education is another strategy central to the process of fighting racism: subverting the narrative of persecution of white people which legitimises racism. ReSisters reading group, a decolonial education initiative, meets every Friday to study and apply history to current political climates. Its focus is the shared struggle against white supremacy, uniting black/brown and Muslim communities. “We have completed the Fanon and Malcolm X series, to understand the consequences of colonialism on the coloniser and colonised”, says Nadia Chan, the founder of the group.
Interestingly, she does not see Brexit as a factor in the rising hate crimes. “Racistattacks are not new, they have been ongoing for decades. I faced racism and anti-Muslim bigotry before Brexit and I will face it after Brexit.” She undertakes Muay Thai classes and advocates women’s self-defence as the first step to fighting hate crimes.
A similar approach has been adopted by Autonomous Womyn’s Front (AWF), a group led by women of colour in the US. Nocturnus Libertus, founder of AWF says, “We are working on a new initiative called RESPOND! standing for Rescue, Exhilaration, Shielding, Preservation, Organization, Navigation and Defense. It has an app currently in development which we’ll use R.E.S.P.O.N.D. to provide transportation, walking buddies, and general defence against attacks on queer persons and persons of colour in the streets.”
Solidarity is the strongest bond tying all these movements together. ReSisters collaborates frequently with Pan African brothers and sisters, communist anti racism organisations, while Worrying Signs participates in information sharing with anti-racist networks and Inter-Faith week. Almost all the groups here use Facebook events to mobilise support and organise.
However, the emerging picture of hate in public spaces like the Bakerloo line will likely continue. The National Police Chiefs’ Council report on hate crimes released in September show a 58% increase in incidents. But this has brought about a new sense of urgency, and changed how anti-racist activists are challenging and resisting it. With Facebook events, study groups, sensitisation programs, they are channelling into new paths of solidarity and redefining post-referendum England.
Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons