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Sep 7, 2016

The Guardian | Opinion | Race Issues - September 7, 2016: What Role Should White Allies Play in The Black Lives Matter UK Movement, by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and Kehinde Andrews

theguardian.com
 
Kehinde Andrews

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff: white allies can only be a positive thing

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff
There is an old, black and white picture of Jeremy Corbyn that surfaced last year during the Labour leadership elections, showing him apparently being arrested whilst holding a sign that reads: “Defend the right to demonstrate against apartheid – join this picket”. It was this picture that sprang to mind when I saw the first images of the nine white demonstrators who were arrested at London City Airport yesterday, as part of a Black Lives Matter UK protest. Just like them, Corbyn falls under the banner of being a strong “white ally”: someone willing to put their liberty on the line for a cause that doesn’t necessarily directly affect their wellbeing.
White allyship, though not often talked about outside of activist circles, is a key part of many anti-racism movements, and is especially crucial in countries like the UK, where people of colour make up only 13% of the population. The BLM UK organisers have taken to Twitter since the protest to pose the question: “How many white people does it take to change the subject from black deaths? 9”. The public conversation about white allyship is one that needs to be had. We need to encourage allyship, and, if we are able, educate certain white people so they are able to take responsibility and challenge a system that often sees them at the top of the pile.
At the last BLM UK “shutdown” at Altab Ali park in August, I witnessed how easily discussions within the organisation can become led by the voices of those who haven’t experienced racism and prejudice in the UK – trust me, it does exist. (As a reminder, there has been a five-fold increase in race-hate complaints recorded since Brexit.) The event, which saw us split up into groups according to where in London we were based, was led by black voices, but also saw a lot of white speakers who sometimes seemed to take up space in a place where they should have been stepping back and listening.
Because of this, I understand the grievances aired by some of my friends and fellow journalists who say that it’s far too soon into the movement for such a public protest that’s supposed to be centred around black lives to have been dominated by white people. But ultimately I do believe the decision that BLM UK made to use white allies in this particular protest to be the right choice.
This is because the UK, much like America, has a dark history of deaths of black people at the hands of the police. With the stories of black Britons such as Mzee Mohammed, Sarah Reed and Mark Duggan (all of whom died following interactions with the police) still fresh on our minds, I imagine BLM UK was considering the safety of their protesters when they allowed the nine white runway hijackers to cross the Thames and take their short-lived stand. As the Met chief Bernard Hogan-Howe admitted last year, accusations that the police force is “institutionally racist” have “some justification”. Perhaps, in this instance, black lives really did matter and they were prioritised.
Regardless of whether or not you believe they were the right protestors to have been raising awareness about the 200 million climate refugees we are likely to see by 2050, the 3,176 migrants that have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean this year, or the chartered flight scheduled to forcibly remove over 50 people back to Jamaica today, their principles seem pure, and in my mind their allyship can only be a positive thing.

Kehinde Andrews: Black people don’t need white people protesting on our behalf

Kehinde Andrews
Black Lives Matter is in a pivotal moment in defining how it develops into a sustainable movement that goes beyond the politics of protest. The Movement for Black Lives has started this work in America, by creating a detailed policy platform. However, in Britain the movement is still in the very early stages and the next few months will be crucial in how it is defined, both at the grassroots black community level and in the public imagination.
The power of the movement so far has been giving a voice to black, young and marginalised people who are so often ignored. Moving forward, the movement must be defined and led by those same black voices that it emerged to represent. Now is not the time for high-profile actions by white allies because the movement is at a stage where it is all too easy to be derailed, delegitimised and co-opted by “white ally-ship”. This is something that the very people Black Lives Matter are seeking to represent are all too suspicious of.
The issue of “white allyship” in black-led movements against racial oppression has always been central. Rather than the much overplayed discussion on the use of violence, the role of white allies is one of the most important fault lines between the iconic politics of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. King represents those who have insisted on the need for cross-racial alliances and welcomed white leadership. Malcolm speaks for those who want to create black-led spaces and avoid the co-option of the movement by well-meaning white allies.
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X represent either side of  the ‘white allyship’ debate
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X represent either side of the ‘white allyship’ debate Photograph: Marion S Trikosko/AFP/Getty Images
Malcolm’s concerns about white allies, were that they tended to “weaken” the strength of the movement by shifting the focus away from marginalised black voices. A major part of making Black Lives Matter sustainable is creating a coherent narrative. There is certainly a need to broaden out from focusing on deaths at the hands of the state. But as important an issue as climate change is for racial justice, this kind of scattergun approach weakens the message. Every social issue from urban planning to medical research negatively impacts on black life, but if simply becomes a series of protests a random set of issues, then the phrase “Black Lives Matter” will just become an empty slogan. As Malcolm says, our white allies may “prove they are with us … without helping solve the problem of racism”.
Perception is also vital at this stage for maintaining community support for the movement. Protesting about a favourite issue of the white left at an airport, the day before a scheduled charter flight arbitrarily deporting many Jamaican nationals, will have raised suspicions in the very communities Black Lives Matter emerged from. We are assured that the protest was black-led, but the comparison and imagery will stoke fears of the movement being co-opted.
Black people do not need white people protesting on our behalf. We need to focus on building a sustainable movement around the young, black and marginalised that Black Lives Matter has awoken.