Black British politics is becoming backwards and boring.

When Claudia Jones arrived in Britain in 1955, she brought the Communist and Black feminist beliefs that got her deported from the US with her. At the same time, the Black African-Caribbean community was expanding, with the Windrush generation arriving in the UK, and racial tensions were high. Three years later the Notting Hill Race Riots occurred with angry mobs of 300 to 400 white people terrorising West Indians on the streets and in their homes. West Indians came together to defend themselves against mobs and hostile police forces. As an organiser in the community, Jones set up the first Notting Hill Carnival in 1959 as a response to the violence. It aimed to promote unity between West Indians and whites living in the UK.

Jones’ most famous writing, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!”, was a predecessor to intersectionality in Black feminist thought today. In it she discussed Black women’s unique position of ‘triple oppression’ under patriarchal racial capitalism and called for an anti-imperialist communist coalition managed by the working class and fuelled by women. Today, Black British feminists continue her work, but it seems that this thinking about liberation has not made its way to the masses of Black Brits in the way it once could. That is not to say that Black Brits today don’t think about communism, anti-imperialism or an end to racialised patriarchy or that every Black person in Jones’ day understood and believed in these things (there was a reason she stated that Black women’s problems were being neglected). Rather, there is an issue of consciousness and unity today.

Claudia Jones’ work and the events surrounding her life show the difficulties Black Brits have had to overcome to get to where we are today. The overt violence of the time likely contributed to the greater consciousness of the time. If you are faced by mobs of 400 people seeking to kill you for being Black, you’ll definitely be more aware of the marginalised position you hold in society. Nevertheless, our present day is not as dissimilar from the past as we’d like to believe. From the recent Windrush Scandal to the mobs of white protesters proclaiming that All Lives Matter, Blackness is constantly under attack. Just as the white population in Jones’ time believed themselves to be above the racial conflict of the American Deep South[1], today we see this same, constant deferral to how bad things are in the US in an attempt to downplay the harm done in Britain. The problem for Black Brits today is that we too find ourselves caught up in this deferral.

The resulting politics is one of awareness that racism exists, with many aware of its institutional and interpersonal variations, but a failure to recognise the extent of harm and consequent extent of change needed to put an end to the problems of the Black population. This is a politics that seems to be struggling to reconcile the existence of racism with the desire to be socially mobile such that we come to adopt a neoliberal, deradicalised version of Claudia Jones’ triple oppression. We identify Blackness as a disadvantaged category, some even recognise that womanhood or gender non-conformity further this disadvantage, but disadvantage is as far as it goes. We are not talking about oppression — “the limitation or absence of choices,” according to bell hooks[2]. Our vision is easily obscured by an ideology claiming equal opportunity and we hope to put that into action through diversification. We are thinking about the disadvantages Black people experience as a bad part of capitalism rather than this deliberate limitation and/or absence of choices as a function of it.

Perhaps the most boring aspect of Black British politics is this fascination with diversity and representation. You only have to look at the viral tweets praising Sainsbury’s for putting Black people in their Christmas advert, unlike Tesco who have been under fire for removing a black couple from their advert. Whilst it is great to see Black faces on television, adopting Jones’ view of society shows that Black labour has always been used to make profits. As ‘political correctness’ culture becomes marketable, the increasing ‘inclusivity’ of brands is simply capitalism adapting to continue making these profits. If white vitality feeds on black demise[3] then it is seen here in this hypervisibility of Black people that allows them to be targeted by white Britain whilst a corporation headed by white people can profit off of them. There is nothing worth celebrating here, except perhaps that some Black actors got paid.

Thus, Black British politics is becoming backward and boring in so far as it has merely adopted the palatable parts of anti-racism and adhered to prevailing values of patriarchal racial capitalism under neoliberalism. It no longer possesses the potent calls for specifically anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal and anti-racist action.

“The very serious function of racism … is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary.” — Toni Morrison, 1975

Our work is often an attempt to prove that racism exists, pointing to racist tweets as proof. We attempt to counteract negative imagery surrounding our home nations by pointing to the huge homes we have back home— with no reference made to the vast majority of people living in poverty under these neocolonial capitalist regimes. Such action is a waste of energy because it falls on deaf ears. Why convince the racist that racism exists or that we too can be wealthy when racism has never been a discourse based on facts or logic and wealth has been racialised for so long? White supremacy will always find justification and we often contribute to it in our adherence to logics of meritocracy or belief in mere ignorance as the cause of racist beliefs. No longer can we retreat into the comfort of the lies racial capitalism tells us about life in the West.

Ironically, if we wish not to move backwards, we must look back on the deliberately disruptive work that Black people like Claudia Jones did to better their conditions. We cannot continue to waste time proving that centuries worth of harm exist or hoping that social mobility will save us in a society deliberately built to prevent it. If Blackness is a class, in so far as it entails relegation to a lower strata of society by virtue of supposed racial inferiority, we must call for a classless society without colonial stratification by gender, race and social class. That requires a recognition of triple oppression, an intersectional lens for analysis that might lead to a legitimately liberated future. Our politics must be distinctly anti-capitalist. If not we risk failing to pursue the goals that we have inherited and, worse yet, forgetting our own heritage.

[1] Travis, A., 2020. After 44 Years Secret Papers Reveal Truth About Five Nights Of Violence In Notting Hill. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/aug/24/artsandhumanities.nottinghillcarnival2002> [Accessed 21 November 2020].

[2]hooks, b, 2000. Feminist theory : from margin to center 2nd ed., Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press.

[3] Ruha Benjamin in Clarke, A.E. & Haraway, Donna Jeanne, 2018. Making kin not population, Chicago, IL : Prickly Paradigm Press (p.41)

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