Racism and anti-racism in Social movements

This is the second post in our UCU Week of Action Against Work-Place Racism series. See the previous post here. Contribute to our crowd-sourced actions (to be released on Friday) here.

Historically, many white-led groups committed to social justice have been instrumental in perpetuating oppressive structures by ignoring and silencing people of colour. In The Progressive Plantation: racism inside white radical social change groups, Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin reflects on his own experiences within anarchist and anti-racist organisations; while Emahunn Raheem Ali Campbell responds to media comments on the absence of African Americans from the Occupy Movement by highlighting a misplaced focus on “togetherness” (being physically in one place) rather than “unity” (having a clear common cause).

Feminist movements, equally, have proven to be problematic when it comes to race. Writing in a US context, Monnica T. Williams highlights areas pertinent to black women’s lives which white feminism ignores–maternal care, infant mortality, the disappearance of native women, etc. Separately, Rachel Elizabeth Cargle analyses how practices such as tone policing in feminist movements uphold white supremacy, thereby oppressing, rather than liberating, Black women. Both are written for a general audience. In the journal Hypatia, Mariana Ortega’s 2006 article “Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Color” offers a more in-depth analysis of potential issues that arise in the relationship between white feminists and women of colour; Ortega recommends the concept of “world”-travelling as a solution, inviting white feminists to experience differences affecting the lives of women of colour, rather than merely acknowledging that differences exist. Sirma Bilge’s 2014 article, “Intersectionality Undone: Saving Intersectionality from Feminist Intersectionality Studies”, highlights appropriation and misuse of the concept of intersectionality in feminist academic circles.

Much of what is written on this topic draws necessarily upon personal and culturally-specific experiences. In Them Goon Rules: Fugitive Essays on Radical Black Feminism (2018), Marquis Bey brings together personal experiences of social justice work in the United States (especially Philadelphia and New York) and the exploration of queerness, Black studies and Black feminism. The history and practice of Black feminism and Afrofeminism in Europe is the topic of attention in Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande’s edited collection To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe (2019), a portion of which is available open access courtesy of the publisher Pluto Books. There they explain their goal to ““correct the record” and “talk back against both American domination and European silence about Black feminism”. For a dense but enlightening account of British Black Power and its similarities and differences with the US Black Power movement, we also recommend John Narayan’s article British Black Power: The anti-imperialism of political blackness and the problem of nativist socialism (Sociological Review, 2019).

Look out for the next post in this series tomorrow, which will focus specifically on the role of Trade Unions in perpetuating and combatting racism.