Second Class Citizens – Part 1

(c) Institute of Race Relations
(c) Institute of Race Relations

“#Jesus endured sufferings to oppose tyrants who had put humans in hell in this world& the hereafter while he backed the oppressed. #Ferguson”

Today like previous years, African-Americans are still under pressure, oppressed and subjected to discrimination. #Ferguson

“At events in #Ferguson US is fighting w its ppl. #BlackLivesMatter”  

–  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Tweeting about Ferguson

“No group conceives itself as the One, the essential, the absolute, without conceiving and defining the Other. The Other is the stranger, the outsider, the alien, the suspect community: Otherness begets fear, begets hostility, begets denial.”

“…Bristol, like Liverpool, had grown wealthy on the back of the slave trade. Its black communities were well established, as was the racism they endured”

Phil Scraton, THE AUTHORITARIAN WITHIN: REFLECTIONS ON POWER, KNOWLEDGE AND RESISTANCE, Inaugural Professorial Lecture, Queen’s University, Belfast, 9 June 2005   (accessed at )

‘criminalisation as a process ‘does not occur in a vacuum’ but is derived and sustained in a climate of ‘contemporary politics,
economic conditions and dominant ideologies … evolving within the determining contexts of social class, gender, sexuality, race and age’

Phil Scraton & Kathryn Chadwick, Sage Dictionary of Criminology.

“Black men are routinely questioned, detained, arrested, and charged. They are sometimes beaten, sometimes killed, not because their guilt has been demonstrated but because they must be guilty of something” –  Kristin J Anderson, Ph.D., “Benign” Bigotry

Beware when a supreme leader of a sovereign state condemns defining interactions between the police and people of another sovereign state. The chances are something fishy lies beneath the surface. The second tweet by Khamenei above is from August 17, 2014. And since then we know that several other unarmed black men were killed in the US at the hands of the police. We also know that in all of those events, grand juries appointed to review the actions of the police officers involved refused to indict them.

I’m not a big fan of Khamenei’s or indeed anyone who’s title is (or gets others to call them) “Supreme”. But, my personal politics aside, this post is not about the woeful intricasies of how police in the US treat black people. Instead following recent events among them Chelsea supporter’s racist incident on the Paris Metro not too long ago, I’d like to present a broader view that explains why racism still lingers.

To write about racism is not easy because of the nature of the subject. Further, many people do not appreciate racism in a broader sense simply because it’s often localised, and often people choose to confront the type they see at play in their own immediate environments. The type that affects them. But let me ask this, can the environmental pollution of northern Ecuador for example – an area where a large population of non-white inhabitants live be a result of racism? When you consider that the culprits are unlikely to get away with such practices in their own predominantly white majority country? What about land Grabs in Ethiopia where poor black villagers are dispossessed of their land, to make way for interests owned by large foreign multinationals? Is that an extension of racism?

It’s easy to ignore such matters and look away. Its very easy to live in a cocoon. Anybody can look away, both the brave and the cowardly. Infact plenty of cowards do that every day. It takes real courage to question and squarely confront the issues no one wants to talk about, publicly.

I know people who say it doesn’t affect me. I’ll mind my own business.

Anyone can delude themselves that if they bury their head in the sand, if they play ‘nice’, and abide by ‘the rules’, and just get on with their own private life in the corner, racism will go away. That it won’t affect them. If only that were true.

Unfortunately it isn’t true. The effects of racism, it’s drivers, prejudices and multifaceted manifestations affect all non-white people (not just black people), be they living in Paris, London, Manchester, Johannesburg or anywhere else across the world. It affects the way people view black people, the opportunities (educational, employment or otherwise) we have in society, it affects for example your chances of getting a loan with which to start a business; your interactions with the authorities (I’ve been stopped 3 times for no reason, and many of my black friends have also been stopped by the police, for no reason. I know people with families who have been forced to leave their jobs over a mistake by a government agency. The only common denominator is that they are all black). Racism historically has affected the financial circumstances of non-white people (whether they know it or not), and the chances are if you are non-white and claim to not have been affected by racism, then you are either ignorant, or a liar. Someone in your wider family has been affected. Most probably your grandparents were affected in a way that shaped their lives, and consequently as a result your life.

Racism has a role in the way some western investors deal with Africa, and how the West deals with African politicians in negotiating investment deals. In their comfort zones some of those businessmen don’t think much of African politicians (you can’t really blame them considering the brutish conduct of many African politicians, but thats besides the point). To them, your people are no more than gullible pawns in a game of resource control. The result is that business deals that are unfair and keep countries hostage, having negative and far reaching repercussions for the lives of millions of poor people, are signed with little or no opposition in the way.

Whichever ethical lens you choose to wear, it can never be right.

So, the essay* below by Hilary Arnott, is particularly relevant in so far as attitudes to black people have shifted in Britain between the late 1970’s and the late 1980’s, and probably gives a reference point on race relations, if not a picture of how black people were perceived by officials in the British government during this period, and by implication how they are perceived by some white people today. I’d go as far as say that maybe these kinds of entrenched attitudes is part of the reason why racism is still alive and well today. [* apologies that the article is missing a page]

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Ok, so some one may be asking, what’s the point?

Well, in my pursuit of knowledge, I’ve often been at pains to find ‘convincing’ narratives that encapsulate the black person’s experience of living the western world. At least those that do so honestly, without being patronising or omitting important details. Especially since such was omitted during my formal education in Malawi, and I know many Malawians (both young and old ) who do not clearly understand these things, or how they are affected by them.
So far, while there are many resources (for example this powerpoint presentation at the Institute of Race Relations and the lecture mentioned in the quote at the beginning of this article) there aren’t many which I’d say stand out remarkably, and which I’d recommend to young audiences who are unlikely to read a long article or big book on African History.

Having said that, there are many accounts (including blog posts) that attempt to explain how we got here, why we got here, and where we are going from here.  In the lecture by Phil Scraton refered to above, he says:-

“Henry Giroux argues that in the context of ‘increasingly oppressive corporate globalism … educators need to resurrect a language of resistance and possibility’. For: ‘Hope is the precondition for an individual and social struggle … the mark of courage on the part of intellectuals in and out of the academy who use the resources of theory to address pressing social problems’. It is more than this. It is about bearing witness, gathering testimonies, sharing experiences, garnering the view from below and exposing the politics and discourses of authoritarianism. It moves beyond the resources of theory into praxis, recognising the self-as-academic as the self-as-participant. It takes political responsibility. As my good friend Stan Cohen concludes: ‘Intellectuals who keep silent about what they know, who ignore crimes that matter by moral standards, are even more culpable when society is free and open. They can speak freely, but choose not to.’ – Stan Cohen  “

That is precisely why I choose to publish material about the black experience on this blog.

Links and resources

‘Dr Stanislas warns that when examining crime and the black community it is essential to separate genuine issues of concern with what is in reality an ongoing criminalization of black people. Black families should not be used as an excuse for crime within black communities or placed under a microscope, especially when “the white family produces more dysfunctional individuals, ” he said.


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