“Best of Enemies” Starring Taraji P.Henson as Civil Rights Activist Ann Atwater, reminds me of the call to interdependence needed between oppressed communities today.
Contribution by Cilla Lafayette.
The selective repudiation of oppressive systems exposes the miseducation prevalent in marginalised communities across the world. Over the past year citizens have taken to the physical streets protesting and the virtual streets, plastering their social medias with demands for justice. It begun with the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd’s death, the Asian Lives Matter movement following a series of attacks against the Asian community as COVID-19 was characterised as the “Asian Virus” by Trump, the Indian Farmers protest as Indians in London call out for reform on behalf of their family and friends in India due to the exploitation of farmers profits by private buyers, the Free Palestine movement as Palestinians face ethnic cleansing and colonialism by the Israeli government and sadly the list goes on.
As we witness the surge of movements becoming partakers, activists then bystanders, sustaining the same silence as the oppressors; it is evident that our shared identity with the victim’s influences which revolutionary movements we partake in and wrongly so. Unable to identify our common enemy we retrieve from the centre stage of movements to backstage waiting on the interrogators of the “unprogressive ideologies” (Angela Davis) to call us out for their entertainment again.
Nelson Mandela during his fight for freedom said it best, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestine” and in a similar manner Kwame Nkrumah exclaims on the Independence Day of Ghana, “Our liberation is meaningless unless it’s linked to the total liberation of all African continents”; it seems our forefathers could recognise the unity needed in the fight for freedom and justice. If we listen close enough, we can hear all these movements sing together in perfect harmony, landing on the same melodies of injustice, produced by the same enemies, capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy – the hunger for primacy leads them to adapt their ideological approaches abusing and misusing power, birthing oppressive regimes.
What is largely unknown is that white is not synonymous with privilege or supremacy, although some white working-class people are bound by the illusions of superiority and in most cases uphold the violent language and acts of racism in our society. Too often in the same less economically developed towns in London, you will hear some “white geezer” scream “go back to your country” all while living in the same impoverished block of flats as the person of color they are verbal abusing, they co-exist in towns with limited economic opportunity, poor health care, poor education for their children and reduced government benefits that seek to suppress economic independence and encourage systematic dependence.
White privilege only protects a certain class of white, the ruling class. Michael Eric Dyson defines white supremacy as the “unconscious belief in the inherent inferiority of some and the superiority of another”, highlighting that the supremacy culture is rooted in dominance and power. The evidence is in the history of the white working-class; the people’s charters movement in 1830 – 1840, where chartists who suffered poor living and working conditions begun a series of protests in the quest for justice, the birth of working-class party (Labour Party) protested to protect their workers during the rise of the industrial revolution. The only individuals who have not fled to the streets due to oppressions are the dominant class – white middle- and upper-class men, thank you Patriarchy!
The Netflix film “Best of Enemies” Starring Taraji P.Henson is based on the true story of Ku Klux clang leader C.P Ellis and Civil Rights Activist Ann Atwater, set in Durham NC in the 50’s it reminds me of the call to interdependence needed between oppressed communities today. A Ku Klux leader who leads mobs in the quest for segregation has a change of heart, he realises that although he may not share a racial identity with Ann Atwater their needs and desires are the same; better healthcare, education, and respect. The Black Panther party in the UK and the US recognised the shared need amongst oppress people, although the blinding conspiracy is that The Black Panther party only stood for black people; their ten-point programme certainly says otherwise. “The Freedom and power to determine the destiny of the black and oppressed communities, full employment, decent housing and shelter, decolonised education, free health care for black and oppressed people, an immediate end to police brutality to black and other people of color and all oppressed people, end to all wars of aggression, freedom for all black and oppression people held in the state and we want land, bread, housing, education, clothing justice, peace and people community of modern technology”.
In no way should the physical years of violence on black and brown be ignored or downplayed but all our efforts should be focused on the intersection of societal structures and their relations to power, changing our strategy and focusing on wealth curation not only social equality. The reason for slavery was not social but rather economical, the purpose was to have a consistent, yet free labor force for economic growth and racism acts as a pillar upholding the social breakdowns.
The strategy of the ruling class remains the same since “the scramble for Africa”, Berlin 1884 – to divide and conquer. Using propaganda, they consciously persuade us to exert our energy on identity politics and not on the rightful distribution of wealth and resources. They set out to make us see each other as competitors and not as partners in the struggle. According to Statista, 64% of the white working-class voted Brexit due to reasons such as “they are taking our jobs” or my father’s reason, who may I add is a Ghanian migrant “I can never get an appointment at the GP”, these comments from some working-class people and people of color is the evidence of the goals of propaganda accomplished. Failing to see the real issue at hand they begin attacking each other instead of calling out the poor leadership, mismanagement of the nation’s wealth, and white supremacy. They use our taxes on wars to extend their years of neo-colonialism not improving our education or bettering our health system which is struggling significantly. Our state schools continue a curriculum of indoctrination, leading working-class children to the legacy of labor while the private school’s curriculum nurtures our conservative leaders of tomorrow.
Journalist Ash Sarkar wakes us up to the notion that shared identity does not equal shared interest. Margret Thatcher born to a white working-class family snatched free milk from children in state schools, Sadiq Khan migrant born to a working-class family and the son of a former TFL driver has increased transport fare by 2.6% since his appointment. The individuals behind the 2021 Race report were all people of color one of them being Tony Sewell an education consultant of the Caribbean – he must have been sleeping during the Windrush scandal.
White working-class people must wake up from this illusion of superiority and understand that their white leaders do not have their interest at heart, you too are victims of poor health, under-resourced state schools, and limited economic opportunity. In a similar manner, people of color must wake up from the illusion that we need a seat at the table, that every white person is not our enemy but the ideological structure is, and that all kinds of brutality will stop by petitions, protest, and defunding, there is so much more to do.
It’s time to repaint the canvas of a new reality; think about a world where people of color and the white working-class people could work together, owned their own banks, developed their own communities, could fund their own institutions, schools, healthcare, have access to loans for their businesses and could curate more jobs not relying on the current institutional powers, not demanding a seat at the table but creating their own! The same seats occupied by white men from the ruling class are certainly not occupied by white working-class men or women or a person of color. In the last days of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and even Robert F Kennedy all these legendary figures were seen as threats by their states because they began to organise beyond their communities and in turn threaten the wealth of the dominant culture.
Every person of color and oppressed person must understand that our liberation from systematic oppression is tied to each other. The oppressive regime has been designed for the health of capitalism and is characterised differently for all races and people. It’s in the formation of racist regimes filtered through our education and media, the police brutality on black individuals in the west, layered with limited opportunity to wealth and education for POC and white working class, the bombing of homes in Yemen as well as Afghanistan and other parts of Asia. It’s in the neo-colonialism plundering the global south, it’s in labelling of Muslims as security threats, it was in the US Chinese exclusion in 1882, in the recent attacks on East Asians in the UK and US, it’s in the removal of free school meals during the pandemic and the fraud replacement of a £5 meal posing as a £20 meal, sent to the homes of kids in low-income households with no concern for their race or gender.
When we turn to serve each other, the people, and not the powers that be – then we can fully build a world whose foundations are peace, equity, and justice. So, as we continue in our daily fight for freedom and justice, remember who the real enemy is. It’s probably not your Neighbour.
Contribution by Cilla Lafayette.