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Political Blackness: How We Can Learn From the Activism of the Generation Before Us

2020 has seen protests like no other, with Black Lives Matter becoming a global rallying cry. In the UK, hundreds of people gathered in major cities across the country, and protests have been occurring for over three months. Our generation utilises social media as a weapon of organisation, by promoting transnational solidarity through Instagram and hashtags. However, the foundations of the anti-racism struggle existed long before the age of social media. The recent protests are frequently compared to the 1960’s civil rights era, as the world observes similar mass movements against structural racism, and calls for reform to the systems that oppresses Black citizens. In order to keep fueling change, we should reflect upon the work of the generations before us, starting right here in London.

Much of Black British history has been excluded from our education curriculum, therefore you might not know that the 1960’s – 1980’s were a prominent time for the anti-racism struggle in the UK. Whilst the Black Panther Party in the US is widely known, it is lesser known that in 1968, Obi Egbuna, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Darcus Howe and Olive Morris founded the UK Black Panther Party and campaigned in solidarity with the US Black Panthers against police brutality and racial segregation. The London police attempted to disband the party, with Egbuna arrested and convicted of a conspiracy to murder charge for writing an essay on police violence resistance. Despite the police’s effort to disband the party,  its membership still grew to 3,000 strong under Altheia Jones-LeCointe. The Mangrove 9 court case attracted widespread attention after a group of party members stood trial and part-represented themselves against riot charges for clashing with police at a Black owned restaurant in Notting Hill. Making history, the group demanded an all Black jury, and all nine defendants were acquitted after the judge acknowledged “racial hatred” within London’s police.

Something that is key to learn from is not just transnational solidarity between the American and British Black Panther Party, but the interracial solidarity between various ethnic groups. About Race, author Reni Eddo-Lodge  discusses “political blackness”, defined as “an umbrella term in organising against white supremacy”. Decolonisation and the triumph of national liberation struggles occurring in Africa and Asia created political unity between those Diaspora groups in the UK. Eddo-Lodge talks to trailblazer Dianne Abbott, who says that although one should be proud of cultural heritage, there has been a “loss of collectivism” and increasing fragmentation since the 1990’s between Black-African, Black-Carribean, and South Asian communities. Abbott remembers her experience in the 70’s and 80’s, and the historic election of the first four Black MP’s in 1987. Herself, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and Keith Vaz, despite all being of different ethnic origin, were unified under political blackness and identified within that. 

This extended to activists of South Asian descent, such as Farrukh Dhondy, a prominent socialist and anti-racism campaigner, heavily involved in the work of Black organisations. Eddo-Lodge asked Dhondy’s opinion on the matter, to which he said “back in the 70’s and 80’s, there was no colourism as Black and Asian members recognised the common fight against ex-colonial masters”. Political blackness was also termed “trade union Black”, accounting for the intersecting class struggle, facilitating stronger solidarity between the Black and Asian, and even sometimes White working class. Dhondy feels it is “sad and shameful that communities that were once unified in their fight against white supremacy are now facing huge disparities, despite progress in our time”. 

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Eddo-Lodge highlights that there is a generational divide on this issue. Our current discourse contains catch-all terms which lump together groups of various ethnicities, such as people of colour (POC) or Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME). These terms are often used to signify anyone who is not white, but throwing us all in a melting pot removes differences in our struggles. It is more widely recognised that even groups who aren’t white harbour anti-Black attitudes, and colourism is rife within internal Asian and Black communities. Echoed by activists from Sisters Uncut who also spoke on Eddo-Lodge’s podcast, “political blackness has a specific historical context, and because we are more aware of our differences and the range of privileges within POC communities, we can no longer conceptualise under one, universal term”. 

So as times have changed, is the work of the generation before us still useful? Of course. Sisters Uncut activists and Eddo-Lodge also point out that uncovering and passing down the radical traditions is important. The British Black Panthers were just one of many Black power organisations in the 1960s-1980s London. The Black Unity and Freedom Party, a Marxist-Leninist Black liberation organisation conducted marches such as the New Cross Fire and Brixton uprising. The Black People’s Alliance led a march of over seven thousand people to Downing Street to protest the Immigration Act in 1969. Schools were set up and named after leading figures such as, Kwame Nkrumah and Marcus Garvey, promoting education and alluding to the global aspect in the fight against white supremacist systems. The Black Women’s Liberation Movement represented Black women in the intersection of gender and race, as they were often not included in “White women feminism”. As well as this, there were many more organisations cutting across racial groups, such as the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent, who fought against the common industrial and welfare struggles of Black and Asian women. The Race Today Collective published a monthly magazine from the ’60s to the ’80s, promoting Black literature and history.

Whilst we recognise differences, it is important that we keep in solidarity with one another. Learning from the generation above is valuable, and those of us who aren’t Black should adjust our activism to amplify the voices of those who need to be heard whilst maintaining the notion of collectivism which was so vital for Abbott and Dhondy. Promoting Black organisations, using our platforms for education, and supporting collective spaces is essential to keep the fight ongoing.

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