If we think that inequality and racism in the world is not our problem, as white people, we are part of the problem. We cannot simply show solidarity on social media, and think that we have done our part. The risk is that, in the same way as trends pass, the attention for the Black Lives Matter protests will phase out, and the state of things will remain unchanged.
If we do not help promoting representation of people of colour in position of power, equal access to jobs, or prosecution of hate crimes, our solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement is mute.
White people have shaped the world as we know it. We have build the one narrative which has priority over the “other ones”, and white supremacy is something that we see as a natural order of the world. We are born knowing that we are first-class citizens, non-white people are born knowing that they are second-class citizens, to quote the title of Buchi Emecheta’s novel (beautiful, recommend it!).
Racist prejudice comes in different shapes and forms and it reflects the history of colonialism and inequality in different parts of the world. Can we watch the protests in America thinking that it is not our problem? Absolutely not. Black people are systematically excluded from representation and disadvantaged in workplaces everywhere, and Fascist racist movements are on the rise in many countries.
Black migrants becoming the target of hate in italy
African migrants and refugees have been targeted as invaders, by the far-right and Neofascist parties in Italy, which both grew in popularity and gain a vast number of votes in 2018 election, fuelling hate towards the black community and justifying hate crimes by the hands of Italian citizens.
The former Ministry of the Interior, now leader of the party of the opposition, Matteo Salvini, made his priority to block the ships of NGO organisations that saved lives in the Mediterraenean Sea from entering Italian harbours, closed down a migrant centre in Sicily where African migrants were hosted, and tried to convince the public opinion that the migrants, although fit for work, would prefer to spend all day doing nothing and being fed by the public money of tax payers.
He blamed them for being exploited in the fields, working for 12 euros a day picking tomatoes, living in shantytowns and trafficked by Italian criminal organisations.
This campaign of hate shifted the blame for Italian corruption, inefficiency and unemployment on people who tried to save their lives fleeing war, hunger and torture, who survived a boat journey crossing the Mediterraneanea Sea, separated from their families, and ending up working as slaves.
Still this humanitarian crisis is going on, and the real numbers of undeclared workers is not known, the migrant workers employed illegally in the fields are estimated to be around 600,000. For Italian society, these lives are invisible.
UK is not innocent either
Too many people are invisible in the UK too, although born and raised in Britain. The disproportion of wealth distribution and consequent access to education silences black minorities.
The roots of this discrimination lay in history, particularly in Colonialism and in the role of the British Empire in the slave trade.
Bristol was an important hub of the slave route, and still today the city commemorates slave trader Edward Colston, with a statue of him near the city harbour and a concert hall named after him. In a way it is important to remember this figure (well maybe not with a statue!) and how slavery contributed to the city’s growth. Similarly it is also important to remember how the Black Caribbean community helped rebuild Britain after the war, and how they have been repaid.
Between 1948 and 1970, nearly half a million people moved from the Caribbean British colonies to Britain, which in 1948 faced severe labour shortages in the wake of the Second World War. To encourage people to come and work in the United Kingdom an advertisement had appeared in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport on the Empire Windrush ship. The immigrants were later referred to as “the Windrush generation“. The British Nationality Act 1948 gave Citizenship of the UK and Colonies to all people living in the United Kingdom and its colonies, and the right of entry and settlement in the UK. The people who came to work from the West Indies endured frequent episodes of discrimination, being denied housing, employment or even entry to pubs and dancehalls. Fascist groups promoted violent actions and police brutality towards people of colour, leading to a number of clashes and riots in the 1970s and 1980s. Years later, many Windrush-generation children, often traveling on their parents’ passports, and not formally naturalised, faced eviction and deportation as a result of Theresa May’s hostile environment policy.
After a few years spent in the UK I realised that very often school programs would favour a patronising view of British colonialism, in the same way as Italian schools avoid teaching about the horrors of Italian colonialism in Ethiopia, Somalia and Lybia.
I have heard too many two-sided stories about British colonialism by English people, comments such as “but the British Empire did something good too, I mean we’ve built railways…” will usually be thrown in the conversation, and this is another way to justify the historical injustice. It’s another way of saying “it is what it is”, the white man had the “burden”, to quote Rudyard Kipling’s horrid poem, of bringing civilisation to those who were not civilised (according to the European standards).
Here is where the narrative gets reversed: we shouldn’t call it empoverishment of the colonised countries to trade goods, to trade slaves, to exploit human labour and resources for the benefit of the white countries. We should instead consider it as a service towards those countries which needed the intervention of the white hand, the oppression had to happen, for a lesson had to be taught, the white man has shown the light to the rest of the world.
Pity is the other face of Racism, connected to the ignorance and the arrogance of European people who think their culture is the only culture, therefore it has to be imposed to the rest of the world.
It is time to reverse this supremacy. To introduce a non-white point of view. To read books written by people of colour, by black historians. To read stories of black women, of black queer people, of black disabled people, of black communities, and reject the dominant narrative we grew up with.
Ways to help and educate:
- Black Lives Matter. Educate Yourself
- Runnymede Trust. The UK’s leading independent race equality thinktank
- Black Cultural Archives
- Stand Up to Racism
Articles and resources online:
- Why what happened in Minneapolis matters in Bristol, The Bristol Cable
- Institutionally racist: A brief history of police brutality in the UK, Huckmag
- British Empire is still being whitewashed by the school curriculum, The Conversation
- Seventy years after Windrush, Amnesty International UK
- The human impact of Theresa May’s hostile environment policy, Independent
- ‘It’s inhumane’: the Windrush victims who have lost jobs, homes and loved ones, The Guardian
Articles and photo essays on Mediterraenean crisis and exploitation of migrants in Italy:
- Italy election: ‘White race’ remark sparks row, BBC News
- 9 shootings in 50 days: Italy’s ugly face or racism, DW.com
- Stop the exploitation of migrant workers in Italy, British Medical Journal
- Italy’s Closure of Migrant Center Feeds Racist Campaign to Close Borders, The Globe Post
- Open Arms migrant ship: Italy orders vessel’s seizure, BBC News
- Shattered dreams: life in Italy’s migrant camps – a photo essay, The Guardian