The theme for Black History Month 2022 is a Time for Change: Actions Not Words.
Here at MRN, we want to bring race and the ongoing impact of colonialism into everyday conversations. Having an intersectional approach is a means to drive more to action as it reaches more people and encourages solidarity building across communities. Along with the communities we work with, we are tired of seeing numerous performative statements.
That’s why this month we’re really pleased to see the launch of Black Europeans, a Black EU citizens-led organisation fighting systematic racism in the EU and post-Brexit UK. We are proud to support this group and offer our time and resources to help them represent themselves.
The impact of ‘colonial amnesia’ on Black communities
We have been dissecting and reflecting on the phenomenon of ‘colonial amnesia’, and how this impacts Black and migratised communities in the UK.
‘Colonial amnesia’, or ‘historical amnesia’, applies to the act of deliberately attempting to erase specific elements of the British Empire. There are many elements that British society would like to erase from our collective memories, and many reasons why this tactic would be used. It is a tool used by the establishment, media and politicians to distance Britain from the horrors of the past and deflect any criticism of the Empire. It also attempts to consign colonialism and imperialism into the past, rather than recognising that both these things persist into the present and impact millions of people across the globe.
Our collective memories of exploitation, resource-theft, violence, domination, slavery, and forced labour are made irrelevant because they have produced the conditions of poverty, conflict and forced movement we see today.
This amnesia impacts Black communities in Britain more because it dismisses criticism of racism and gaslights them when they try to raise issues around colonial violence. Black people and racialised communities are simply told to “get over it” and “move on”.
This has a huge detrimental impact on the wellbeing of Black communities in the UK, including psychological trauma. Denial also creates and amplifies numerous barriers to achieving equality or equity. It is well evidenced that Black people have lower health outcomes than their White counterparts. Structural racism can reinforce inequalities for example, in housing, employment and the criminal justice system as well as more limited access to services which can ultimately lead to negative impacts on health. Deprivation plays a key role in determining health outcomes. Infant mortality, childhood obesity along with prevalence of conditions such as diabetes or death from Covid-19 are higher amongst the Black population.
A reluctance to engage in conversations on how racism intersects with areas like health is hindering progress in addressing these inequalities. Last month, the new health secretary announced she was scrapping the long awaited government paper on health inequalities, which was set to include “bold action” to narrow gaps including those between White and racialised groups. Go figure.
So, how does ‘colonial amnesia’ impact Black migratised communities or those seeking safety in the UK? We can see anti-Black racism is embedded in the British immigration systems. You only need to look towards the Windrush scandal to see how racist our systems were and continue to be. Immigration is exempt from equality laws, which means authorities are allowed to discriminate against you on the basis of race, religion or belief when they carry out immigration or passport controls. It’s a system where someone can proactively discriminate against you without repercussions because it’s in the name of immigration. And so many will say race and immigration are not linked. If that is the case, then the response to the Ukrainian conflict should shed some light on how race is at the forefront of how we treat refugees.
During the conflict, Ukrainian refugees were rightly being fast-tracked to the UK from mainland Europe. On the other hand, Black nationals stuck in Ukraine were abandoned to experience racism and violence at Europe’s borders.
If that feels too far from home, then let’s talk about the ‘Rwanda plan’. The Government is utterly determined to put any Black and Brown refugee who arrives by small boats on a one-way ticket to Rwanda. Not only is this undeniably racist and predetermines them for deportation, it highlights that the successive Governments do not deem them worthy of asylum. Just look at the fact there are no official safe routes for Black refugees.
The push and pull factors that compel people to move can be easily linked to European colonialism and Western foreign policies.
At MRN, we believe everyone has the right to move. We have an obligation to bring conversations about colonialism into the mainstream. Racism that impacts Black people today has its roots in the Empire. How we talk about migrants and refugees matters, but for so long perceptions of migrants racialised as Black align with colonial stereotypes. This dehumanises them, constructs them as a threat and seeks to legitimise racism towards Black communities as well as justifying measures such as deportations and detentions.
This is at the centre of our #WordsMatter campaign. We want to dissect and defy the narrative that demonises migrants and racialised people. And we are taking this fight out into the public sphere through speeches, rallies and events.
Follow us on social media to see updates on this.
Here is a link to the Black Europeans group.