This Black History Month, we honour the work, resilience and creativity of incredible Black thinkers, activists and theorists in the UK and beyond. We are endlessly appreciative of their knowledge, as it has taught us not only how to make sense of our current world, but to imagine a new one free from oppression.
This month, we want to highlight quotes by incredible Black thinkers, touching on themes such as Whiteness, abolition, migration, Black joy, divide and rule, and the erasure of Black history.
Intersectionality and anti-oppression drives our work at MRN. We cannot understand migration without understanding histories of race and racism, specifically the ways that Black people have been dehumanised and constructed as “threats” to the nation. Black History Month is a celebration of all the important work that has been done, but is also a reminder of all the work we need to do to stand in solidarity with Black communities and dismantle systemic racism in all its forms.
Whiteness has always functioned as a tool of domination.Akala in his book Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire (Two Roads Publishers, 2019)
The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us…Revolution is not a one time event.Audre Lorde in her book Sister Outsider (Crossing Press, 1984).
The psychosis of Whiteness is not reserved for White people, it is a distortion that is rooted in Western society and can be reproduced by those of any hue. Thus is the power of the psychosis…Western capitalism is built on and sustained by a system of racism that exploits the people and nations of the darker parts of the globe. It is also sustained by a series of myths of progress and enlightenment about the good that the West has wrought. The dissonance between the reality and these myths is too great for the system to survive, so Whiteness becomes a psychosis that prevents society from engaging in the disturbing reality. This psychosis of Whiteness is essential to understand when fighting racism. There is no rational argument to those trapped in a psychosis, as there is no reasoning with Whiteness. Until the conditions that create Whiteness are destroyed, the psychosis will govern the thoughts and actions of Western society.Kehinde Andrews in his book The Psychosis of Whiteness: Surviving the Insanity of a Racist World (Allen Lane Publishers, 2023).
When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.Slogan adapted from Frantz Fanon’s quote “It is not because the Indo-Chinese bas discovered a culture of his own that he is in revolt. It is because quite simply.. it was, in more than one way, becoming impossible for him to breathe” in his book Black Skin, White Masks (Penguin Classics, 2021).
There is no English history without that other history.Stuart Hall in Chapter 2 of his book Essential Essays, Volume 2: Identity and Diaspora (Duke University Press, 2018).
Black history is a series of missing chapters from British history.David Olusoga in Arifa Akbar’s “David Olusoga: ‘There’s a dark side to British history, and we saw a flash of it this summer’” (The Guardian, November 2016).
Not seeing race does little to dismantle racist structures or improve the lives of people of colour. In order to do so, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is affected by negative stereotyping of theirs, and on whom power and privilege is bestowed – not just because of their race, but also their class and gender. Seeing race is essential.Reni Eddo-Lodge in her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Bloomsbury Publishers, 2018).
We are socialised into systems that cause us to conform and believe our worth is connected to how much we can produce. Our constant labour becomes a prison that allows us to be disembodied. We become easy for the systems to manipulate, disconnected from our power as divine beings and hopeless. We forget how to dream. This is how grind culture continues. We internalise the lies and in turn become agents of an unsustainable way of living.Tricia Hersey in her book Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto (Little Brown Spark Publishers, 2022).
Divide and rule
Amnesia implies a passivity, a condition subconsciously visited upon the unwilling forgetter. With Britain’s racial past we witness something far more active, conscious and deliberate. The forgetting doesn’t simply happen to us; we are at great pains to make it happen for everybody.Gary Younge in his article “Lest we remember: How Britain buried its history of slavery” (The Guardian, March 2023).
The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.Audre Lorde at “The Personal and the Political” Panel during the Second Sex Conference (October 29, 1979).
White people love playing ‘divide and rule’. We should not play their game.Diane Abbott on Twitter in January 2012.
The concept of laziness is a tool of the oppressor.Tricia Hersey in her book Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto (Little Brown Spark Publishers, 2022).
So here’s my experience of growing up in Britain; it was always a case of making sure that I was grateful.Musa Okwonga in his article “The Ungrateful Country” (Byline Times, April 2020).
Loving ourselves and each other deepens our disruption of the dominant systems. They want us unwell, fearful, exhausted, and without deep self-love because you are easier to manipulate when you are distracted by what is not real or true.Tricia Hersey in her book Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto (Little Brown Spark Publishers, 2022).
This planet is for everyone, borders are for no one.Benjamin Zephaniah in his novel Refugee Boy (Bloomsbury Publishers, 2017).
Imagination is one of the most powerful modes of resistance that oppressed and exploited folks can use.bell hooks in Tricia Hersey’s Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto (Little Brown Spark Publishers, 2022).
In predominantly white countries, it’s easy for us to forget that we are part of the global majority, that we are connected to billions of people across the world whose dreams for and actions toward liberation align with our own.Lady Phyll in “5 Global LGBTQ+ Leaders you Should Know About this Pride Month” (Equality Now, June 2021).
In one way or another, we all transition.Munroe Bergdorf in her book Transitional (Bloomsbury Publishers, 2023).
A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom.Claudia Jones in her article “A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom” (West Indian Gazette, 1960).
Survival is not the end goal for liberation. We must thrive. We must rest.Tricia Hersey in her book Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto (Little Brown Spark Publishers, 2022).
We struggle and fight for our joy – an unreserved and unapologetic joy that springs from our ability to live as we are. It’s a joy worth fighting for and it’s this joy that links all of our struggles together.Lady Phyll in her letter “No amount of bullying, racism, sexism or misogyny will hold us back” (Gay Times, October 2018).
Begin by thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling.bell hooks in her book all about love: new visions (HarperCollins Publishers, 2016).
Abolition is not primarily a negative strategy. It’s not primarily about dismantling, getting rid of, but it’s about re-envisioning. It’s about building anew.Angela Davis in “Angela Davis on Abolition, Calls to Defund Police, Toppled Racist Statues & Voting in 2020 Election” (Democracy Now, June 2020).
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.Audre Lorde in her book A Burst of Light: and Other Essays (Dover Publications, 2017).
Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.Fannie Lou Hamer in her speech delivered at the Founding of the National Women’s Political Caucus in Washington DC (10 July 1971).
It’s a collective struggle and your struggle must be my struggle and my struggle must be yours.Lady Phyll in Kirsty Osei-Bempong’s “gal-dem in conversation with Lady Phyll, director of Black Pride UK” (galdem, June 2016).
Marsha P Johnson with the consent of the person who coined the phrase.
We must believe we are worthy of rest. We don’t have to earn it. It is our birthright. It is one of our most ancient and primal needs.Tricia Hersey in her book Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto (Little Brown Spark Publishers, 2022).
The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.bell hooks in her book Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations (Routledge Publishers, 2006).