I’m looking around social media at so many of the new intake in Labour in the last years, venting their rage and frustration at being labelled anti-semitic.
I feel for them, I really do – and for those who are hurt and frightened by the careless words in their anger and denials. I would have been going on just like that a couple of years ago because this time a year ago, I was going on about an –ism with the same very visible sense of outrage.
I know different, now
I failed an interview the other day, because I am a complained-about person. I continue to be complained about by people who were outraged by my outrage nearly two years ago. This stuff breeds, it spreads, and it takes years to die down. Gradually, you learn – gradually, you realise that we are ALL racist, sexist and classist, and that when we are angry and frustrated, and feel wronged, we are ALL very, very frightening.
Why don’t the Labour Party fight back?
So many hurt, frustrated and offended people are longing for their socialist heroes in the Party to stand up and say We are not racist, we are not anti-semitic We are not, we are not… Surely they might also say that we are not nationalist or ageist or ableist or neurotypicalist, not any of these dreadful things.
But we are a nation built on -isms
They won’t say We are not, we are not – because they know we are. Lots of people try not to be racist, sexist or classist. But watch them, and you can see they are worried about being ‘caught out’, they worry about ‘accidentally’ saying something racist/sexist/classist or some other -ist. Why do they fear this? And what has changed in me, so that I don’t fear this, so that I am one of the few socialists amongst my socialist friendship-group who continues to speak out on the issue that got me into trouble a while back, for instance?
‘Not racist’ and ‘anti-racist’ are two different things
I sensed this, but I have just read an explanation by Akala – thank you! – of that difference. If you grew up in the UK or the USofA, this is how it is: you are a mass of -isms. Once you understand that all these -isms – all these forms of prejudice and unfairness – are hierarchical in themselves, and are built deep into the system you grew up in, into your education, your socialisation and your environment, once you see that, and that they are generations old, and they were built to keep the ‘right’ people ‘on top’, and they are tricksy, once you see that, you will see that even when you’ve checked really carefully that you’re being true to what you know, you are probably acting on subliminally ingested dodgy information. When you understand that, you’ll realise that it’s impossible to be 100% confidently ‘not racist’ (or any of those -isms). The best you can do is declare racism and its pals to be bad things, and resolve to watch for them, and try to understand and correct them even – in fact especially – when they come out of your own mouth.
We can’t say we’re not racist
Being anti-rascist is understanding that you’re probably racist on some level. It’s not the same as being anti-fa – it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to don a balacava and chuck racists’ bricks back at them – but it does mean you have to think a lot more. And it’s sobering, to really, deeply understand how vulnerable and upsettable anyone who is noticeably ‘different’ is, in our society.
It’s very liberating though, once you go to work on all that. The prize is that you don’t have to worry about being caught out any more – you know you aren’t perfect, and you are no longer afraid to question – in fact you know that you have a duty to question everything you think you know – again and again – before every campaign, before every piece of writing, in every conversations and debate – you have a duty to think, “Why do I believe this? Where did this idea come from? Why does this person feel sure I’m wrong? What do they know, that I don’t…?”
What if someone’s having me on?
You need not worry about being conned. Really, you don’t. If you question honestly, sympathetically, if you really try to understand people who disagree with you then a person who’s making wild accusations – because they are upset, or because they want to knock down your heroes, that will become clear. As long as you really, truly try to understand, it will.
Life gets more interesting and more wholesome – but it does mean you can’t do the 100% confident denial. It’s why socialists like Jeremy Corbyn can’t do that denial. He’s been an anti-racist for decades, so he knows very well it’s not right to thump the table and angrily declare I am absolutely 100% not a racist, the Labour Party is absolutely 100% not anti-semitic. It’s one of the reasons I believe that, for all his faults (we all have them!) he’s going to be the best Prime Minister we’ve ever had.
Here are three things you can do to make this wonderful possibility more likely:
1. Please sign this petition, supporting Jeremy Corbyn. Bung a fiver in if you’ve got it to spare
2. If you’re in or around London this week (written July 2019) or if you’re able to get there, please go to Parliament Square on Thursday to call for a General Election. Details here.
(And please share this post, so that all your friends come along with you.)
4. Please sign up to the Labour Left Alliance to find out how you can support our socialist Labour Party on the road to Number 10. Details here.
And please consider reading those books. If you know of a comparably useful book that helps to bust any of those other -isms, please feel free to recommend it in the comments here.