#BlackLivesMatter, The New Black Liberation Movement

Maia PalA guest post from Maïa Pal, recently returned from San Francisco. Maïa is currently a Lecturer in International Relations at Oxford Brookes University. Her main research is on the historical sociology of extraterritorial jurisdiction and Marxist theories of international law. She also researches UK student occupations as counter-conduct in the context of a political economy of higher education, and has blogged on student protests in the UK and Québec. And you can follow her on Twitter too.


Photo by Amanda Arkansassy Harris

Photo by Amanda Arkansassy Harris

After all, if someone is lost, and that person is not someone, then what and where is the loss, and how does mourning take place?

10 years after Judith Butler asked this question in her work Precarious Life, San Francisco organisers Thea Matthews, aged 27 and Etecia Brown, aged 24, gave me some answers.[1] ‘Leaderful’, ‘sustainable’, ‘multidimensional’: “BlackLivesMatter is more than a hashtag, logo or slogan, it’s a lifestyle.” Their demands against police brutality are practical, short-term and realistic. The demands consist of ensuring enforcement, transparency, mental health awareness in training, demilitarisation, two-way accountability, and community work. ‘Police should be like fire-fighters, heroes with red trucks!’, we chuckled.

Some of these demands are already being implemented; in Portland, New York, Richmond. As public policy solutions they could be quickly put in place. Nevertheless, it is absolutely clear that such goals, however important and at the core of the movement, barely scratch the surface of the problem. BlackLivesMatter activists want to achieve long-lasting institutional change and an end to the more covert social, political and economic subjugation of black people. They explicitly revive the terms of colonisation and slavery because these do not belong to the past; an experience both organisers have observed and lived through personally. Without equal access to education, jobs, and political representation; with lower life expectancy, socially and in front of a police gun; with mental health conditions, fear and loss of hope in their humanity, black people are still in chains.

The point here is not to engage a discussion on the history and intricate forms of these processes of exploitation, white supremacy and patriarchy. Although necessary and important, this piece discusses instead resistance to these processes, and specifically to what these organisers aptly described as ‘psychological warfare’. This resistance means healing people who are suffering, have lost all power and hope for resisting, and building communities that care for each other beyond the myths of freedom, property and consumerism.

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Activism, Academia and Black Community Struggles

A little while ago Adam Elliot Cooper from Ceasefire Magazine interviewed Stafford Scott, along with myself, on Black community struggles, activism and academia in Britain. Stafford Scott was a co-founder of the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign in 1985, and is now a consultant on racial equality and community engagement as well as co-ordinator of Tottenham Rights. The interview revolved around a one day workshop run by Dr Joy de Gruy in Tottenham last October, funded by Tottenham Rights and the Centre for Public Engagement, Queen Mary University of London.


Adam: Black community struggle has been an integral part of the way in which we understand the politics of race, class and empire in Britain today. Black communities and activists have led this struggle. But academics have played a role too. Stafford, in October 2013 you brought Dr Joy de Gruy over from the US to Tottenham to run a one day workshop on Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Why Dr Joy, and why Tottenham?

ScreenHunter_18 Apr. 17 19.50Stafford: It’s relatively simple to be quite honest. Why Tottenham? Because in 2011 parts of Tottenham burned as a result of the shooting of a young black male called Mark Duggan. It hit the headlines. As a result of some of us going to the police station rioting broke out and then spread across the country. We saw the media and the government’s reactions to those riots and it really was to dismiss the youths as feral criminals looking to make money out of someone’s death. It was dismissed as an opportunity for people’s materialistic natures to come out. What I wanted to do was put a total different perspective to it – a historical perspective. So I wanted to look at why rioting broke out. I was there, and I don’t believe that it was simply about Mark Duggan’s killing and the way in which his family was treated. I believe that there was a history – a context – to it, that some people chose not to examine. Duggan’s killing was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We had different events in 2013. One was about the uprising that took place on Broadwater Farm and the killing of Cynthia Jarrett, the killing of Joy GardnerRoger Sylvester and Mark Duggan – four people who died in Tottenham, with involvement of the police. So this was to help the community come to terms with recent traumatic events. We brought Dr Joy over to look at historic events that have caused us great trauma.

ScreenHunter_17 Apr. 17 19.50Adam: Dr Joy, a professor of social work, is famous for developing an analytical framework called Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome and for developing practical programmes that address the challenges of Black communities in the United States. So Dr Joy’s work is not only based on scholarship in the traditional sense but also research that has come out of participating in the struggles that Black communities face in the United States. Robbie, do you see similar work happening in Britain?

Robbie: I think historically there certainly was, you could see that kind of thing happening. Today I think it’s far less the case and that’s to do with a number of significant transformations in British society and in academia. Continue reading

Reading violence: what’s political about the London riots(?)

To reiterate somewhat, there is a politics to these riots. Panicking, political leaders and many others, have queued up to deny this, labelling it “pure violence,” “criminality, pure and simple“, or “mindless violence“. Over and over again, the distance between the rioters and the ‘community’ or ‘Londoners’ has been set up and reinforced. This is not without some public backing. After all, many Londoners are, rightly, angry, frightened, upset, frustrated, shocked and saddened by the sight of homes and businesses not just smashed but burning voraciously into the night whilst looters showed off their new gear. We were a world away, it seemed, from the specific, dignified, coherent demands for justice being made by Mark Duggan’s family and their supporters. Many asked themselves: what do they want? The answer seemed to be: trainers. What could be political about stealing from Foot Locker?

First things first. This post is not about constructing a narrative of social apologia via moral determinism – i.e. the idea that people couldn’t help themselves, or were bound to do it by their economic status etc. Between this and the ‘mindless violence’ line of argument, there are plenty of fools (sadly many, powerful, wealthy, and in charge of your country) trading in pretty stupid accounts of human behaviour and social causation. Continue reading