Content warning: mention of murder, death and violence.
It’s been two months since a police officer murdered George Floyd, a 46-year old father of five, in Minneapolis, Minneapolis, U.S.A. The response that followed was remarkable in many ways:
the scale with which people reacted globally was unlike anything we had really seen before, especially in the context of fighting systemic racism;
the depth and nuance with which people tried to understand what had happened, with mainstream media exploring the meaning of white privilege, anti-racism work and abolition, is not something we have really ever seen outside of small sub-sections of the social justice space;
the diversity of those who got involved was also surprising in some ways, with protests being joined by an unprecedented number of white people across a surprisingly large number of cities and countries; and
the immediate impact of some of this action is surprising to those of us who have been hoping for shifts in the system for a long time, for example, Minneapolis pledging to dismantle the police department and rethink public safety.
While we were moved and hopeful that so many individuals and organisations felt compelled to act, we are already seeing fewer conversations about race in companies, on social media and in regular media coverage, and in our communities. We worry that the world has misunderstood what it means to really “do something meaningful” when it comes to dismantling systemic oppression. We have written a little about the role of the South Asian diaspora in this, which you can read on our blog:
We would also like to acknowledge that without the conceptualisation and theorisation of oppression by Black feminists much of our thinking on this would not be where it is. We are ever grateful for the generosity of Black womxn.
The Rights Collective affirm that Black Lives Matter, now and always. We want to share this statement to make it very clear that we are committed to practising sustained allyship and becoming worthy co-conspirators with Black communities.
We invite other members of the South Asian diaspora community to commit to doing the same. We recognise that the struggles we face as part of the South Asian diaspora can be intimately connected with those of Black people here in the U.K., whether that be colourism, classism, cultural oppression, militarisation abroad, Islamophobia, British Imperialism or White Supremacy. We also recognise that it is for this reason and our proximity to white supremacy that we must play a more active role in creating a liberated world for Black communities. We owe them and ourselves this much.
At The Rights Collective, we’ve been grappling with many questions.
How can we actively support the movement for freedom and justice and also take responsibility for the ways in which we uphold the current oppressive system?
How do we situate and understand the connection between white supremacy and the oppression of our own communities?
How do we recognise and dismantle other forms of oppression within our communities, such as casteism, in a move towards dismantling all oppressive systems?
What do we need to understand about building solidarity movements and avoid falling into polarising politics?
We do not have all the answers to these questions but we are working hard to engage with them and we invite you to do the same. We recognise that we need to let go of simple narratives for this to be useful. We need to dive more deeply into the nuanced, messy and complicated ways in which change can happen. Importantly, we need to work hard at it in sustained and committed ways.
We are motivated to do this work because we fundamentally oppose the oppressive systems that enable and, in fact, encourage killings such as that of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the U.S. and Belly Mujinga, Sarah Reed, Jimmy Mubenda and Mark Duggan in the U.K. We recognise that these violent acts sit atop a pyramid of structures designed to oppress and marginalise in overt and covert ways. We realise these actions are not stand alone incidents but a function of the systems in which they arise, a function of the policies implemented by our institutions and a function of our histories.
We feel particularly moved to convey to the South Asian diaspora community the importance of standing with Black communities in their struggle for justice. We know that our communities too have experienced racialised, gendered and ethnicised forms of marginalisation. These experiences are important but they are not the same. In many ways, we have even benefited from the oppression of Black people here in the U.K. by being able to place ourselves higher on the constructed racial hierarchy and pass as a “model minority” in striving to be proximate to Whiteness. In reinforcing these ideas, we are playing a role in upholding systemic racism, whether that is through anti-Blackness, colourism, gentrification or classism.
The Rights Collective is committed to using our platform to spread awareness to the South Asian diaspora in the U.K. about these issues and work towards being better as a community. This includes examining and understanding our own privileges and unlearning internalised white supremacy. It includes doing the intellectual labour of understanding what needs to change about our economic, social and political systems.
We are also acutely aware of the ways in which sexism, misogyny, homophobia, ableism and transphobia intersect with anti-Black racism in insidious ways. Our movements are no strangers to upholding these forms of oppression while trying to fight others. Black womxn and trans and queer folk continue to be among the most marginalised among us. Their labour is often left unrewarded and their public lynching and murders often go unnoticed and unaddressed. Look at the example of Tete. She was a black trans woman who was found hanging from a tree in Rocky Butte park in Oregon. Police chose to not investigate because they did not believe the community cared enough and the medical examiner ruled it a suicide. This is not an outlier but rather a norm of the shadow of violence that black trans and queer folk exist under. We, at The Rights Collective are committed to radical unity in our advocacy which must simultaneously and collectively be anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, anti-patriarchal and anti-racist. We stand in solidarity with the voices of black womxn, trans and queer folk and disabled people which are often forgotten in the conversation around racial justice.
We know that Black liberation is the collective liberation of other communities of colour, including our own. We are grateful to the Black activists and leaders who paved the way and taught us so much. We are committed to ensuring that this statement leads to sustained action and so we outline some of our initial commitments below and invite other South Asian diaspora communities to do the same.
We are sharing some of our initial long-term commitments here, with the recognition that these will grow and move as we do. We welcome engagement with these so if you have anything you’d like to share or ask, please feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interrogating and (Un)Learning
We will interrogate the intersections between Black communities and South Asian communities in the U.K. including:
recognising the lineage of Black activists in the U.K. that came before us and allow our work to exist today;
learning about the relationships between black and brown communities in the U.K., and the related power dynamics that have existed historically and continue to exist today; and
understanding the history of immigrant communities, race and civil rights movements in the U.K.
We will ensure that this work is reflected in private spaces too. We commit to challenging ourselves and holding each other to account within our internal meetings and interactions.
Long Term Commitment & Educating Our Communities
We will not let these discussions and learnings fall away over time and we will share our own learnings and journey as much as we can in our work to co-learn with our communities.
Although educating ourselves on these topics is a necessary prerequisite to being a useful ally, a real emphasis needs to be placed on communicating this knowledge to the wider South Asian community. A clear example of where this is lacking is the tokenisation of South Asians within our current government and the way some individuals weaponise their minority status against the Black community. We need to advocate for South Asians in power, who uphold and extend principles of equality, liberation and justice in their roles. Part of this effort will be to actively challenge the ways in which South Asians benefit at the detriment of the Black community and tackling our assimilation to whiteness and role as the ‘model minority’. We have included such discourse in recent blogs and will continue to centre issues of anti-blackness within our analyses and work in a sincere effort to convey the urgency of this cause to our community,
We will do this, in particular, through our Brown Womxn [Un]Learn project which will include reading circles, educational primers and guides, resource sharing and workshops on themes such as white supremacy, anti-Blackness and unlearning colourism.
Being in Relationship with our Siblings in Liberation
Through this process we have noted where we need to do better. We will do more to foster sustainable and mutual relationships of trust with other organisations and collectives of colour, especially Black organisations doing anti-racism work. We will show concrete support for the campaigns that will affect material change for all marginalised people but especially for Black and poor people, including calling for the abolition of police and redistribution of funds to sustain initiatives that improve housing, food security, medical care, mental health services and education.
We will support national advocacy campaigns within our local communities via organisations such as Stand Up to Racism. We aim to use the privilege we are afforded as Brown womxn to advocate for these causes in a way that extends beyond a performative hashtag.
We will uplift existing work being done to unlearn colourism, white supremacy and anti-Blackness in the South Asian community as well as integrating it into our own projects.
Understanding and Implementing Radical Black Feminist Traditions
We recognise the importance of aligning ourselves openly with the values and actions we outline here. We commit to speaking truth to power wherever possible, not simply existing within safe bubbles of unbridled celebration of South Asian culture. We will apply a discerning eye and work to dismantle the hierarchies of power that are perpetuated within our own communities.
We will work to cultivate radical anti-capitalist and anti-racist South Asian organising through our work within the wider organising communities in the U.K.
As ever, our feminist work is informed and illuminated by the work of radical Black feminists in the U.K. and globally. Following this, it only seems right to position ourselves appropriately within a global context for liberation and offer support to all marginalised communities, seeking to understand the nuanced ways our oppression is dissimilar and alike. We will build upon the global relationships we have with organising groups and, where it is within our capacities, extend this support beyond South Asia and to all peoples affected by imperialism, colonialism and white supremacy.
We will recognise that while we live in urgent times, our actions must not come from a place of urgency. We will be intentional in our actions, recognising that rushing into doing what we think looks right will not cultivate the processes, mechanisms and clarity of purpose that is needed for long term systemic change.
We also commit to some specific short term actions.
Demanding Justice and Policy Change
Current issues to learn about, along with corresponding petitions:
Campaigns and organisations to support:
Netpol, a grassroots organisation monitoring and resisting excessive, discriminatory and violent policing
No White Saviours, a majority female, majority African team of professionals disrupting the White Savior Complex (WSC) in international development, aid, and missions
Inquest, a charity providing expertise on state related deaths and their investigation
Show Racism the Red Card, an educational charity that works with schools to educate children about racism
Charity So White, tackling racism and white supremacy within the charity sector
CAPE - Community Action On Prison Expansion, fighting prison expansion in England, Wales and Scotland.
UK Black Pride, Europe’s largest celebration for LGBTQ people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Latin American descent
UFFC, United Families & Friends Campaign, a coalition of those affected by deaths in police, prison and psychiatric custody
Donating to Spaces for and by Black People
Belly Mujinga Memorial Fund, with current donations are going towards supporting her family, especially her daughter
Reading, Listening and Sharing with our Communities
Natives, by Akala
The Good Immigrant, by Nikesh Shukla
Black and British: A Forgotten History, by David Olusoga
Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo
The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment, by Amelia Gentleman
People Like Us: What it Takes to Make it in Modern Britain, by Hashi Mohamed
Rethinking Our Justice System: Understanding Abolition in the UK, by Hajera Begum
Wear Your Voice Magazine, Thenmozhi Soundararajanm
Thank you to the many other groups that have provided resources on ways to support this movement and helped us do better. Thank you in particular to our friends at the Afghan American Artists and Writers Association who pushed us to think deeply about our commitments to Black lives and whose own Statement and Action Plan for Black Lives Matter helped us structure and frame our thoughts in a way that is nuanced, relevant to the diaspora experience and actionable in the long and short terms.