The murder of George Floyd by a policeman in the US has prompted a global surge in support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which seeks to resolve to structural racism felt by black and minority ethnic communities.

On average, Black and minority ethnic people in the UK suffer worse health outcomes and worse housing conditions than white people, they are more likely to have negative interactions with the police, suffer lower pay and more insecure and unsafe working conditions, face high rates of violent crime, etc. While equality legislation exists, it is not sufficient to address these imbalances to ensure that everyone has the equal opportunity to live a full life, free of fear and want and regardless of their race and ethnicity.

It is from that deep unease and sense of alienation that the Black Lives Matter as a social movement has developed and why policy-makers, high and low, need to listen and act. Legal equality is not sufficient. Opposing racial prejudice is not enough. We need to get to grips with the social and economic problems faced by Black and minority ethnic people.

The issue is all the more pressing after a Stansted resident was sentenced to two weeks imprisonment for outraging public decency when he urinated next to the memorial to terrorist victim PC Keith Palmer in a fascist-led anti-BLM rally.

Uttlesford: Turning its Back on Black Voices?

There is a broad spectrum of opinion over the action that should be taken, but all too often authorities resort to bland statements of condemnation of racism without examining their role in perpetuating inequalities. Essex County Council and Saffron Walden Town Council delivered statements that acknowledged and opposed racism, but offered no specific actions to deal with the problem. This is commonly known as “virtue signalling” – the appearance of being virtuous with nothing substantive to add.

The Uttlesford Liberal Democrat and Green groups have worked together on a resolution – spearheaded by the district council’s only Black councillor, Stansted South and Birchanger representative Cllr Ayub Khan – that provides some action. This resolution received the unanimous cross-party support of Stansted Mountfitchet Parish Council. Among its recommendations are:

  • To lobby for immediate government action to address the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic people
  • To call on the Government and our MP as Equality Minister to Make urgent changes to Government policy and guidance to protect BAME communities, as the report requested.
  • Implement an action plan as requested by the Chair of the BMA (British Medical Association) to reduce the risk to BAME employees and to address the underlying issues.
  • Carry out an independent BAME Covid-19 inquiry.

The point of the resolution is to act on existing recommendations put to the government and identify the extent of structural racism in our community and how to resolve it. Astonishingly, this seemingly non-contentious actionable resolution is faced with opposition from councillors of other groups and looks set to be defeated – the reasons are unclear and much of the debate seems to be going on behind the scenes, beyond the ears of the public.

The public messages on social media by Stansted’s district council representatives indicate, at the very least, indifference and ignorance within the council, as well as councillors putting party politics ahead of doing the right thing.

By failing to consider this resolution or proposing any alternative set of anti-racism actions, Uttlesford is turning its back on its only BAME member. It would be shutting down his voice and with it an opportunity for Black and Asian members of the community to talk about the inequalities they face and the ways to address them. It gives a very poor impression to those who are disadvantaged and victimised by racism, signalling the shallowness of the council’s commitment to fighting racism. Putting up rainbow flags once a year is simply not enough and is insulting tokenism without action.

Grassroots Community Action Can Defeat Racism

No white person can truly understand the emotional, social and material impact of racism, both casual and structural. However, white people in mixed race families, like myself, can have a good insight.

Before we moved to Stansted in 2011, we lived in Loughton – specifically the Debden area of the town at a time when it was represented by the neo-fascist British National Party. Loughton is not a world away – it is situated in Epping Forest District, bordering Uttlesford.

Our back garden abutted the garden of the BNP national organiser. Some of the party’s most notorious thugs lived in nearby roads; some attended the recent anti-BLM rally. With leaflets filled with baseless claims such as African asylum seekers “jumping the queue” for council housing ahead of white people in what the BNP called “Africans for Essex”, the fascists created an atmosphere of extreme intolerance.

My wife and son – then in a pram – were confronted with locals telling them “fuck off Pakis, go home” and dog dirt set alight on our doorstep late at night. There were pubs that we and other BAME families could not enter. Most Debden residents didn’t vote BNP and many of those that did were not violent racists, although perhaps credulous and mistaken.

The BNP was defeated by the efforts of the antifascist group Hope not Hate and the Loughton Residents Association. Working with schools and churches, Hope not Hate deftly tackled the BNP’s lies and created a groundswell of community opposition to racism and fascism. Meanwhile, LRA set about dealing with the underlying sense of social and economic alienation this overwhelmingly white and working-class community felt. The politicisation of racism – which is a latent prejudice that can exist in all societies – was confronted and both white and black people had their grievances listened to and addressed. The LRA defeated the BNP in local elections with such massive majorities that they played a significant role in destroying the fascist party.

Show Community Leadership: Fight Racism

The LRA was a vanguard for a cross-party, cross-community approach to getting to the root of the problems. It took on community leadership that was inclusive and took action, not virtue signalling. Instead of appeasing the racism that the BNP exploited for electoral gain, it fought racism – and won. It didn’t just scrape by with small majorities, its vote soared well above 50% and sent the BNP packing.

Thankfully, we do not have the BNP to contend with in Uttlesford, but that does not mean the district is free of racial prejudice or that inequalities do not exist. In many ways, fighting the fascists is the easy part – addressing problems of social and economic inequality is more challenging, but no excuse for inaction or to abandon our Black and Asian community members.

Residents for Uttlesford pledged community leadership when it won the May 2019 local elections – running a council on behalf of all residents and addressing varied needs. If the ruling R4U reject this anti-racism resolution or cannot produce a better set of actions – not words – to examine and address racism, then it will be abrogating its community leadership and standing on the wrong side of history. R4U should learn from the LRA, which it has previously held up as a model for residents’ politics.

The problem within UDC is largely one of ignorance rather than prejudice. Too often, people are locked away in their world – affluent and rural – with little interaction with those with different life experiences. Too often, assumptions are guided by the press and not more complex realities. It is incumbent on all councillors to engage with the wider community – including the African and Afro-Caribbean frontline care workers in our local care homes, who commute to the district to look after our elderly residents and are at the highest risk of contracting and dying from Covid-19. The resolution put forward provides a mechanism to do this. It is too serious an issue to reduce to virtue signalling or political one-upmanship.

Get moving, support the principles of Black Lives Matter and make Uttlesford a community for everyone, black and white, with no structural racism.