A statement was made this weekend. A bold, confident, irrepressible statement by the young people of Newcastle that they will no longer accept a racist status quo. A crowd of predominantly Black and young people came together organically and cooperatively to make the events happen; a true grassroots movement of the kind Newcastle so desperately needs.
They turned out in their thousands to march on city centres against police brutality, both abroad and here in the UK. Through chants, speeches and words on cardboard, they described their anger and pain at a system built to oppress, subdue and divide the most marginalised groups in our society. There was anger. There was sadness. But there was also an outpouring of love, support, and hope.
It saddened us to see that some anti-racist groups opposed the demonstrations and spent the week telling people they had been cancelled. This risked undermining the hard work put into organising by young black people, and meant that many people of colour who wanted to come out stayed home. Some then realised that there was action taking place and went to join, expressing anger and hurt that they had been misled. One can only wonder how many more missed the opportunity altogether.
NEAR is calling for an end to this sort ot confusion, and an end the belief that groups can control people's actions. We believe in simply let people feel the anger and pain however they see fit and demonstrate in whichever way they choose, particularly our BAME communities.
Noone has the right to tell another how to or how not to demonstrate. Noone has the right to attack each other's choice of demonstration. All that does is lead to confusion and takes away people's ability and right to participate.
We need to understand as activists that we have a responsibility to people of colour in this time of great anger, to support Black-led action. People of colour are better placed than anyone else to speak on racism in our society. Our duty, as committed anti-racist activists, is to support them in obtaining a platform and a microphone.
The media is rife with the paternalistic narrative of how we are protecting people of colour from coronavirus by denying their right to in-person protests. This narrative claims to understand their anger, whilst undermining their organising of action. This is a subtle but deeply toxic narrative that denies Black communities agency in responding to systems that place them under threat, and it is not compatible with anti-racist philosophy. People of colour do not need anyone else to tell them how to feel or how to express their anger. They need us to utilise our platforms to make space for their action. This is history being made, and who are we to slow the pace of another's liberation?
We at NEAR will be offering whatever support, resources and materials we have available to anyone that needs or wants them to continue that work, to demonstrate against hate, to educate people, to involve communities and to celebrate our diversity while fighting for justice. Until we have justice, we will not have peace. We seek to support Black-led action within our region in whatever form it takes. To our BAME communities, we simply offer our skills, our time and our resources to assist in facilitating anti-racist activity by people of colour, for people of colour. If we can support you in taking action, we will. Please do not hesitate to contact us.
To anti-racists across the region, we urge you to listen. Not only to the people of colour within your organisations, but to the BAME communities of the North East as a whole. Theirs are the voices that need to be heard. Theirs are the perspectives that need to be understood. Theirs is the history that is being built by the action currently taking place, and it is imperative that we do not impede this.
Listen to people of colour. Learn. Understand. Facilitate.