By Kehinde Andrews
2016 saw the British public support an openly racist campaign for Brexit and a sharp rise in racial attacks after the vote. Across the Atlantic it was the same year that America elected the most implausible, racist and misogynistic president in memory. Both of these events plus a seemingly endless wave of bad news has led to the idea that 2016 was, if not the worst, then an historically bad year. But we are looking at this wrong, 2016 was exactly the year we needed to wake ourselves up to the reality of the situation we are in.
Just the idea that 2016 was one of the all-time worse years tell us how comfortable we have become in a system that oppresses us. It should go without saying that every year in the three and half centuries Europeans enslaved Africans make this past year seem like paradise. It is not as though the years after so-called emancipation were much better; colonial rule and racial segregation did not treat us well. Considering it was legal to discriminate on the basis of race in the UK until 1965, this year shouldn’t look so terrible. If we are looking for a worse year for race relations, how about 1964, when Peter Griffiths got elected to parliament with the unofficial slogan ‘if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote labour’. Or 1981 and 1985, both years where the situation was so dire the country burned from rebellions in the inner cities.
The reason 2016 feels so bad is because we deluded into thinking that we’ve been making progress. Race relations legislation; an emerging Black middle and political class and; a Black family in the White House. Even the BBC has started taking notice of Black people, with the Black and British season! One of the most depressing things about the 2015 general election were the amount of Black people embracing UKIP ideas that ‘we’ need to defend ‘our’ country from more immigration. Almost like we forgot our families came on boats and planes not that long ago. There is no doubt that Britain owes a debt to Black people, but if we actually expect full equality then we have already lost the battle.
This year has been the perfect wake up call to the nature of the societies we live in. The vote for Brexit and the election of Trump have all come as a major surprise because we have become complacent. Society is exactly the same amount racist in 2016, as it was in 2015, or for that matter 1715. People voting in Obama did not make America any less racist, and Trump being elected does not make it any more so. Racism is in the DNA, the structure of society and the sooner we understand this we can start trying to build a new system.
If 2016 has taught us anything it is that Whiteness is not just an idea, or discourse that can be challenged through rational debate. We have been on the right side of the argument for 500 years, so if fighting racism was a moral or rational issue, we would have won long ago. Whiteness is a psychosis, entirely irrational, delusional and immune to any logic. This is the only way to understand both Brexit and the election of Trump. The Vote Leave campaign was based on a series of easy to see through lies. The phantom £350 million a week better off the UK would be; the threat of being swamped by migrants and; the colonial fantasy that Britain could be great again by trading with her former Empire. Reason cannot trump the appeal to ‘take back the country’, from the dark hordes who are apparently running it.
The same is true of Trump’s election. His campaign was built on a series of indefensible lies about the state of the nation, economy and the causes of America’s problems. He is uniquely unsuited to the role of the presidency, with his lack of any kind of experience; his temperament and; surely being orange should be a disqualifying factor by itself. On top of all this he metaphorically assaulted half the population in a video where he admitted to actual physical abuse. He is president because millions of people in the former industrial heartlands who have lost out because of neoliberalism, turned to a man who is literally the poster child for the kind of economics that sent their jobs overseas. But, reason cannot compete with the urge to ‘Make America Great (White) Again’, to take back control of the country (from the dark hordes who are apparently running it).
What we should take from this year is the realisation that because Whiteness is a psychosis, there is no point in engaging with it. Psychoses are produced by underlining conditions to prevent someone realising they are ill. In the grip of a psychosis it is futile to try to reason with someone, you need to treat the illness. The psychosis of Whiteness exists to stop us (all of us) seeing the true nature of racism in society. To keep us comfortable living in a society that prospers whilst a pre-school child dies every ten seconds because of the wealth we feel no guilt about. 2016 should wake us up to the reality that there is no solution to the problem of racism that can found by appealing to the good conscience of the majority. Don’t believe the hype, 2016 does not represent a major shift in race relations; the end of neoliberalism or; a departure from anything that has gone before. It is simply a reassertion of the same racism and Whiteness that have hallmarked the globe for the last five centuries.
In order to end racism we must build a new social system based on a different set of principles. This is long and painful work, but it cannot be done if we keeping begging the system to change. OBU is committed to working together with people and groups who are resisting racism by building our own capacity. Join the movement to contribute the first steps to liberation.