OCTOBER is Black History Month, which truthfully wouldn’t need to happen if we lived in a fairer, more just, post-capitalist society.
A society where the curriculum taught the truth about empire; the mass slavery, famines and genocides that built the origins of British wealth and how the system extracted wealth and exerted control and influence overseas.
The racialized killing of George Floyd, the rising awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement, the decolonization of education and museums, the movements on college campuses, the toppling of statues of slavers and imperialists and sportsmen taking the knee and many other acts of solidarity were greeted with strong fascist political and media backlash on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Conservative government’s response has been nothing less than gaslighting. They released a report in 2021, saying structural racism doesn’t exist.
Runnymede, a charity think tank on racial equality, said those involved in this commission “had no interest in genuinely discussing racism”, adding: “The least the commission could have done is acknowledge the very real suffering of black and minority ethnic communities here in the UK.”
He continues: “The very suggestion that government evidence confirms that institutional racism does not exist is frankly disturbing.”
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 11% of working white people are in poverty, less than half of those from African, Caribbean, Asian and other racialized groups at 24%.
Rather than acknowledging racial disparities, the government’s report seeks to pit working-class communities against each other.
In reality, in the sixth richest country in the world, any level of poverty is abhorrent – especially considering that personal wealth in the country now exceeds £15 trillion, which is heavily skewed at the top.
The richest 20% of the country hold 63% of this wealth, while the poorest 20% hold 0.6% of this wealth. This general pattern of wealth distribution has never changed and is caused by policies that favor Britain’s ultra-rich.
The government’s own report obscures the deep structural problems of our capitalist economy. The government’s message is to focus on growth, individualism and competition as solutions. Its message is clear: work harder, move forward and “level up” — and that there are no barriers, constraints or contradictions.
Given the depth and breadth of inequality, hard work will never “level” those living in poverty. Government reliance on false empowerment aims to hide the way capitalism creates poverty while denying class and racial inequality.
When we look at our world today – a world in which half of the world’s wealth belongs to the top 1%; a world in which global and regional inequalities are defined by the racial violence and extraction created by centuries of colonialism and imperialism – we see another historical era that remains defined in Marx’s language of “the oppressor and the oppressed”.
A close reading of black history reveals that the origins of racism and capitalism are intertwined. Racist ideas were carried by 15th century Europe and developed by its merchants, slaveholders and colonizers.
White superiority theory was developed, initially to justify the enslavement of African peoples and went on to justify all the ways in which non-whites were exploited by white colonial powers for centuries.
Parallel to these developments and over the years, a whole body of “scientific” arguments has been developed and used to justify mass genocides by colonial powers.
Colonization was, after all, a projection of power through cruelty, rationalized by pseudo-intellectual arguments about racial superiority and difference.
Before slavery and colonialism, there was no global hegemony as we see today under capitalism. There is now a world owned and commodified by classes and a singular hegemony of capitalist culture, ideas and development to the detriment of all our old cultures, traditions and our planet.
An economic system where a small class of people based on a historical legacy of theft and violent extraction owns the means of production (i.e. land, resources, factories, property and now patents, finance capital, etc.), which causes the vast accumulations of wealth and power.
The development of our Eurocentric economic system today, and with it its racism, inequality and climate change, is the direct result of slavery, colonialism and imperialism.
So when the UK government is focused on presenting a narrative that calls on black people to rise up, we need to critically examine what is really going on.
In reality, there can be no leveling up without the dismantling of capitalism, imperialism and neoliberalism – and the granting of reparations.
Capitalism is haunted by the memory of each of the millions and millions of Africans, natives and indigenous peoples who were massacred, scalped, hanged, drowned, raped, tortured or died of exhaustion to make wealth and l hegemony of Great Britain.
All parts of the capitalist economy and every one of its institutions are here today because of slavery and colonialism and continued global racialization.
We cannot talk about the present without the ancient empires engaging in a process of acknowledgment, apology, restitution of what was stolen, and reparations for past atrocities. The brutal history of the British Empire casts a long and lasting shadow over current global dynamics.
It is no coincidence that conditions such as large-scale war and conflict, environmental pollution and malnutrition are concentrated in the countries of the South.
As Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, said: “Racism is inseparable from capitalist economic development. Because race is inextricably linked to class exploitation in a racist capitalist power structure, capitalist exploitation and racial oppression are complementary; deletion of one ensures deletion of the other.
The underdevelopment of the Global South to create wealth in the Global North, the erosion of workers’ wages, the reduction of taxes for the rich, the bankers’ bonuses, the mega-profits of the energy companies and the trillions hidden in government-authorized tax havens are just a few of the systemic theft considerations that should be addressed for restorative justice.
Moving forward, we must build a better social order, where the costs of building a more equitable world do not fall on disadvantaged countries and peoples who have historically suffered from imperialism and colonialism and protests current greed.
The costs must be weighted for ancient empires that have benefited and are racially advantaged by past injustices.
We have to remake the world system. For example, the Global North is responsible for 92% of all excess global carbon dioxide emissions, but it is the Global South that suffers from climate breakdown and bears the brunt of devastation, e.g. climate famine, droughts, floods, storms and rising sea levels.
This is a straightforward case for reparations including debt cancellation. The climate crisis stems from the same political history as racial injustice and presents a challenge of the same magnitude and scope.
In order to achieve justice, we must move from a deeply unjust and unethical system to creating a more just and equal world. The transformation we succeed or fail to achieve in the face of the climate crisis will be decisive.
Reparations is a revolutionary process for justice and system change that can unite communities, struggles and movements. The movement for global racial justice demands no less commitment.
Now more than ever, it is vital that we on the left continue to work with justice movements around the world to dismantle the systems of neocolonialism, global inequality and racism.
Claudia Webbe is the MP for Leicester East – Twitter @ClaudiaWebbe.