by Emma Pierre
With the release of a new campaign entitled 'Stay black' – emma pierre exposes how 'Blink' - the website of the 1990 Trust funded by the labour government has initiated an attack on the right of African people to self determine.
Two recent articles featured on the Blink website written by Lester Holloway and Geoff Palmer from, Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt university highlight a growing dichotomy presenting itself to the African community in Britain. The debate centres around whether members of the African community should continue to be labelled ‘black’ by a colour coding system of reference instigated to maintain a racist hierarchy based on the primacy of ‘white’ (europeans) and the inferiority of ‘black’ (Africans). The alternative that has been suggested and concretised over many decades is that we strive to reject ‘black’ and reclaim a name that ascribes us to a culture, geographical location, identity and history, namely ‘African’.
Before embarking on a summary of the political resonance and function of these descriptions, it is necessary to deal with a number of contradictions and misrepresentations of the issues contained within these articles. Geoff Palmer claims that any “attempt to remove the rights of people to describe them as they see themselves is an unacceptable denial of human rights.” On this point, I find myself agreeing with him 100%. Unfortunately, the tone of the article implies that there are a group of ‘African’ people who are seeking to deny Palmer his right to brand himself under the label of ‘black’. Of course, this is completely untrue. As a representative of an organisation who has been at the forefront of the reclamation of the name ‘African’, we have never, nor have I ever encountered anyone within the community who has forced anyone to describe themselves in whatever way they see fit. What we do advocate, however, is the very pressing need to refrain from referring to ourselves by words that were created with the specific intention of disconnecting and dehumanising African people. Whether this comes in the form of ‘black’, ‘coloured’, ‘negro’ or the n word, the shift away from these labels began before Ligali even existed.
In howling that his human rights are being denied, Palmer highlights a contradiction in the thinking of this out dated mode of thought. Whilst begrudging African people who advocate the name ‘African’, he is happy to be labelled by a term that was created by europeans to deny him of the human rights he holds so dear. This mode of thinking that criticises African people but conveniently forgets the dehumanising intent and current day legacy created by europeans via the colour coded system of reference is not only self destructive but it is indicative of a fear to challenge the real enemy. I can say that Palmer does not speak for me and the rather uninformed and, with respect, juvenile level of analysis contained in this article is nothing short of embarrassing.
Fighting to be part of the colour coded hierarchy
In utilising what can be seen as an anti-African article by Geoff Palmer, Blink, one of the government endorsed flagship 'BME grass roots' organisations, has launched a ‘Stay Black’ initiative. The accompanying article to the campaign, written by Lester Holloway cynically and deliberately attempts to pit themselves and their position directly against the committed and sincere efforts of African people who are fighting against institutions, government policy and right wing media that continues to render them indescript ‘blacks’. In so doing, they are also attempting to cause further divisions within the community. The fact that Holloway quoted Toyin Agbetu from the Ligali organisation without consent during a personal phone conversation and also misreported what was said suggests a rather unprompted but visible disdain for the Ligali organisation because of our uncompromising position on this matter. This is reaffirmed by Holloway’s somewhat childish attempt to patronise in the following line in his article: “Agbetu sits on the ONS Diversity Advisory Group as the sole ‘representative’ of African descent.” To date, Holloway has failed to return calls from Ligali regarding his misappropriation of information via a personal phone conversation.
[ Geoff Palmer OBE, author of slavery book entitled "The Enlightenment - Citizens of Britishness" argues we are not Africans we are British blacks. ]
There is an arrogant and thankfully misguided belief by websites such as Blink, published by the 1990 Trust that Pan Africanists will not be able to respond to their state funded agenda. Their ‘Stay Black’ campaign seeks to prevent African people from being able to classify themselves by the more accurate and culturally respectful name ‘African’ on the National census. In so doing, the 1990 Trust have recruited support from Operation Black Vote, the Labour party’s 'BME grass roots' voting recruitment agency, which coincidentally awarded the thinly veiled attack on African identity 'article of the week'.
It is no secret that organisations such as Operation Black Vote (OBV), The Black Londoners Forum (BLF), National Assembly against Racism (NAAR), National Black Alliance (NBA) and the 1990 Trust, have a vested interest in maintaining a history of weak 'black' unity whilst sowing the seeds to create African disunity. That this has become increasingly apparent was inevitable. The 1990 Trust has historically described a ‘black’ person as anyone who is non european. Their definition is wide enough to embrace Africans, Asians, the Irish, Kurds and fuzzy wuzzies. Holloway’s article incriminatingly quotes Mee Ling Ng, who is Chinese as saying “[I] may not be considered black by everyone... I am quite happy to be Black because I share common experiences.’ To define yourself based on what someone else is, is ludicrous and disempowering. It makes as much sense as me describing myself as a ‘non-man’.