This week, Sajid Javid MP enraged and bewildered many by claiming that the Black Lives Matter movement is “not force for good”. While a need to satisfy right wing Tories may have motivated his quote, it nonetheless further legitimised the white supremacy and racist ideals that this government has failed to acknowledge, let alone tackle.
Rivers of blood
Allegations of racism within the Conservative Party have been made since at least 1968, when then Defence Minister Enoch Powell MP gave his speech ‘Rivers of Blood’ which outraged the nation because of its stark racist overtones. Racism within the Conservative Party is far from a problem of the past. For decades, Conservative governments have attempted an almost impossible balancing act. They’ve tried to avoid haemorrhaging votes of those who hold racist beliefs to other overtly racist parties like the British National Party (BNP), while simultaneously satisfying the wider public that racism is an issue that Conservatives take seriously.
Sajid Javid MP may well have failed this balancing act when he declared that the Black Lives Matter movement is “not a force for good” and is instead a “sort of neo-Marxist… mob”.
We can guess that this statement was made to placate the right wing of the Conservative Party, and that Javid may not have foreseen the inevitable media storm it created. While we may not know this for certain, or whether Javid believes his own words, we can assess the wider context of government inaction on the subject of racism to determine the ultimate cost of his words.
Firstly, Javid’s comment is somewhat predictable. He has merely followed the trajectory already paved by Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister said a mere few weeks ago that those who call for the removal of statues of slave traders or racists should “focus less on the symbols of discrimination or whatever” and instead be “proud” of UK history. Questioning the merit of the Black Lives Matter movement is hardly a stretch from this precedent.
Racism exists in the UK
Javid’s words also fall on the backdrop of a report published by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities at the end of March. While this report acknowledged that racism exists in the UK today, it argued that other factors have a greater influence on our life chances including geography and culture.
The report repeatedly concludes that “anti-racism movements seem reluctant to acknowledge their own past achievements” and argues that a focus on “divides of the past often misses the point of today’s world”. The reports refusal to engage with the history of racism which contextualises and underpins the racism that exists today enraged campaigners and anti-racism individuals.
In response, United Nations officials claimed this report “normalises white supremacy” in a “stunning… repackaging of racist tropes and stereotypes into fact, twisting data and misapplying statistics and studies into conclusory findings and ad hominem attacks on people of African descent”. This bold response is unusual and reflects the wider outrage the report caused.
What’s clear is that Sajid Javid’s words have not been spoken in isolation. They reiterate a wider sympathy towards racism that the government, and the Conservative Party as a while, has chosen to perpetuate on many different occasions, arguably for decades. It is this choice that is concerning.
The people who will pay the ultimate price for the facilitation of racist ideals are those who experience racism on an everyday basis: black women who are currently 5 times more likely to die during childbirth because their pain is not believed, BAME communities who have faced at least double the unemployment levels as white people between 2004 and 2018 and black people who are nearly 10 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people, which contributes to a far higher arrest rate.
Racism is clearly a systemic, global problem that impacts chances of survival. Sajid Javid’s statement is just another example of the UK government failing to acknowledge this problem, let alone tackle it.
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