RACISM is never an “isolated incident.” Instead, it’s more of a societal plague, fluttering around academia, institutions, politics, and the privatised workspace. It’s got everything to do with colonial jokes and railway jokes and it’s got everything to do with direct threats and abuse. Thus, whilst racism remains a stubborn stain permeating deep into society, efforts to prevent such incidents must be just as continuous.
The organisers of the Exeter Unmask rally, including myself and several other extremely powerful speakers and BAME representatives from the University did state, that when we decided to set up such a form of resistance, it couldn’t be a one-off, drop and run, protest for the sake of protesting. It had to (and with cautious optimism, I’d say it did) bring about change on both an institutional and societal level, rather than be a space to hear some trauma and leave, patting each other on the back that we’re not “that bad, at least.”
‘Positive celebrations’ for people of different cultures need to be looked at long and hard. Whilst Pride has been largely about the community it is meant to support, with straight presence in an ally capacity, the opposite might unfortunately hold true for a cultural celebration. That’s to say, cultural celebrations in primarily white areas are often more of a chance for people to come and play ‘dress up’ in Indian or Arabic outfits, rather than be a medium of change.
Celebration may be needed, but what is paramount is inclusivity. A celebration will expose local people to chicken tikka; someone who may have been racist a year or so ago might just have come to try out some shish kebab; an entirely white friendship group of girls will come wearing bindis – but is this the change we’re looking for? Is the priority to introduce the ‘touristy’ aspects of culture to locals, rather than to include people of colour within existing society? Would constant ‘positivity’ celebrations showcasing culture just give more than we get back?
Positivity and celebration is necessary but it does not need to be all we do.
The message that, I think, we should try to give off should not be “look at how lovely chicken tikka tastes! Boy, you guys sure didn’t know how fantastic our culture was before you yelled racial abuse at us, huh?”
Positivity and celebration is necessary but it does not need to be all we do. Culture needs to be applauded and celebrated for and by those of that culture, not as a response to racism. Racist group messages should not be rewarded with a full cultural fest of Diversity Party II: Electric Boogaloo – it should be faced by the voices of people who have faced injustice.
Resistance must push back rather than merely celebrate. Celebration is indeed a vital part of diaspora culture, but resistance needs to include, alongside celebration, stories and experiences. Laws and punishments. It must be a statement of visibility, a pushback against negativity rather than a generic celebration of culture. One might question – why does your resistance have to be so different to Pride? But Pride too is a resistance, a celebration, and a statement of visibility – perhaps capitalist culture may begin to co-opt such parades, but Pride is still a stalwart and admirable symbol of struggle in both the Western and non-Western worlds.
My resistance may be colourful, festive, and triumphant, but it will not be a celebration.