My Letter to a British Employer that Endorsed Black Lives Matter
A public sector worker was disciplined for opposing his employer's support for BLM, and contacted me for help
After a British public sector employer distributed an internal document urging support for Black Lives Matter and aspects of Critical Race Theory, one employee wrote back to explain in detail why he, as a progressive, could not endorse that movement. As a result, he now faces disciplinary action. He contacted me for advice, and I wrote to his employer as follows.
From: Jerry Barnett
Re: your recent communications with ____ regarding the Black Lives Matter movement
I have recently seen your document "What Is Black Lives Matter?", and the response to it by ____.
I am a writer and have been an anti-racism activist since my teens in the late-1970s. I also live (and have always lived) in a very mixed part of inner London. I am Jewish by background, am married to a woman of Nigerian background, and have three mixed-race children. My grandfather was a veteran anti-fascism activist and took part in the famous "Battle of Cable Street", in which Londoners impeded the progress of Oswald Mosley and his fascist blackshirts in 1936. In short, anti-racism has always been a part of my life, not just from a theoretical perspective, but from a deeply personal one.
I am writing to lend my support to ____. I am sure that your document was meant well, and was intended to further equality within your organisation. However, I believe that its support for BLM is misplaced, as BLM is most certainly not an anti-racism organisation or movement.
BLM was born of the toxic racial politics of the United States, and so should be handled with care in the UK, which has a very different history of race relations. Its roots are not in the tradition of unifying anti-racists like Martin Luther King. Instead, it draws its ideas from two sources: American black nationalism (which has a deeply racist history) and the radical far-left.
It is hard to recall a movement as racially divisive as BLM in the UK. Perhaps the National Front was the last movement that really managed to stir up identity politics in this way. My generation fought the NF, and effectively defeated it in the early to mid-1980s. The NF was not defeated by suggesting that its targets - black, Asian and Jewish people - should somehow receive special treatment, but by the promotion of racial equality as a non-negotiable point of principle. The NF was largely defeated by bringing communities together, by the rise of a multiracial music scene, and by tackling racism in football stadiums.
Since the 1990s, it has been normal to see mixed-race relationships in the UK (in this, Britain has been far ahead of the United States and other countries). I have been in mixed relationships at intervals for 40 years, and have never experienced hostility in this context until the rise of Black Lives Matter around seven years ago. In its insistence that black people are to be universally regarded as victims, and whites as universally privileged, BLM has done what the far-right failed to do: created an racial hierarchy in Britain. In the wake of BLM's arrival in the UK (which happened after the death of Eric Garner in 2014), there has been a new type of racism unleashed that is unprecedented in this country's history. The rise of BLM has coincided with a rise in antisemitism, including violent attacks on Jews; it has also coincided with a rise in anti-Asian violence in the United States. And it has resulted in hostility towards mixed couples, since it propagates the idea that whites and blacks are not equals. It is not coincidental that this new racial tension has ariden alongside BLM.
BLM protests have included racist groups under their banner. In the UK, a militaristic group called Forever Family Force, which has fascist styling, was prominent in a BLM protest in London last year. BLM has made no comment on this.
BLM's programme is left unclear: other than a commitment to "anti-capitalism", a call for defunding the police, and a confusing anti-Zionist position (which has nothing to do with black lives), it is remarkably vague about what it actually stands for. I would like to ask whether ____ agrees that police should be defunded; whether you agree with the BLM position on the Israel/Palestine conflict; and whether ____ agrees that capitalism is an evil that must be dismantled. If you do not, then why are you lending support to an organisation that has these positions?
It is of course welcome that you would promote anti-racism and equality within your organisation. As an employer, you are obliged under the Equality Act to deal with any form of racial discrimination. But your document appears itself to promote discimination by propagating the dubious idea of "white privilege" and suggesting that black people should somehow be treated separately or differently to any other people. As a parent of children who are not white (like many people, I avoid the term "BAME", which has similar connotations to the word "coloured"), my heart sinks that they are growing up in a world in which well-meaning (but misguided) people will tell non-white children and adults that they require special help (from white people) to achieve what white people achieve. This is not an anti-racist message.
As the Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch made clear in a speech in Parliament last year, the promotion of Critical Race Theory (of which BLM is a proponent) is illegal in the UK. Your document, although clearly well-intentioned, is likely to be in breach of the Equality Act. I hope that you will reconsider your support for BLM, and instead create a workplace environment that fosters genuine equality.
Jerry Barnett (firstname.lastname@example.org)