What are you doing to dismantle your middle class white privilege when participating in XR protests?

If you are doing nothing and you feel that the impending climate crisis is more important and needs to be prioritised over inclusion of all, then you are a climate colonialist.

Bae Sharam
Oct 10 · 9 min read

Firstly, we know that multiple activists of different marginalised intersectionalities have given a huge amount of labour to XR for free already, and have been working with XR to help them solve their problems with intersectionality and inclusivity. But we also know that some have been asked by XR to provide labour, resources and even food for free from BAME organisations.

Many amazing activists of colour, working class activists and disabled activists are still participants and supporters of XR. This is by no means an attack on them, or an attack on XR. But before this argument is brought up, I’d like to state explicitly that having marginalised people in your movement, does not make it inclusive — just as you having a Pakistani friend does not make you above being racist or participating in racist activities. And just as your Pakistani friend telling me that you’re not a racist, and that you’re really a good guy, doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of benefitting from and perpetuating colonialism.


Now onto the big question: Are XR climate colonialists? With XR’s current approach, many marginalised people continue to be sidelined and de-prioritised in the face of the “climate emergency.” XR’s tokenising efforts to diversify after mass critique all year, but with their continual emphasis on arrest, glamorisation of that arrest, collaboration with the police, open communication with the police risking people’s safety and freedoms, refusal of support afterwards, emphasis on many culturally appropriative festivalised activities – all of this feeds a culture of climate colonialism.

I was sent a screenshot of a post made in a Boomtown Crew facebook group about the current London XR protests which stated:

“It was the best time I’ve had since Boomtown. The same experience of love, community and lots of dancing.”

This post is another of hundreds that showcase how many of the white, middle class protestors going to XR protests do not really understand that it is a protest and the risks that involves. The problematic festivalisation of protest has led to numerous inexperienced protestors joining the movement — it’s heartwarming to see how many people care about making a difference and it’s devastating to see how many of them were left unsupported after the last round of protests in London.

Protests are not festivals, they do have love, community and lots of dancing — but they also have significant risk. Risk that hasn’t been appropriately communicated to participants, especially those who are new to activism. Risk that can impact the rest of your life.

A large part of why this in particular isn’t necessary a problem for white activists (both new and experienced) is that they will unlikely face the same challenges and consequences as a result of their participation.

I’m a brown, disabled, Muslim immigrant. XRs tactics would put me at a disproportionate risk if I participated. I’m devastated that climate colonialism is happening in front of me and I can’t do anything about it. I’m deeply saddened to see my white friends and peers participate in it without questioning it – or worse, when they have questioned it, they’ve done nothing to push for inclusion of people like myself and those of other marginalised intersectionalities.

From everything that I’ve seen in activism circles, in mainstream media, from the XR official channels, from videos that they’ve uploaded, from their social media — XR has a colonialist problem. It is not a real priority for many who are going to those protests and to participate in them, as well as from the organising team behind XR, to make an actual tangible effort to be inclusive.

If there was, then police collaboration would not be a key component of their tactics. As outlined by The Wretched Of the Earth, a grassroots organisation in their open letter to XR:

In order to envision a future in which we will all be liberated from the root causes of the climate crisis — capitalism, extractivism, racism, sexism, classism, ableism and other systems of oppression — the climate movement must reflect the complex realities of everyone’s lives in their narrative.

And this complexity needs to be reflected in the strategies too. Many of us live with the risk of arrest and criminalization. We have to carefully weigh the costs that can be inflicted on us and our communities by a state that is driven to target those who are racialised ahead of those who are white. The strategy of XR, with the primary tactic of being arrested, is a valid one — but it needs to be underlined by an ongoing analysis of privilege as well as the reality of police and state violence. XR participants should be able to use their privilege to risk arrest, whilst at the same time highlighting the racialised nature of policing. Though some of this analysis has started to happen, until it becomes central to XR’s organising it is not sufficient. To address climate change and its roots in inequity and domination, a diversity and plurality of tactics and communities will be needed to co-create the transformative change necessary.

I’ve heard so many arguments for how XR is improving from a number of different people, how XR is not perfect, how it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal (the climate emergency), how XR is inclusive, how XR activists are reaching out to their BAME friends, how XR activists of colour are being protected from arrest, how XR has other roles and not everyone has to get arrested, how they were arrested and it was fine, how white XR activists are using their privilege to get arrested instead, how XR is offering “training” on diversity, inclusion, and marginalisation, how XR are actually listening and talking about this and trying to do something to address lack of inclusion. But none of this is sufficient while XR are thanking the police or reporting their own activists to the police.

Further to this is that white defensiveness of these arguments made repeatedly and constantly is exhausting. XR is not a marginalised group. It is a group of predominantly white and middle class people. There is criticism and reactions to their ignorance coming from oppressed groups.

Working class activists and people are completely dehumanised and dismissed as being uneducated or stupid as middle class XR activists get hung up on the way that they speak or their grammer. Disabled people on benefits are completely and utterly sidelined and there is no real inclusion to be had in XR’s current form, as they risk having their benefits taken away if they are found to be participating.

Black and brown bodies will face disproportionately more abuse when remanded in custody or when confronted with police in a protest setting. Our lives will be impacted even more because we participated in this movement. When XR leaves the city, and we are left with the consequences of what happened, we will not be okay. Most of our white counterparts will be.

Their experience will be like Boomtown, our experience will be the endless statistics that show how black, brown, disabled and trans bodies are harmed by the police.

I know that most of my white activist friends and peers are just trying to do their best to address the impending climate crisis and this is the best way they know how so I apologise if anyone feels like they’re alienated or hurt by this criticism. But when XR activists are reporting fellow rebels to the police, and risking deportation for immigrants, I’m struggling to see how XR can truly be inclusive.

“During the last week of the protests, it’s been alleged that several XR activists reported fellow rebels to the police, resulting in immigration checks. Due to unjust laws which allow data-sharing between policing and the Home Office, people who come into contact with the police are at risk of deportation — tearing families apart and removing people to countries that they’ve never known. Without an overarching strategy which encompasses privilege, this approach makes it difficult for people of colour (PoC) to feel safe and supported in white-led movements” — GalDem, This is what Extinction Rebellion must do to engage with people of colour on climate justice

What can you do as a white person?

What I’d like white people in particular to do when reading these posts that “bash” or “criticise” XR or whatever word is being used, is think about:

(1) Your own privilege in being able to participate, and your continued privilege in not feeling responsible for the inclusion of those with marginalised intersectionalities

(2) How to stop the centering of White Fragility of fellow XR activists and how you can take the emotional labour away from people of colour and those of other marginalised intersectionalities

(3) How to eradicate White Defensiveness of white people continuing to defend the actions of other white people

(4) How to stop Tone Policing of those from non-white, non-middle class backgrounds. Black and brown bodies in particular are often forced to put in this labour of constructive education, to police and change how we react to something. That our criticism and the way we talk about something needs to reach this white middle class standard, and that if we don’t, we’re doing it wrong.

(5) How to dismantle the trope of the Good Marginalised Person, i.e. the black friend of yours who is an XR activist who happens to be more palatable than other people of colour for example because they happen to speak the right way, say things the right way, code switch to be able to communicate more effectively with you.

And finally stop glamorising and collaborating with the police. Stop writing them love letters. Stop sending them flowers. Stop hugging them. Stop fetishising being arrested. Stop telling me about your nan who was very well looked after this lovely policeman who even made her a cup of tea and got her a nice book to read. Stop telling them about other activists. Stop telling me how friendly they are and how they even joined in your drum circle.

If you feel hurt because people of marginalised backgrounds are upset / criticising / angry with XR – ask yourself, what are *you* as a white privileged person doing to include those groups in XR?

RESOURCES & LINKS

The Wretched Of The Earth: An Open letter to Extinction Rebellion
The fight for climate justice is the fight of our lives, and we need to do it right.
https://www.redpepper.org.uk/an-open-letter-to-extinction-rebellion/

Green And Black Cross:
Statement on Extinction Rebellion — why we can no longer work with XR
https://greenandblackcross.org/statement-on-extinction-rebellion-xr-why-we-can-no-longer-work-with-xr-organiser/

Ben Smoke (Stansted15), The Guardian:
XR protesters who want to be arrested: be careful what you wish for
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/15/extinction-rebellion-protesters-arrested-stansted-15

John Pring, Disability News Service:
Police force admits agreement to share information about protesters with DWP
https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/police-force-admits-agreement-to-share-information-about-protesters-with-dwp

Leah Cowan, Gal Dem:
Are Extinction Rebellion whitewashing climate justice?
http://gal-dem.com/extinction-rebellion-risk-trampling-climate-justice-movement/

Minnie Rahman, Gal Dem:
This is what Extinction Rebellion must do to engage with people of colour on climate justice
http://gal-dem.com/this-is-what-extinction-rebellion-must-do-to-engage-with-people-of-colour-on-climate-justice/

Karen Bell, The Guardian:
A working-class green movement is out there but not getting the credit it deserves
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/11/a-working-class-green-movement-is-out-there-but-not-getting-the-credit-it-deserves

Ben Smoke (Stansted15), HuckMag:
Room for change: the problem with Extinction Rebellion
https://www.huckmag.com/perspectives/opinion-perspectives/room-for-change-the-problem-with-extinction-rebellion

Emilee Gilpin, Canada’s National Observer:
Urgency in climate change advocacy is backfiring, says Citizen Potawatomi Nation scientist
https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/02/15/features/urgency-climate-change-advocacy-backfiring-says-citizen-potawatomi-nation

Nicole Vosper, The Guardian:
What makes me tired when organising with middle class comrades
https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/jun/08/burnout-activism-working-class-organising-with-middle-class-comrades

Minnie Rahman, HuckMag:
You can’t have climate justice without migrant justice
https://www.huckmag.com/perspectives/opinion-perspectives/you-cant-have-true-climate-justice-without-migrant-justice

Kevin Blowe 🏴 :
It is not just a bunch of flowers
https://link.medium.com/o57MR0aBP0

Bae Sharam

Written by

Bae is a London based drag artist and queer muslim activist. They are one of the founders of the London Bi Pandas. Follow them on instagram at @mosqueofbae.

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