The American Race Analogy Fallacy - why blackness is not global
A #BlackLivesMatterUK movement is burgeoning. Notable left wing commentators such as Owen Jones and Laurie Penny have advocated this movement which appeared on Twitter in July 2016.
#BlackLivesMatterUK desribes itsef as ‘a coalition of activists from across the UK who believe deeply that #blacklivesmatter.’ Responding to the parent movement that sprung up in America in response to fatal shootings of black citizens by police, most notably Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Black Lives Matter UK states ‘The struggle is global, and so must be the solution.’
The assumption that all black people are the same and instinctively understand the plight of their brothers despite living on different continents is inherently racist. The ubiquity of American culture has lead Britain to feel an intimate connection with American history but the two cultures and nations are distinct and we cannot use the American situation as a paradigm. The prevailing opinion that the black American and the black British experience are the same is what I shall call the American Race Analogy Fallacy.
In the wake of the shooting of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, questions have been raised about the Black Lives Matter movement in America. Whilst many commentators have sought to emphasise the peaceful nature of the majority of activists, there is evidence of an increasingly vocal minority that espouse a violent black separatism. Some have made violent threats against police on social media and suggested that the murder of police officers by black activists was inevitable and justified. The violent rhetoric is not confined to one side. Commenting on the recent violence, a former congressman declared a race war.
There is a bubbling racial tension in America that has a long, ugly history of which the recent killings and the newly formed protest movements are but one chapter. In this context a racial movement may be appropriate in America but is it appropriate to the UK, a country with a different history and different demographic? Why do we need #BlackLivesMatter?
Blacks in America are in a very different position to blacks in Britain. At the start of the Twentieth Century black citizens who, less than fifty years previously, had been slaves, witnessed waves of White European immigration to the country they had lived in for generations. This created a justified sense of resentment amongst black people as white immigrants economically overtook them, thriving in newly developed cities and suburbs, while blacks continued to live in segregated communities with little or no economic opportunities.
Black history in Britain is completely different. Far fewer immigrants came to Britain and they came far more recently and for very different reasons. After World War II immigration from the Caribbean increased as Britain sought to rebuild. This was not without its problems. Racial tension resulted in riots in Notting Hill and Brixton. However, Black people in Britain have never lived under segregation, much less under slavery.
It is true that Africans were enslaved in the West Indes as they were in the Americas at large. The difference is that when the West Indian slaves were freed, most of the white slave owners left. Although there was still a minority of whites who formed the elite, black West Indians were born free and lived in homogeneous black communities for generations before settling in Britain in the 50s and 60s. In contrast, blacks in America lived among their slave masters.
Of course, Britain’s role in the slave trade cannot be denied but neither should it’s role in ending the tri-continental slave trade that saw so many Africans enslaved in America. The persistence of slavery in African nations today, even after decolonisation should be an indicator that slavery did not begin and end with the white man. In fact, the endemic tribal warfare in Africa should be a sign that racism does not begin and end with the white man either. The idea that all white people are responsible for all slavery denies the history of black people.
The recent support for #BlackLivesMatterUK is evidence of the American Race Analogy Fallacy. The recent killings of Anton Sterling and Phillando Castille are egregious examples of police brutality against innocent citizens but solidarity and sympathy for the victims is not restricted to blacks. Outrage at examples of the use of lethal force by American police officers has been voiced by people from all races within America as well as in Britain and the wider world.
Whilst there is an issue with poor black communities in Britain and their interaction with the police, they are generally not the victims of fatal shootings. Police in America have a propensity to use violence. There has long been an animosity between the police and certain members of black communities. The LA riots of 1992 sparked by the beating of Rodney King was an iconic event in America’s history and brought into sharp focus the indifference of police towards blacks. Since 9/11, the police forces across America have received federal funding to combat the war on terror. This has resulted in the weaponisation of the police with military style equipment. The low conviction rates for American police officers involved in incidents of brutality leaves the nasty sense that the police are above the law.
Britain has a mostly unarmed police force and a different attitude to policing. This is reflected in the statistics. So far in the UK in 2016 there have been 2 fatal police shootings. In 2015, 3. In 2014, 1. In 2013, 0. In America in 2015, 990 people were killed by police officers.
The assumption that the history of black oppression in America in the twentieth century is in any way comparable to that of black people in Britain is wrong. Black people have lived freely in Britain since the Eighteenth Century.
In a culture of intersectionality and identity politics where victimhood accretes validity and status, there is an apparent yearning amongst minorities to express solidarity with an oppressed group with the same racial profile despite the fact that the reality of their cultural experience is remote. Asserting the primacy of race over local and national cultures is at the heart of the American Race Analogy Fallacy.
The notion of a displaced African diaspora linked for eternity by their shared shackles of oppression is slave thinking. Throughout history, at one time or another almost every racial group (Whites, Blacks, Jews, Asians etc) has been enslaved. Black people in Britain that feel their skin colour gives them a certain insight into the historic suffering of their counterparts in America are indulging in slave thinking. Slavery is not in the blood. You do not inherit slavery. Once you are free, you are free.
So in response to #BlackLivesMatterUK, the struggle is not global. Blackness is not global. The insistence that there is a global black movement, perpetuates racial divisions. The idea that a black person in Britain has more in common with a black American than his white neighbour is divisive, incendiary and culturally illiterate.