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Race, they say, is an American obsession, not our own – though in 2017 we find ourselves staring down the barrel of a future marred by rising hate crime, a resurgent far right and a culture that on both sides of the Atlantic appears increasingly amenable to the use of racist lines. Brexit and Trump mark the coming-of-age of a political tradition, best described by Stuart Hall as an authoritarian populism, that has nurtured distrust of black communities for decades through its narratives of immigration, terror and crime. Now, emboldened by an age of violent economic inequality, that story, the same story that Jo Cox was preparing to raise in parliament when she was murdered last summer in Batley, bears its strange fruit.
Violent extremism, though, is only the sharp edge of a system of injustice that plays out in every aspect of black lives, from access to housing, education and employment, to the way our cities are policed, our borders controlled, even in the way our illnesses are diagnosed. That widespread distrust, played on by Thatcher and Blair, Cameron and May, has by now been institutionalised. It has been internalised, and sits at the heart of a political culture that has seen us appease the expansion of a surveillance state, indiscriminate stop and search, the use of torture, rendition and drone-strike executions. It has seen us surrender our civil liberties and turn a system of asylum at a time of mass displacement into a business of security and illegal deportation. It’s this chronic illiberalism, secured against a public anxiety, against blackness as an undigested fact of life in contemporary Britain that now threatens to define our 21st century and on a global scale.
For this reason, race, and the cause of anti-racist struggle in all its diversity, can no longer be thought of as someone else’s business. Black experience lives on the frontline of the injustices of today, of austerity and the security state, of climate change and global inequality.
If we are to turn things around, if we are, in fact, to transform the world and re-shape the 21st century along lines of social and environmental justice, then we need to put anti-racism back at the heart of our political culture.
That’s why I’m thrilled to be taking on this role of race editor and to be working with the support of Hilary Wainwright, Gary Younge and all the co-editors here at Red Pepper to do just this. We urgently need both new voices to speak of the black experience and the platforms that will allow our voices to speak to and as part of a wider community. I hope to be able to play a role in facilitating that space in the months ahead.
In part, I write this now as a call out to writers, whatever your level of experience, because the greater goal we have is to build this new section of the magazine out of an open and participatory process, one that nurtures community and provides a space where we can learn from one another.
This will include a monthly meeting that anyone can attend. Anyone can submit in advance a topic for discussion, an idea for a piece, or a presentation. Everyone at the meeting will have the opportunity to voice and debate their own sense of what is discussed as a political priority. That discussion will in turn inform what gets commissioned for the magazine. Through collective action, we believe, this can become a space that strengthens the black progressive voice, one that challenges racist populism at its root and brings a new generation of talent into view.
If you’re interested in being part of this, then please get in touch. We’ll be building up lists of key associates in the weeks ahead and if you’re into what we’re doing we’d love to hear from you. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to everyone who donated to get this project off the ground. If you’d like to help this new section of the magazine thrive, please consider donating here and send us an email to confirm that your donation is for the Black Journalism Fund. The majority of people at Red Pepper magazine, including the co-editors, are involved on a voluntary basis, but through this fund we are prioritising remuneration for black and minority writers.