Don’t be complicit in your own oppression!

Recently elected to the leadership of the Labour Party’s women’s organisation, the National Women’s Committee, topping the poll in the CLP section with a storming 185,000 votes and chosen by women members on a platform of equality and inclusion, Ekua Bayunu explains her commitment to serving ALL women in the party.

I’m a working class black woman, a grandmother, artist and activist, based in Manchester for the last 28 years. I raised two amazing humans here as a single parent on the much maligned Alex Park Estate in Moss Side. 

Fact: There is not a homogenous, intrinsically racist, white working class, not in the North of England, not anywhere. And beyond my personal experience, here’s an interesting historic fact, shared in Mike Makin-Waite’s On Burnley Road: Class, Race and Politics in a Northern English Town: an understanding that the struggle for an end to slavery was a cornerstone of the American Civil War, which was depriving England’s northern towns of the raw materials that kept the mills busy and its workers in paid employment. He writes: “As they understood the political reasons for the looms falling silent, impoverished textile workers declared that they would refuse to handle any cotton produced by enslaved people.” (page 36).

I’m not endorsing all the analysis that Mike proposes in his book and take exception to some of the propositions he puts forward. I actually yelled my annoyance at the idea that most oppressed people are their own worst enemy (my paraphrasing). But I do thank him for his contribution to the debate and will always encourage not only debate but an appreciation that we can all make different valuable contributions to the struggle for a just society. 

Opinion: Racism and opposition to the self-identification of Trans people are born from the same capitalist endeavour to undermine the class struggle.

 It seems to me that racism among white working class people is a form of self-harm. Like cutting yourself, it creates a temporary relief from the pain of oppression. And like all temporary relief it becomes addictive. 

White working class people know it is a form of complicity with their own oppression. But it’s an immediately accessible anaesthesia, which is effective in blocking the pain of the powerlessness and dehumanisation of their lives.  Racism is a lie perpetuated by this capitalist system, in the same way that mill owners sold dodgy beer to the workers- because giving them clean drinking water might not just help them recognise who the enemy was, but keep them clear-headed enough to do something about it.

So how do white working class people react when we call out the lie of racism? Many have poured away the pint of racism that has fogged their minds and joined in the fight for freedom for ALL. Others will keep pouring it down their throats and fight us for the right to do so – because they honestly see no way out of the prison they are stuck in and the anaesthetic effect of racism is the only salvation they know. 

And because socialist women have historically been the most able in identifying and fighting oppression, we are being sold another distracting lie.

 Opposing self-ID for Trans people is the new lie, the new dodgy beer, the anaesthesia that will stop us feeling the pain of our powerlessness.  It is the lie that a handful of Trans women are destroying our fight for liberation from oppression, from inequality, from male and state violence. 

And there is another deep connection to racism: that if we tell the world that we, women,  are under renewed attack, then maybe our comrades will also stop asking white working class women to do the painful work of owning the entitlement of whiteness. It is the same self-harm, just a deeper cut.

For some, it must bring greater temporary relief. For others, white and black, this collusion in a new anti-worker lie makes us weep or very angry. And it is racist. 

Don’t be fooled into believing that class should be a protected characteristic. I have noticed that race, gender, disability and sexuality are increasingly seen, not as tools to shape our analysis of the world, but as characteristics that have become like vulnerable pets with nothing to offer the world, but merely to be protected. In this way, we undermine those with the greatest ability to change the world. 

So let’s not fight for that right!

Let’s, instead, remember to continually bring a class, race and gender analysis to our thinking, to our decision-making and to our action and be aware always of the intersection of age, disability and sexuality and other forms of oppression with these universal characteristics. 

And let’s do this with that most powerful of socialist principles: humanism: with patience, not tolerance, with love, not hate. 

Ekua Bayunu is a Labour Councillor for Hulme, a member of Manchester Central CLP and an elected representative on Labour’s National Women’s Committee. She writes here in a personal capacity.

Image: “2013 Rally for Transgender Equality 21175” by tedeytan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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