By Sabby Dhalu & Weyman Bennett, Stand Up To Racism Co-Convenors
The 2020 US presidential election, less than three weeks away, is likely to be the most fiercely contested in recent times. Donald Trump has staked his re-election on spear-heading white supremacy and clamping down on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
This included the deployment of federal law enforcement agents to clamp down on Black Lives Matter protesters in cities like Portland, Oregon and Kenosha, Wisconsin and emboldening white supremacists and fascists.
The BLM movement is the biggest political movement in US history, with polls estimating 16-25 million attending demonstrations and, unlike the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the support of the majority of Americans. A Monmouth University poll in June showed that 76 per cent of Americans – including 71 per cent of white people – agreed that racism is a big problem in the US. This is a massive 50 per cent increase since the previous poll in 2015 that coincided with the first wave of the BLM movement in 2015.
The New York Times reported in June:
“Never before in the history of modern polling has the country expressed such widespread agreement on racism’s pervasiveness in policing and in society at large.”
For the first time in its history, Americans supported the black community against a racist police system rooted in hundreds of years of slavery and oppression.
While the BLM movement initially emerged in response to shocking footage showing George Floyd being killed by a police officer, there is no doubt that the scale of the movement and popular support reflected the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on black communities and anger in the general population at Donald Trump’s dismal failure in response to the COVID crisis and its economic impact.
The US has one of the worst death tolls in the world with over 200,000 deaths – a huge loss of life on American soil. African Americans formed 22 per cent of Covid19 deaths but only just over 13 per cent of the population. In addition GDP fell by more than 10 per cent in the second quarter and has hit black Americans much harder. Unemployment in the US is 5 per cent higher for the black people compared to their white counterparts, over 15 per cent and over 10 per cent for black and white people respectively.
Trump is the most overtly racist US President in the last century and it is worth remembering the rise in racism since his election in 2016.
In 2016 there were 127 anti-Muslim assaults – a record high – and higher than the 93 recorded in 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This coincided with Islamophobic rhetoric during his election campaign. Immediately after his inauguration in 2017 Trump brought the “Muslim ban” that led to international solidarity demonstrations.
In 2017 hate crimes in the US rose by 17 per cent, with black and Jewish Americans most affected, with 2,013 and 938 attacks respectively.
2018 saw the most racist US mid-term election campaign in living memory. This included antisemitic conspiracy theories about George Soros, attacks on Latin American refugees, Islamophobia and attacks on black African Americans – as sharply reflected in Georgia and Florida. This was the climate in which 11 people were killed in an anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
2020 has seen a staggering increase in racist attacks on Chinese and East Asian communities. Asian rights groups and San Francisco State University teamed up and launched the Stop AAPI Hate database which records reports of Covid19 racism directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US and received over 1,700 reports from 45 states. This coincided with Trump’s use of inflammatory phrases like the “Chinese virus.”
Such racist attacks do not take place in a vacuum and illustrate the precise danger of the campaign to stir up racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and AAPI racism in order to distract from and scapegoat for economic problems and the COVID crisis.
The rise in racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism and sinophobia illustrate the need for different communities to unite against racism and put differences aside on any other issues.
As we approach the presidential election and recent polls place Democrat Joe Biden 10 points ahead of Republican incumbent Trump, there is no room for complacency. In the event of a close Biden victory, Trump has already stated he would refuse to accept the outcome and no doubt the emboldened “Proud Boys” and other white supremacist and fascist organisations will be out in force in such a situation.
States such as Georgia, Arizona and Texas have seen a sharp increase in the black and Latino populations and the mobilisation of such voters may well be key to defeating Trump. Meanwhile armed fascist militias – the violent counter movement to BLM – are threatening to ‘patrol’ polling stations to intimidate and deter black, Latino and white progressive voters.
An investigation by Channel 4 News found that the Republicans mounted a targeted campaign called “Deterrence” aimed at keeping black and other voters at home on polling day in the 2016 presidential election. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) called it a modern day voter suppression campaign, using data and digital technology to keep black voters at home.
However such violent intimidation and digital campaigns by the Republicans were unfortunately aided by changes to the implementation of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 2013 the US Supreme Court abolished the Section 5 pre-clearance, which required all jurisdictions with a history of racist voting practices to get approval from the Department of Justice before making any changes to their voting laws, such as poll relocations and closures, electoral roll purges and new ID requirements. When the SC ruling came down, immediately many states moved to create new laws that made it more difficult for black people to vote.
The impact of this so far in 2020 has included reducing the polling stations in black and multicultural states, resulting in long off-putting queues – criminal in the context of Covid19 and the need for social distancing.
The Black Live Matter movement, meanwhile, has had a significant positive impact, both in the US and across the world. In Britain, spontaneous demonstrations led to the removal of statues of Slave owners and forced a reckoning with Britain’s imperial and colonial past. Urgent demands have been raise to scrap Section 60 powers, which have been used to harass huge numbers of black people, to address the disproportionate impact of COVID, and to decolonise and add Black history to the curriculum. The anti-racist movement has been massively strengthened, with new activists taking the lead and public opinion shifting towards action on institutional racism.
Trump is not the only elected leader whipping up racism and using inflammatory language to distract from their disastrous response to the coronavirus and its devastating economic ramifications.
Earlier this month French President Emmanuel Macron announced new laws to tackle “Islamist separatism” and defend secular values. Macron accused six million Muslims of being in danger of forming a “counter-society.” This followed a dramatic rise in covid cases in France over the last two months and a sharp increase in deaths in the last month.
Racism is on the rise in Europe, as well as the US, but the recent defeats of fascist and far right parties must be welcomed and recognised as victories.
The criminalisation of Golden Dawn and its failure to win seats in the Hellenic Parliament in 2019, is the product of a decades long, broad, united movement against racism and fascism led by Stand up to Racism’s sister organisation KEERFA in Greece.
Earlier this month the Freedom Party in Austria (FPO) suffered a huge fall in its vote share in the Viennese state election. The FPO received just over 7 per cent, a 23 percent fall in the previous elections in 2015.
Meanwhile the UK continues to have one of the worst death rates and coronavirus cases per million in the world and the government has routinely attacked refugees in an attempt to distract from this.
Hence the recent headlines of the use of nets to disable dinghies carrying refugees across the English Channel, Home Secretary Priti Patel’s announcement of new legislation on asylum, including the creation of an offshore detention centre for asylum seekers, and her attacks on “do-gooder” and “lefty lawyers” in her recent speeches.
Such dog whistle whipping up of racism by politicians is routinely met with racist attacks on the ground. Days after one of Patel’s speeches at the beginning of September, a violent racist attack occurred in which a white man armed with a knife entered a law firm. Lawyers at the firm said: “Responsibility and accountability for this attack, in the eyes of this firm, lies squarely at the feet of Priti Patel..”
Recent figures indicate an extraordinary increase in racist hate crimes in Britain. Racially motivated offences accounted for three quarters of all hate crimes and increased by 4,000 in 2019-20 from the previous year.
The Victim Support charity reported “significant spikes” in June and July, and intimidation of BAME communities with false allegations of flouting rules during lockdown periods. The Home Office also suggested that the rise in racist attacks in June and July was a backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM).
The government’s disastrous approach to the coronavirus, in failing to take timely measures to eliminate the virus, continues to disproportionately impact Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. BAME communities account for over 25 per cent of hospital admissions and over 30 per cent of intensive care patients.
Furthermore recent research shows BAME communities were also disproportionately impacted by the economic consequences of covid. Data from the Understanding Society COVID-19 survey reveals that 8 and 10 per cent of BAME British and BAME migrant communities respectively lost their job, only 3.3% of the white non migrant communities lost their job. BAME British communities were 40% less likely than white British communities to benefit from employee protection such as furlough.
We need a public inquiry like the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, into the disproportionate impact of Covid on BAME communities.
Local lockdowns have not necessarily in response to the infection rate and instead an attack by the Conservative government on working class, multi-cultural and poorer areas, without proper financial support such as furlough.
A report in the Sunday Times on 4 October revealed that “wealthy areas, including the chancellor Rishi Sunak’s parliamentary seat, are avoiding lockdown despite having higher Covid-19 rates than poorer areas that are subject to restrictions..”
The report quotes a letter from Professor Dominic Harrison, the director of public health for Blackburn with Darwen to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) saying:
“There is now a different level of central control applied across local authorities, with some of the more economically challenged boroughs being placed into more restrictive control measures at an earlier point in their..case rate trajectory. This has the effect of exacerbating the economic inequality impacts of the virus in those areas..”
The only effective solution to the present crisis is for the government to eliminate the virus by following a “zero covid” strategy as seen in New Zealand, Australia, China and Vietnam. This is the best way to save lives and safely and most effectively restart the economy.
This must include lockdown measures, an efficient and effective system of test, track and isolate, economic and financial support such as more funding for the NHS and schools to support more home learning, bringing back furlough and small business financial support for at least another year.
Now more than ever we must build a strong, united movement against racism, fascism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, sinophobia, celebrate our multicultural society and defend the freedom of religion, thought and cultural expression.
This year’s Stand up to Racism online conference takes place at a timely moment, where all these crucial issues will be discussed.
From Britain, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Diane Abbott MP, Dawn Butler MP, Kate Osamor MP, Richard Burgon MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP, Kevin Courtney NEU Joint Gen Sec, Unison’s Roger McKenzie and Lawrence Davies, Human Rights Lawyer, Justice for Belly Mujinga will be addressing the conference, alongside many who have experienced police violence and a range of other guests.
They will be joined by international speakers including the host and producer of The Real News Network Jacqueline Luqman (US), Thanasis Kampagiannis, anti-fascist lawyer in Golden Dawn trial (Greece), Martvs Chagas PT National Secretary for Combating Racism (Brazil), Petros Constantinou (Greece), KEEFA | Bundestag member Christine Buchholz (Germany), Justice Campaigner Mahamadou Camara (France) and BLM activist Baba Aye (Nigeria)
Taking action at this crucial time will be central to the event. As well as preparing for actions over the US Presidential election, November brings Islamophobia awareness month, where anti-racists will be building solidarity with the Muslim community and renewing efforts to tackle hate crime against Muslims. As refugees face attacks from Britain and across Europe, the Care4Calais winter appeal will bring relief to some of the most vulnerable people in the continent.
January will see Holocaust Memorial day, and a host of meetings and events across the country remembering the millions who died in the Holocaust, standing together against antisemitism and fascism and saying loudly and clearly Never Again.
And on March 20th for UN Anti-Racism Day, anti-racists across the world will be organising events to bring forward a powerful message that the majority of humanity stands against racism.
Plenaries will be streamed live on Stand up to Racism’s Facebook and YouTube this Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th October at 5pm. To register for workshops at 3PM on Saturday and find out more click here.
The above article was first published here by Stand Up To Racism.