Anti racism and lived experience

fanonSince the onset of the recession and the demise of the NCCRI and the cut in
the budget of the Equality Authority and the Irish Commission on Human
Rights, no one has been speaking much about racism. Most Irish people feel
they have other priorities, as they try to make ends meet, get a bank loan,
or secure their pensions.

Racism, however, has not disappeared. Migrants, Travellers and members of
other ethnic minorities are reporting a marked increase in racist incidents,
though, apart from CSO statistics on ‘racially motivated crimes’ (which
don’t differentiate the experiences of Travellers, migrants or other
racialised groups) there is little hard evidence.

It was therefore encouraging that the Equality Authority and the European
Network against Racism organised a discussion forum on ‘Tackling racism and
the impact of racist stereotypes’. The event, hosting academics, members of
NGOs, some of whom were themselves migrants, Travellers and members of
minorities, aimed to identify ‘best practices and tools to address racism
including racism arising from stereotypes’.

However yet again, none of the speakers was a member of a migrant or
minority group. The keynote speaker was Anastasia Crickley, a long time
anti-racist campaigner for Traveller and minority rights, and chairperson of
the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (formerly the EU Monitoring Centre against
Racism, Antisemitism and Xenophobia). She listed four reasons for addressing
racism: charity, cohesion, economics and ethics, but she did not speak about
the politics of antiracism, or about the role of the state in perpetrating
racism. In the Equality Authority’s background document, ‘Living Together:
European Citizenship against Racism and Xenophobia’ the best practices
listed for Ireland mostly focused on cultural diversity, not antiracism.
Twelve years after the European Year Against Racism, racism is still spoken
about in terms of cultural diversity. The EA’s event gave no space to the
lived experiences or analysis of racism by the racialised.

The famous anti colonial fighter Frantz Fanon emphasised the lived
experience of the black man. Yet  contemporary academic preoccupation with
‘culture’ and ‘identity’ as the sole positions of the struggle of racialised
people leads to the conflation of ‘identity politics’ with anti-racism and
to the depoliticisation of the anti-racist struggle. However, one of the
most important questions asked in relation to antiracism is ‘who speaks for
whom, who says what and from where?’ Antiracism can be either generalised –
intending to raise awareness among the population and reach a post-racial
‘racelessness’, or colour blindness. Or it can be self-representational,
where the lived experience of the racialised informs the struggle.
Generalist antiracism is anchored in universal values such as democracy,
human rights, equality and tolerance; it reduces the importance of state
racism and emphasises individual (or institutional) prejudice.  In contrast,
self organising antiracism stresses the role of the state, which focuses on
notions of the race idea rooted in the political structure. The lived
experience of the protagonists informs the struggle and names the state as
the main culprit rather than stress individual prejudice, a way of
depoliticising racism and antiracism.

Not privileging the experiences of the racialised means nothing much has
changed. Antiracism in Ireland continues to be solidaristic, performed by
well meaning white, settled, Christian Irish people, whose ‘best practices’
documents continue in the tradition of soft interculturalism and cultural
diversity, while racism goes on.