Why I disagree that Black Lives Matter has made the anti-racism message harder to achieve

Glen Chisholm has written in support of the BLM movement

Glen Chisholm has written in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the work it has done to highlight systemic inequalities. - Credit: Archant

In this newspaper recently, Ipswich MP Tom Hunt wrote a column saying why he feels Black Lives Matter has made the anti-racism message harder to achieve. I disagree, and feel some of the attacks on the movement and on those trying to enact social change are the real barrier to the anti-racism message. 

While Mr Hunt and I have different political beliefs, I have defended him and his staff receiving abuse, and I applaud the work he has done around special educational needs and raising awareness around pet theft.

But on the issue of eliminating racism, while I'm sure we want the same ends, at times it feels Mr Hunt gives mixed messages.

An example around this is his stance on "white privilege” and in my view conflating it's meaning and suggesting it doesn't exist because we have poor working class white pupils struggling.

No one can deny that there are socio-economic factors that block progression and aspiration for working class children of all backgrounds, and the Ipswich Opportunity Area, which I've worked with, is trying to address this.

But for young white pupils the barriers they face are not there because of the colour of their skin. It's about being able to move through life without being racially profiled or unfairly stereotyped. Being able to turn on your TV and see people of your race widely represented without people trying to boycott a supermarket for including a black family in an advert. 

The Black Lives Matter movement that was sparked by injustice in America spread to this country after the awful killing of George Floyd in the US. This shined a spotlight on racism and inequality that exist here.

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Those of us who have faced racism or have seen and been impacted by it's effects had known about the issues and been trying to highlight them for years, often finding ourselves shutdown and ignored. The spotlight the Black Lives Matter movement created has inspired organisations and individuals to look at themselves and enact change. 

A cross party parliamentary Committee on Human Rights published a report in November this year looking at racism, in response to the inequalities the Black Lives Matter movement highlighted.

Some of the findings are disturbing, with 60% of black people in the UK not believing their health is as equally protected by the NHS compared to white people. The death rate for black women in childbirth is five times higher than for white women.

Mr Hunt states "wherever racism rears it's ugly head in society, it should be robustly confronted and stamped out".

We agree on that, but racism is not always blatant and in your face, it can be subtle and insidious and take the guise of inequalities that are hidden because they effect the minority.

That's why it was disappointing to see Mr Hunt so dismissive of the idea of unconscious bias training and being part of the group of MPs complaining about the National Trust, accusing them of 'wokery'.

Education is so important and this is how we can move to a society where hate and ignorance is unacceptable. It means not, as some suggest, of rewriting history - this that is not what’s happening. It's acknowledgement that history is a living entity and as time grows so does context and perspective. It's acknowledgement of those who have had their contribution whitewashed from history and show the true impact of our shared history. 

It's also about acknowledgement of the systemic inequalities that Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted and working together to address them.

- Glen Chisholm is a Labour councillor for Whitehouse on Ipswich Borough Council, and a former mayor of the town.