Education vital in fight against racism

Unite’s Susan Matthews takes part in Labour’s Black Lives Matter event

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The vital importance of the Black Lives Matter movement in overcoming racial inequality was discussed on Saturday (September 19) at Labour’s Women Connected conference, which was part of the main party conference at the weekend.

A number of speakers took part in the panel discussion, including Unite executive council Black And Asian Ethnic Minority (BAEM) rep Susan Matthews; Labour MPs Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Chi Onwurah, Kate Osamor, and Diane Abbott; as well as Sandwell councillor Jackie Taylor.

Susan highlighted the importance of understanding and fighting racism through the prism of our institutions and structures, where racism has long been entrenched and continues to be to this day.

“The key to understanding race and racism is to understand how racism has manifested itself in the day to day lives of Black people,” she said. “The fight against racism is not new — it has been an ongoing fight for all generations.”

Susan added that racism has marked every facet of the lives of Black people – from the lack of political engagement; to segregation and exclusion in education; to housing segregation; social deprivation; social injustice and more.

But, she noted that “racism can be fixed if society changes their mindset and thinking”.

Susan said that the vital first step in overcoming racial inequality is acknowledging that racism is embedded in all our institutions. Only then can we remake those institutions into more equal and just ones.

“Government, business and society can start by addressing systematic changes to racism structuralism, addressing the systematic failure in our political system, education system, housing system, the court system, and police system,” she said.

“Structural changes are needed because there is a level of institutionalised racism associated with racial discrimination that is embedded in society and entrenched in terms of values, and are not easy to uproot.”

Susan went on to point out how both the Black Lives Matter movement that has swept the globe and a global pandemic have helped expose the inequalities faced by Black and Asian Ethnic Minority (BAEM) communities.

She noted that coming from a trade union perspective, “we recognise that Black people experience and bear racial discrimination as well as the unequal burden of structural and systematic racism within the workplaces”.

Susan said the best antidote to fighting racism is through education and in particular highlighted Unite’s Unity Over Division campaign, which trains union reps, members and activists how to counter racist narratives in workplaces and in the wider community.

Speaking to UniteLIVE after Saturday’s event, Susan said she was very pleased by the wide-ranging discussion they had.

“It was an interesting debate and it was also the first of its kind – it was really groundbreaking to have so many diverse Black women in leadership roles together at Labour conference discussing such an important topic,” she noted.

“We came from so many different perspectives and angles, but we arrived at similar outcomes and conclusions,” Susan added.

All the panelists shared their own experiences of racism in their careers, which highlighted just how much of an everyday, normalised evil racism has become.

For Susan, she says she often experiences racism as a Black woman in a leadership role.

“I’m an assertive, strong Black woman and people confuse assertiveness with aggression – it’s a stereotypical view. Black women in leadership roles who can speak and articulate truth are so often simply written off as aggressive or arrogant.”

Susan went on to tell UniteLIVE the vital importance of language in the fight to overcome racism, and explained why we should use the union-agreed term Black and Asian Ethnic Minority (BAEM).

“People use the term BAME because it’s convenient. But there has been a big backlash against the term BAME because people do not want to be described by this term – because of the injustices that come along with it, since our government and institutions don’t want to address the issues we face,” she said. “That’s why it was so important that Unite made the rule change to BAEM.”

Above all, Susan reiterated to UniteLIVE that education is the ultimate foundation of any fight against racism.

“Unite’s anti-racism education initiative, Unity Over Division, is now more important than ever before because it helps us to have those difficult conversations and address the inequalities in our workplaces and the use of inappropriate language. This is how the union is making a concrete difference in the fight against racism.”

You can find out more about Unite’s Unity Over Division campaign here.

By Hajera Blagg

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