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what we’re seeing is people who are just devastated by the fact that their power over others is being challenged. I do believe that we are winning. What we’re winning is the ability to have [and] to practice self-determination. – Cyndi Suarez, Edge Leadership

Talking about a revolution, sounds like a whisper – Tracy Chapman

Of course, you are being gaslit.

That it is so obvious is how we know we are winning. Calling it out is crucial, but remember, it’s not the work. Luxuriating in the glow of being right, is the MSG of progress; eating without satiating hunger. Doing so through the conflict driven media platforms of the powerful, is the ‘covefe’ of change; nonsensical. This is a battle for control of our imaginations, our ability to make meaning collectively and individually in response to our experiences, to disrupt the world as it is and create the world as we need it to be. Political systems, such as ours, based on mass citizen engagement ought to be rejoicing – the people are ‘leaning in’. Given a rare opportunity to pause and reflect en masse, led by a burning sense of injustice among our youth, the people demanded their fundamental democratic right to equality before the law. Seeing only threat in this opportunity, our government commissioned a distraction. So resistant to extending justice and fearful of accountability for their part in failure, they moved to deny even this basic demand before the shops even re-opened.

Of course, you are being gaslit.

It is for this reason that a statement as simple as ‘Black Lives Matter’ has reverberated globally and has the establishment shook. 2021 started with white supremacists storming the US Capitol to assert that their lives should matter more than those of Black people. In the UK, those who wield economic and political power have rushed to exclude racial equity from what ’building back better’ can include. Declaring a ‘cultural war’ on the woke is to seek victory in citizen apathy, in encouraging the public to turn a blind eye to injustice, and cynically persuading just enough of the electorate to hold onto power, that the liberation of Black people, trans people, queer people, or the poor from oppression is a threat to their futures, rather than the crucial next steps in fulfilling the democratic promise.

Of course, you are being gaslit.

Get used to it. Nearly 30 years into a career that has revolved around challenging social injustice, I wish my job descriptions had included, ‘being lied to by the powerful’. It would have reduced the disappointment at each instance; and stopped me blaming myself for their venality. As the Trump presidency exposed so brutally, they know that they are playing fast and loose with the truth, and do not care.

Indeed, becoming entangled in debate about the latest lie is part of ‘the art of the deal’. Distracting, frustrating, evading, and goading are not tools that those seeking social justice should utilise because they erode hope in the possibility of building a better future. For those intent on defending the status quo, they are stock in trade. Hope is not their concern. In fact, typically, the story that they seek to tell is one of despair; that the state has only a limited role in addressing injustice or control over its causes, and that the problems are both too complex and too complicated to address. They make claims to channel common sense, arguing that they are objective observers while those seeking justice are ‘emotional’ and prone to exaggeration. Their playbook extends to suggesting that those seeking justice are guilty of perpetuating that injustice. Any concessions that they make are to establish official committees, or long-term inquiries, with offers of reviews sometime in the future.

Of course, you are being gaslit.

It has become an accepted function of modern politics to seek to ‘control the narrative’. While described as an independent commission, control of its publication date and final shape was decided by the Number 10 Policy Unit in the weeks between the submission of the report and its publication. I feel for the commissioners. I know from personal experience how challenging collaborating on a report of this scale can be – lockdown will not have made it any easier. It has been painful to watch a series of commissioners seek to direct attention to parts of the report that they clearly fought for, that were undermined by the framing imposed by Sewell and Number 10 – damage done.  A highly competent group, no doubt flattered to be invited to contribute, may have thought they were being invited to an open debate that would review the current evidence honestly. Time wasted, just like that of hundreds of people who took time to offer their thoughts in writing in response to a ‘consultation’.

The Race & Disparities Report was published ten years to the day since a debate organised on behalf of the Runnymede Trust at which Tony Sewell spoke alongside the then editor of Prospect, David Goodhart, in defence of their shared ‘project’ to deny the salience of racism in public policy, ‘Rethinking Race’. A project fronted by Munira Mirza, current Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit. In the intervening decade it appears that no facts have changed because their opinions remain the same. 

Of course, you are being gaslit.

That is simply par for the course. That it is so clumsy and obvious shows that they are rattled, but do not expect them to stop. While it has been heartening to see the twitterati dissect and reject wholesale the inadequacies of the Race and Disparities Report, this is not a point-scoring exercise. Success does not require sackcloth and ashes apologies from those who are not interested in progress. We are on a different terrain. So, for me, today will mean getting back to work. None of that work involves spending hours composing the perfect Twitter burn, or jockeying for position on a breakfast TV sofa to get in a zinger that only serves to boost ad revenue or ratings for media or tech companies that avoid close scrutiny of their own racist practices.

The work does involve constructing alternative possibilities and new kinds of spaces for connection. It involves nurturing hope rather than despair. It requires building the resilience of all, especially our young, so that we can reduce the impact of the lies our so-called leaders are prepared to tell to maintain their positions. We work to create the context for social innovation, because more of the same, will only produce more of the same.

I first met Tony Sewell when I was 19 years old. We argued. Most of those who witnessed it agreed with me; I’d won the argument. He then wrote about me in a newspaper column, suggesting that I got into university due to ‘positive discrimination’ and did not deserve my place. We’ve rarely agreed since. He was wrong then and he is wrong now. He’s had enough of my attention. I will not, however tempting it may be, engage in personal attacks because we do not agree. In the future I’m working for, we do better, not bitter.

Octavia Butler in The Parable of The Sower tells us that ‘Belief initiates action. Or it does nothing.’ Change of the scale and impact that we need will only come about through changing ourselves and our relationships to each other. By learning through our collective actions what it takes to live in a just and fair society and then replicating. The tools of distraction and mendacity won’t do for us. We will need to build our own tools and movements that match our values.

Such change cannot be delivered by diktat from government, particularly one as discredited as the one we currently have. A government that considers it an appropriate response to peaceful public protest, and a near-unprecedented surge in political engagement from citizens it purports to serve, to remove the right to protest. No one asked for another report, we know what changes are required, and how a succession of governments have failed to deliver credible responses to truly independent sets of recommendations.

50 years ago this month, Gil Scott-Heron, ‘The Godfather of Rap’, recorded ‘The Revolution Will not be Televised’. Speaking about the classic in the 1990s he noted,

The thing that’s going to change people is something that nobody will ever be able to capture on film. It’s just something that you see, and you’ll think, “Oh I’m on the wrong page,” or “I’m on I’m on the right page but the wrong note. And I’ve got to get in sync with everyone else to find out what’s happening in this country.” – Gil Scott Heron

In 2020 for many, the penny finally dropped. They realised that racism was not an historical phenomenon, or something that only happened overseas. In response they filled the streets to demand change, they pushed their workplaces to do better, and put pressure on brands to change practice and presentation. I’m looking forward to seeing how this cultural zeitgeist shifts the stubborn patterns of racial inequality in the UK. 

No one said it was going to be easy. Nothing worth it is.


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