Does Black Lives Matter speak for black Brits? The organisation’s objectives are certainly radical: it has professed public support for direct action in the name of ‘black liberation’, along with aspirations to dismantle the capitalist economy. It has also said it wants to get rid of the police and abolish prisons. It’s safe to say those views are not shared by many of those BLM claims to represent.
A new report by the Henry Jackson Society reveals that, while nearly six in ten black people in Britain think the UK is a fundamentally racist society (a view shared by three in ten people in the general population), the core objectives of BLM are far from well supported.
Fewer than one in five black British people support reduced investment for their local police force, with only a quarter backing the replacement of the UK’s market economy with a socialist system.
It won’t come as much of a surprise to learn that those surveyed were largely patriotic and opposed to radical hard-left objectives surrounding the economy and the police. Importantly, 62 per cent of black Brits attach value to their British national identity. This is virtually identical to the figure of 64 per cent for the wider general population.
Fewer than one in five believe tearing down statues is an acceptable form of political protest. Meanwhile, only one in 20 black Brits said they thought the use of force against a police officer is an acceptable form of political protest.
Britain is far from a perfect country and it’s true that there is much work to be done in improving social cohesion, equality of opportunity, and police-community relations in the UK.
It is also worrying that three in ten black British people believe their racial group has been unfairly treated by the NHS in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is unlikely to be helpful for vaccine uptake as we embark on the roadmap out of lockdown.
But while more needs to be done to make Britain more inclusive, this doesn’t mean that BLM should be the ones to lead the charge. BLM might be one of the loudest anti-racist movements, yet it is clear that it does not speak for all of those who want racism to be consigned to the dustbin of history.
How does calling climate change ‘racist’, as UK BLM has done, help this fight? The answer for many is simply this: it doesn’t. Indeed, the organisation’s objectives go far beyond bread-and-butter issues of racial fairness, such as reducing discrimination in the labour market and reforming social institutions so they are more responsive to the needs of a diverse population.
You won’t hear it from BLM, but the UK remains one of the most successful examples of a post-war multi-racial democracy. We need to build on this progress and address weaknesses in an inclusive and fair-minded manner. This includes strengthening state-citizen relations, especially in respect of disaffected communities of Black Caribbean origin.
But the revolutionary tendencies central to the BLM movement do not hold the answers. As well as UK BLM’s radicalism being unrepresentative of black British opinion, the disorderly behaviour witnessed at BLM demonstrations pose a threat to social cohesion and public order. Attacking police officers and vandalising public property has no place in a liberal democracy with respect for the rule of law as its cornerstone.
The new independent review ordered by Boris Johnson, which will investigate far-left activity in movements such as BLM, is a welcome development. Ideologues threaten to undermine progressive social causes and weaken the credibility of the broader anti-racist movement. And no ‘anti-racist’ organisation is worthy of the label if it is reluctant to express solidarity with black British police officers – public sector workers on the frontline – who were targeted during BLM demonstrations.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.
Dr Rakib Ehsan is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society