Brexit and Donald Trump’s success in the US presidential elections have intensified an already existing trend: politicians’ and commentators’ obsessive fixation with the white working class. The left has been told – and is telling itself – that it must prioritise connecting with this group. But there are many problems with this, not least because it means privileging whiteness above all other forms of identity and solving white people’s problems at the expense of people of colour.
Low-income black and Asian women are paying the highest price for austerity. By 2020 they will have lost nearly double the amount of money poor white men have. You wouldn’t know any of this from the current discourse around austerity, poverty and Brexit Britain: women of colour are consistently written out of the picture.
I refuse to recount, in this short article, the importance of Black feminism and womanism as if these inter-related praxes are at all ‘new’ or as if Black feminists and womanists over the centuries have been unclear in our demands, interests and goals. To reckon with these intellectual and activist traditions requires a process of decolonisation in feminism. To centre and take seriously the knowledge, perspectives and experiences of women of colour necessitates an honest reflection as to why and how white supremacy is upheld and reproduced in mainline feminism and other ostensibly emancipatory movements. To recognise women of colour as intellectuals, political agents and authors of our lives requires purported ‘allies’ to critically consider why their chosen ideologies of gender, class, sexuality or disability will not permit complex understandings of race alongside—not in competition with—these other axes of difference. Thus, whilst Black feminists and womanists must bear the burden of misrecognition and invisibility—and continue to theorise and organise despite our erasure—this is not our problem to solve.
Despite vociferous claims to the contrary, Brexit really is about race—but not in ways we might expect. In this seemingly ‘post-race’ era, Brexit shows us how whiteness, as a power relation, operates in ways to cast itself as both a ‘victim’ and an ‘innocent’ simultaneously.
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The experiences of women of colour in left-wing anti-austerity movements in Britain and the Black Lives Matter movements in the United States highlight the persistent problem of our erasure in these supposedly radical democratic spaces. Women of colour’s struggles to have our intersectional social justice claims taken seriously by ‘allies’ exposes the fragility, and in some cases, the impossibility, of building solidarity across race, class, gender, sexuality and other categories of difference in protest movements.
Dr. Leah Bassel was speaking at the British Academy’s debate ‘Immigration and the Making of British Identity’. Dr. Bassel shared the stage with with Professor Robin Cohen, Professor Montserrat Guibernau and Professor John Solomos.
Our aim in this article is to challenge the invisibility of minority women – women who experience the effects of processes such as racialisation, class and gender domination, hierarchies of legal status – in representations and politics of ‘economic crisis’ in England, Scotland and France.