With its roots in the British trade union movement, political blackness is an umbrella term used to refer to all the people who are likely to experience racial discrimination based on skin colour. Historically in the trade union movement, it was understood that whether you were black Caribbean or brown Pakistani, you would still be considered sub-human, or at least a second-class citizen, in the UK. Thus, trade unionists began to employ this term to unite workers and create a collective voice that is more powerful than the word “minority” suggests.
It is in this British context of political blackness that Black History Month in October every year has not been restricted to black American, Caribbean and African history. Instead, it has included the histories of all people of colour – notably Asian history.
However, political blackness has been criticised over the years. Since many outside of the trade union movement do not understand the history and meaning of the term, there have been misunderstandings between well-intentioned anti-racist activists and the public (e.g. tabloids picking up on Zayn Malik’s photo being used to promote Black History Month, sparking outrage).
Moreover, some black Americans have criticised the term for allowing non-black people of colour to benefit from anti-racist activism while erasing, if not appropriating black voices. While this might be a result of cultural misunderstandings, there is a case to be made. Non-black people of colour (NBPOC) have the potential to perpetuate anti-black racism, especially when anti-blackness is so prevalent in some of their cultures (e.g. consider all the skin-whitening products in Asia). NBPOC need to be conscious of this in their activism.
At the end of the day, if we are to educate ourselves, learn the history of the term and respect the intentions behind it, political blackness is a powerful concept inducing solidarity in a country where there are not that many people of colour statistically. Nevertheless, language is fluid and dynamic – political blackness may endure time or one day become outdated.
One of our podcast episodes examines the benefits and drawbacks of political blackness in Scotland today.
Author of Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge discusses the history, the value and the issues of political blackness in the her podcast. In the episode, she interviews the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, a member of the British Black Panther movement in the 1970s, Farrukh Dhondy, two younger feminist activists and rapper, author and activist, Akala.
An interesting article by GalDem also weighs the pros and cons of political blackness.