When a Nigerian woman told a London news crew that Black Lives Matter can "f*** off," was her statement reflective of the unspoken derision of many others about BLMUK? While there is no such thing as the black community, much less an African migrant community with homogenous views, the commentary caused me to reflect on conversations with people from the same background. Outlined below, are 5 reasons the movement may have failed to resonate in Britain.
1. The 'Black' in Black Lives Matter: That is, the question of which blacks are represented in BLM. Blackness as an identifier may have been ascribed by Arab and European imperialists but today seems most resonant among Americans. Africans see their identities primarily through a tribal lens than a racial one - beyond that, as citizens of their home nations; and lastly, as Africans, before black, which makes it difficult to apply the implication of race across a universal category. An attempt to stage a BLM protest in Senegal in July was banned. Black antislavery activists in Mauritania continue to be imprisoned for challenging the Arab enslavement of blacks in Africa, but similarly to situations where non-whites perpetuate violence, this does not appear to be a priority for BLM.
2. LGBTQ+: For founders of BLM, one of the ways the movement advances previous efforts such as the civil rights movement of the 60's is its emphasis on queer leaders, as a rejection of the hyper-masculine and often homophobic stance that was prevalent in black liberation movements such as the Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers. Figures show that Africans on the whole largely reject all forms of non-heterosexuality with harsh penalties for sexual deviance and these conservative views are still imbibed by its African immigrant communities.
Should the African community change its views to be more inclusive of LGBT people? Yes, absolutely and urgently, and there are signs that this is already taking place, with movements such as the African Rainbow Family and House of Rainbow Fellowship leading the way.
3. Feminism: Similarly, feminism is at the forefront of BLM, but feminism as an ideology in its western form does not translate to Africans in any meaningful way that resonates. A handful of African feminist blogs or speeches by no means represents millions of women on the continent, who while denied fundamental rights due to gender bias, would still refuse to embrace an ideology that in its current state undermines the family unit, which is a priority for Africans, in sharp contrast to the black American welfare and single-parent culture.
African women for the most part still see their domestication as a source of power, not powerlessness and to be a stay-at-home married mother remains an aspiration, even for the most well-read women. Women desperately require legislation to combat gendered violence - but it is necessary to highlight the contrast between the world of the African immigrant to Britain and the imported American Black Lives Matter movement and its failure to resonate with black Africans.
4. Religion: BLM activists have rejected the Christianity that sheltered their parent's generation and provided a respite for their forebears in the time of enslavement when they took courage from the bible. Unlike the civil rights movement which centred itself squarely in the church, BLM have pitched their tents on the streets, hijacking unrelated rallies, heckling speakers, blocking ambulances, motorways and airport runways.
Curiously, BLMUK protests comprises of some of the same rent-a-activist faces that pop up at BDS and pro-censorship protests who call for 'black-Palestinian solidarity' and a queer alliance against Islamophobia.
While there is notable rise in the lack of spirituality amongst young blacks, African immigrants have remained largely religious, conservatively Christian and are stumped by the policing of speech in the west around Islamophobia. Many Nigerians for example, growing up in the multi-faith country, come from a culture where banter about religious prophets is common playground entrée, and rather than take offence, have built their debating muscles to challenge speech without an immediate call to censor.
5. Decolonisation: The most pertinent factor is the premise on which BLMUK and contemporary anti-racist movements are built: the insistence on looking at the world through an 'oppressed' and 'privileged' binary, where descriptors such as 'underprivileged' have come to be synonymous with anything other than white. The embracing of intersectionality and identity politics as a means to decolonise the world has pushed BLMUK to a position whereby it fails to recognise that it exists partly because the world it inhabits is already free. Albeit a starkly unequal one, but a free one nonetheless, making organising around decolonisation akin to kicking down open doors.
While young activists in the west have adopted a vocabulary of phrases such as 'oppression,' 'marginalisation' and 'crisis', African immigrants often have first-hand experiences of what these words can mean, and as such, are less hesitant to throw them around unwarranted.
BLMUK's flirtation with communism and caliphates, while demonstrating disdain for capitalism and the west is at odds with the experience of African migrants, many of whom escape from failed states in order to realise dreams made possible by the very factors which are undermined by BLMUK.
While Africans would unanimously support the original aims of BLM, few are convinced by their actions and rhetoric. Indeed, there are urgent challenges faced by African migrants to the UK but many doubt that BLMUK is competent enough to attend to any of those, given its juvenile tactics and campaigns based on exaggerated figures, which have served to alienate, rather than capture the hearts and minds of the UK's black African populace.