Black History Month: Let’s choose joy

Published date
I think we can all agree that 2020 has been quite a year. The Covid crisis has shown us more clearly than ever that, even if we're all in the same sea, some of us are in very different boats. And some of us are floating in the water just trying our best not to go under.

The Black Lives Matters movement, which gained greater prominence following the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, awoke the world to the lived experiences of Black people in a way that felt monumental. 

These past few months have been a painful reminder of what Black people have always known – that systemic racism affects everyone, both those who reap the benefits as well as those who suffer its atrocities. The voices of Black activists must guide our progress – “nothing about us without us”. But it's not for Black people alone to solve the national 'race problem'. It's for our White brother and sisters, comrades, friends and colleagues to look inward and act outward.

The TUC has recognised this challenge by launching a new anti-racism taskforce. The taskforce has the backing and support of all national unions and is chaired by NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roache. We look forward to supporting this important work here in Wales. 

The Covid crisis has demonstrated a deep undercurrent of hatred, intolerance and racism in our society. We all know about the sharp rise in the number of reported race hate crimes, including here in Wales. We see it in our papers and social media feeds. We witness the micro aggressions that often go unchecked, the stuff that gets said without any words being used to define it. It was always there but now it speaks its name louder and is heard more often. We hear high profile divisional figures supporting anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rhetoric. It’s a dangerous presence that speaks to fear and hatred and it’s something that our Trade Union movement must fight against. 

There are many ways to stand up to such a hatred, but this October – Black History Month – we state publicly that we are choosing joy.

Why celebrate Black joy, and why now?

Too often Black lives are viewed through the lens of their struggle. It’s true that we stand on the shoulders of giants from the civil rights movement, abolition of slavery, anti-apartheid, organising for the removal of the colour bar, visible representation in public life and so forth. But it can become pretty tiring for Black activists to keep educating and leading the charge against injustice and intolerance. 

If the wider public only see the struggle, then Black lives will only be linked to pain. Mainstream white culture will be allowed to believe that to be Black is to suffer. 

We should reject this narrow-sighted view and highlight Black joy and Black leadership too. The act of choosing joy is a political statement of not being defined by others' narrow perspective and living our lives on our terms. 

Celebrating our culture, our people, our lives, our happiness, our achievements and our Welsh identity is important too. Changing the narrative and not letting others put us down is as important in the advancement of equality. This is not about dismissing our struggles or pain, but freeing ourselves from it. It’s about refusing to allow Black lives to be defined on someone else’s terms.

What's next for Black activists in the Trade Union movement?

Our Trade Union movement has been shaped by Black activists. It's important that we always remember this and are grateful for their achievements. This month - Black History Month - we will be using our platform to celebrate Black joy and the achievements of our Black union members and leaders through biographies and memorials. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to discover inspirational Black activists, and tell us who inspires you.

This does not mean that October is the only month in which Black Lives Matter. Our work on equality is far from done. The Trade Union movement should provide Black people with help, rest, power, community and active solidarity. Being an ally isn't about jumping off the train when things get tough. It's about being a collaborator and active supporter. It’s challenging institutional systemic racism and discrimination.

This movement strives to be equitable and proud in raising Black intersectional voices and listening to what needs to change. So, while we spend October celebrating, our movement will spend the rest of the year listening, amplifying and growing. We’ll do so joyfully and intentionally. 

We joined millions of others in using the #BlackLivesMatters hashtag but we won’t let that be an act of performative ally-ship. The Black Lives Matter movement was a wakeup call to our union movement as well. 

We need justice for Black people. And that means fair pay, equal terms and conditions, improved access to progression and opportunities for learning in our workplaces. Until we've achieved this our movement cannot rest.