Big Issue Vendor

#BlackLivesMatter has as much in common with Marx as Millwall

The movement and the political organisation are not the same things, says Femi Oluwole
Millwall's stadium in south London, where fans booed the sight of players kneeling in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Image credit: dgeezer/Flickr

When George Floyd was gasping for air, I know that one thought was going through his mind: “We have got to nationalise the railways”.

At least that’s the impression that I get from some Conservative politicians and right-wing commentators: That the #BlackLivesMatter movement which has existed since 2013, and whose flames were fanned by the murder of George Floyd, is about Marxism.

That’s why today, when asked to comment on the Millwall fans who booed footballers taking the knee for #BlackLivesMatter in the match yesterday, Agriculture Minister George Eustice said “BLM is actually a political movement”.

#BlackLivesMatter is a global movement against systemic racism. Many organisations have been set up in different countries to help drive the movement. By definition, that means you can’t say that any individual organisation speaks for the whole #BlackLivesMatter movement.

In fact, many of us who consider ourselves part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement strongly oppose the UK organisation that was set up in its name. Yet despite prominent black voices regularly screaming “It’s not about the political organisation; It’s just about equality”, conservatives and Conservatives keep saying they don’t support the “Marxist” organisation whenever it comes up.

I just used the phrase “conservatives and Conservatives” and you understood that conservative (small c) refers to people with conservative values, while Conservative (big C) means members of the Conservative Party. And if the Conservative Party suddenly started increasing corporation tax and legalising marijuana, you wouldn’t say “I guess we need to change the dictionary definition of ‘conservative’ to include weed-smoking communists.” So why do conservatives and Conservatives act like it’s hard to understand the difference between the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the Black Lives Matter organisation?

Look at it this way. Marxism is obviously something conservatives don’t like. And yet despite black people constantly saying that #BlackLivesMatter is not about some Marxist organisation and is just about equality, many conservatives insist it is about Marxism.

They’re choosing to see #BlackLivesMatter as the thing they hate, rather than the thing black people are saying it is. You would only do this if you were trying to undermine the fight against racism. It’s the standard political game of pretending the thing you don’t like is something you have an excuse to oppose.

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab even tried to argue that taking a knee in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter is like kneeling before a king in Game of Thrones. Many others imply that it’s lowering yourself below black people. Not if we’re all kneeling together! It’s a symbol of solidarity, kneeling shoulder to shoulder with all races.

The fact is, we live in a country where, according to Oxford research, someone with a Nigerian-sounding name has to send 80 per cent more job applications to get a job offer, and our Prime Minister once said that the problem in Africa is not that we were once in charge, but that we’re not in charge anymore.

Systemic racism in the UK is a fact. Millions say #BlackLivesMatter as part of a campaign to change it. But too many politicians, journalists and Millwall fans are using Karl Marx and Jon Snow as an excuse to keep everything as it is.

Femi Oluwole is a political activist and commentator, specialising in Brexit affairs.