The Ubele Initiative is launching Harakati, a new project to explore opportunities to strengthen and expand the infrastructure that supports anti-racism movements in the UK. The name “Harakati” for this project is derived from the word “movement” in Swahili and Arabic.
The profound changes of the last year have dramatically shifted the landscape of anti-racist action. We’ve seen how social movements have the power to fundamentally reshape public discourse and catalyse mass action. Past and current experiences may lead us to worry that these gains will be short-lived, undermined and co-opted. This is exactly why we feel it’s necessary to look at the role of infrastructure, as one of many inputs and support systems that underpin and sustain racial justice work.
This seems especially important now. More people are engaging, new groups are being established and existing groups are elevating their ambitions. What are the underlying support systems that can meet the evolving scale, depth and complexity of racial justice work?
We often hear about ‘racial justice’ as part of the work people do. What we will communicate in this research, is that we actually currently exist in a state of ‘racial injustice’. As it stands in the UK: there has not been legal or political justice, reparations, retribution or State recognition of Black and minioritised people and their history, including how and why they experience the legacy of the British Empire to this day. The result of this is historic financial underinvestment, health disparities, housing disparities, ethnic cleansing, and murder. An example: the case of Mark Duggan and the disproportionate number of Black people who have died in custody of the criminal justice system, police brutality, asylum centres and more; has yet to be brought into any kind of justice by the State. Therefore, we presently exist in a state of ‘racial injustice’ in the UK.
Until there has been any significant legal change or even State recognition of global atrocities including the enslavement of Black people by the UK government; that continues to perpetuate injustice to this day, the work of ‘racial justice’ can’t be brought by just Black and minoritised people, nor anyone working in the voluntary, social enterprise or civil society sector, alone. We also know, anti-racist work throughout the UK across all sections, is what disturbs this state of injustice, in the pursuit of racial justice.
The first thing to acknowledge when defining this concept is that there is a distinct difference between ‘non-racist’ and ‘anti-racist’ (1). In making the proclamation that something is anti-racist, we acknowledge this is best measured by action to intentionally obstruct, resist and dismantle the oppressive structure of institutional, systemic, historic and deeply entrenched existing racism. It is not just an approach, feeling, intention or even opinion of opposition to racism. Often anti-racism is confused with ‘non-racism’ — which has a different result. Non-racist (which is a preoccupation with stressing what something is not, as opposed to what it is) often results in generally maintaining the status quo with little to no interruption.
An anti-racist organisation; involves constant and consistent de-centring, de-platforming and deconstructing of whiteness to instead, centre the needs and voices of Black and minoritised people, history and experiences throughout every level (top and bottom) of the organisation. It would definitely not stay neutral or ambiguous whilst engaging with politics, campaigning and advocacy; it might clearly communicate racist outcomes as an active present state, recognise it is history (not just individuals alone) that contribute to where we are now; taking and demanding accountability at every stage with the redistribution of power.
In this project, while taking a broad view of movements that are anti-racist, questions we ask ourselves include; how does one ensure that specific agendas, like anti-Black racism, aren’t subsumed or depoliticised? Or, how can anti-Black racism be centred to take an intersectional approach within other forms of anti-racist organising? In considering intersectionality (coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw (2)) — we interrogate with this lens to observe where power differentials exist within and across anti-racist movements, which voices are being overpowered, how issues and agendas interlink and what their relationship might be with each other. For example, who is more likely, or less likely, to benefit from broader economic, social and environmental justice movements?
As we started with Booska, we want to continue to be courageous to have uncomfortable conversations, remain explicit about institutional racism and keep centring those at the heart of anti-racist movements across the world; honouring people advocating for their lives through Black Lives Matter. Here are some of the ways we’ll be approaching this work, including the questions we’ll be looking to address and some of the dilemmas we’re facing.
We’re embarking on this exploration with openness and curiosity, a desire to listen and learn from and with different organisations, groups and individuals involved in anti-racist work. Not only what forms of infrastructure, but also what would allow them to meet their goals and how we can challenge prevailing ideas and norms implied in existing models.
We take infrastructure to mean the underlying support system that provides the conditions for a movement to flourish and thrive. “Movement infrastructure” can take many forms. It can cover both tangible and intangible things, from basic operational support to mental health, well-being and community-building. It can emerge and be provided in organic ways, can be community driven and centred or be more structured. When used for civil society or the social sector more broadly, infrastructure tends to mean (3):
Enabling collective action and impact through spaces to share knowledge and convene. This includes opportunities to strategise, form a shared analysis, share and develop new ideas, engage in mutual learning and reflection, plan, coordinate and connect with each other.
Amplifying visibility and influence through research, advocacy and policy work that serves the broader agenda — both of the issues at the heart of the movement, as well as the needs of the movement itself.
Protecting and defending individual actors and the wider movement from attacks of various kinds, through providing legal support and mobilising solidarity.
Shoring up systems of protection, care and well-being that recognise the traumatic nature of this work, the reality of burnout and the need for both individual and collective self-care.
Supporting the development of leadership capabilities, as well as other skills and knowledge that enable the movement to grow its base and its own capacities for sustained action.
Nurturing the development of new and emerging groupings and initiatives through incubation and hosting.
Building out the wider resource base by addressing broader funding barriers, helping to mobilise funds and creating mechanisms to channel resources to where they are needed.
Addressing collective operational needs like financial literacy, digital infrastructure, physical space, communications, fiscal sponsorship, HR advice etc.
How can infrastructure support nurture, rather than reform, change or influence what already exists? We’re open to learning from various experiences, recognising the benefits and usefulness of multiple approaches and considering how they intersect. This is what we would like to explore, both at a conceptual and strategic level, as well as at a pragmatic operational level.
We know there are already a number of organisations, like Ubele, Black South West Network, BRAP, Voice4Change, BTEG and Lancashire BMEamong others, that provide valuable forms of infrastructure for grassroot organisations. This is not an assessment of existing infrastructure provision — we already see this work as crucial and call for it to be better resourced and supported. Instead, we are looking at how support to various infrastructure needs can be specifically targeted towards emerging and newly established activists, collectives and organisations in the call for social and racial justice. We are recognising and building on what’s currently working well, as well as drawing on knowledge and experience that exists within and beyond the community. Whilst the UK is a specific context with its history of the British Empire, we are staying curious to see what we can learn from other contexts (such as the US and Latin America) and from movements within a broader, more global picture.
The ideas emerging from this project will be developed and tested through a participatory process of dialogue. We’ll be holding 1:1 interviews with a small group of people — those who are current or potential users of infrastructure and those with experience providing it. We know Black and minoritised people and organisations are currently “over consulted” and overstretched so we will be utilising the existing literature and resources available to capture their insights and experiences, and keeping interviews to a minimum. We’ll also be holding workshops to have collective discussions around the emerging findings.
We’ll be convening an Advisory Group to act as a sounding board and to provide strategic insight and expertise. Ultimately, being in dialogue with the Advisory Group and being informed through the different layers of engagement, we should be able to consider a wide range of movement actors.
The two funders of the project — Lankelly Chase and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Foundation — will also join the Advisory Group (they’ll be two out of ten members in total). An overarching principle is to cultivate trust throughout our relationships in an equitable way, to avoid playing out dynamics caused by an imbalance of power, perpetuated by an existing funding system. Therefore, we have been deliberate in our selection of the Advisory Group to ensure that the majority are individuals actively working on the ground in anti-racist organisations, groups and movements.
Our outcome is to produce a resource of what we’re learning and sharing the ideas that have emerged in October 2021. We don’t see this research as casting anything in stone, rather, one step in an iterative process. We hope it will provide space and inspiration to think creatively and spaciously about what specific forms of infrastructure are needed to secure a sound footing for anti-racist movements for future generations. Therefore, the audience for this research encompasses a spectrum of anti-racism groups, movements, organisations, individual activists, funders and national agencies.
As a long-term outlook for this work; the two funders involved in this exploratory phase have expressed a strong commitment to supporting the recommendations that emerge from this project and support for what comes next — though it’s too early to define the extent and direction of future funding. We are also aware that other funders may be prepared to support some aspects of what emerges from this project. Our goal for this research and development phase is to produce tangible, concrete and actionable recommendations that will strengthen, support and benefit the anti-racist activists, organisers, collectives and movement in the UK.
In conclusion, Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality will be a particularly useful lens for us to utilise in researching how to sustain anti-racist movements, activists and collectives across the UK to continue to challenge toxic whiteness and power. In order to do this we are staying curious, open and honest about what is working well as well as honouring where voices need to be heard and listened to. In addition to our Calls to Action to funders to direct funds to Black and minoritised infrastructure bodies in the Booska Paper, we now ask what and how these groups need to be supported in order to sustain and direct attention to social and racial justice.
If you are an anti-racist activist, group, organisation, collective, researcher or leader and you are interested in the content above, or you feel its something that you would like to be a part of, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. We are still in the process of fleshing out an Advisory Group, people to interview, and who to invite to collective workshops as we co-create this work.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for enquiries or to ask more information.
This definition has been adapted from Are you racist? ‘No’ isn’t a good enough answer — Marlon James, published by The Guardian.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1 (8): 139–67.
This working definition benefitted from the insights shared by Tracey Lazard (Inclusion London), Yvonne Field (The Ubele Initiative), Farzana Khan (Healing Justice London), Cassie Robinson (The National Lottery Community Fund) and Farah Elahi (Greater London Authority) in a recent workshop, The New Infrastructure, held on 20 July 2021.