This is a guest post from my partner, Hassina Malik;
I've been up all night thinking about all the things that make me who and what I am, and how those things are shifting.
I am a woman, I am Black, I am West Indian, I am a mother, I am a sister, I am a socialist, I am a feminist, I am a Labour Party member. I am a Local Government Worker, I am a trade unionist...and so much more.
I am part of many different groups that are combinations of these. For instance, I meet with socialists who are trade unionists, or Local Government Workers in the Labour Party, or West Indian women. It's not at all strange that each of these groups are so different and yet I fit comfortably into each. This is because each reflects different aspects of myself as demonstrated in each of these associations.
In each setting I can express various facets of who I am. In my capacity as a West Indian woman I am able to discuss and even joke about things that women from other parts of the world will not relate to. As a Black Labour Party Member I am able to meet and share thoughts on issues that other LP members will not be able to relate to. The ability to freely engage with others with whom I share common characteristics fulfils me. I feel whole because I am able to express all of who I am and what I think in each setting.
Sometimes these groups are less broken down and a gathering of Black women (from all cultures and nations) is the place where I feel comfortable and safe to express my thoughts and feelings. Or a in a group of all West Indians irrespective of sex and gender. Or a group of trade unionists.
I consider the ability to gather in groups of my choice a right that I value. As part of each I feel less isolated and more connected. I am a better human being because of these interactions. I am able to develop my thinking and contribute to the growth of each group. Indeed the essence of my humanity is defined by the shared experiences of these associations.
In the recent past I feel that my ability to choose a group or gathering that fits me, is much less my choice, but the choice of others. As a result, I believe that my ability to express my thoughts has been curtailed and I am less fulfilled as a human being.
At work Black staff who are far more likely to face discrimination meet to share views, to comfort and console each other when distressed. These meetings of Black staff now have white staff in attendance. To make it worse it is often Black staff who insist that white staff remain. When I and others object to the presence of white staff we are branded trouble makers, radicals and even racist. Yes, racists. It would seem that I can no longer be who I am in my choice as a Black worker to meet and support those with whom I identify. I cannot be a Black worker, together with other Black workers, talking together about our unique experience, and helping each other. Some Black staff will become afraid of consequences and not return. That is the purpose - to shut down debate, to diminish our voices.
In another part of my life I am a supporter of the rights of Palestinians to live in peace, free from persecution, hunger and brutality. I know that their plight is at the hands of the zionists in the State of Israel. As a young woman I once heard Desmond Tutu say the fight against apartheid is in Palestine as much as it was in South Africa. Nelson Mandela said much the same. Like them I feel the injustice of what is happening to Palestinians as deeply as I felt about the brutality of apartheid in South Africa. I try to do all I can, as I did as a girl against the South African state - I boycott Israeli goods and I support sanctions.
Unlike the approval I received as a girl for standing against apartheid South Africa, I am now likely to be called anti-semitic for the statements in the previous paragraph, for attending meetings that call for sanctions against Israel and supporting the rights of Palestinians. Many committed anti-racists and anti-fascists have been branded in this way because they have called Israel what we called South Africa - a nation responsible for a brutal apartheid system. This is also being done by people on the Left to others on the Left.
And here again, where I should have the right to peacefully meet and share views, I and others are met with hostility in a bid to shut down discussion. It would seem I can no longer be who I am in my choice as a Black person to support those with whom I identify as oppressed. Branded anti-semitic, venues will not permit entry and those attending any meetings will face loud, angry accusations and protests. Some activists will become afraid and not return. That is the purpose - to shut down debate, to diminish our voices.
In yet another part of my life, as a political woman I choose to gather with other natal women to discuss shared views and experiences. In such a forum I am able to be open and to discuss issues unique to that group. And if as part of a group of women, a sub-group of Black women chose to meet to the exclusion of the white women I would not expect the white women to challenge this and would expect them to understand.
But attending gatherings of natal women to the exclusion of trans women has become hazardous, as some trans women feel that it is their right to be included in all gatherings of natal women. I do not disagree that it is appropriate that all women (natal and trans) have the right to meet and share similar experiences - in particular the shared experience of oppression, and I note that trans women will have shared, unique experiences that natal women will not share. This issue has become divisive and fails to recognise much of the considerations I have expressed earlier.
Yet another area of my life where I should have the right to self expression and the freedom to choose is being closed to me. I and others are met with hostility and accusations, in a bid to shut down discussion and silence our voices.
So much of what has been fought for and achieved by our predecessors has been eroded. Eroded by a lack of education and the failure of movements to inform each new generation of what was fought for and achieved. Eroded by identity politics removed from class politics (‘more that unites us than divides us’). Eroded by wealth (‘when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose’).
So I ask, who am I when all around my voice is being silenced? How can we as human beings have progress and unity through understanding of ourselves if we are silenced? Silenced by others and by each other.
As working class people and as oppressed groups we will have to seek the answers to these questions. We can only do this together. Our strength is in our numbers. If we continue to attack each other and permit others to attack and divide us ultimately we will all be silenced. And that is the goal of our REAL enemy.