Charities like ours exist to help make lives better, communities safer and societies fairer.

We are not, nor can we be, ignorant to the profound influence of historical and contemporary racism on our societies, on the laws that govern us and on the behaviour of those who are responsible for writing or enforcing these laws.

The murder of George Floyd was a despicable act made possible by a system that permits and encourages violence against black people and has done so since millions of people were violently abducted from Africa and enslaved for the profit of white European colonists.

It was not an isolated incident and the problems that emerge from white supremacy, including institutional racism and historical amnesia are not unique to the United States. Far too many black lives have been cut short in Britain by brutal, racialised policing. Far too many black futures are robbed by economic and political systems that perpetuate inequality. The Windrush Lessons Learned Review finds institutional racism at the heart of government. And we are living through a pandemic that has disproportionately affected black and minority ethnic communities.

As an organisation that works with migrants, refugees and seekers of asylum to challenge injustice and fight for fairer laws and policies, we stand firmly in solidarity with those who struggle against the swelling tides of racism and xenophobia.

Allyship is an active process and we are always learning and trying to do it better. Whilst we take this responsibility seriously in the work that we do, we know that there is always more to do. We also have a duty to recognise that our “sector” has a long way to go - and we are committed to changing this.

Too often our sector treats migrant justice and racial justice as siloed and distinct. Consciously or unconsciously, we attempt to campaign on contemporary issues without dealing with the messy history of imperialism, forced displacement, slavery and expropriation which has been the midwife of today’s unequal, mobile world. We use the terms ‘BAME’ and ‘Person of Colour’ which on the one hand marks a step forward but on the other diminishes the uniquely traumatic and unjust history and experience of people of African or Caribbean descent.

We discuss and debate policy on ‘safe’, depoliticised terrain, talking often about labour shortages and ‘legitimate concerns’, ‘integration’ and bunting, but rarely about the explicitly anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic roots of modern immigration policy.

And far too often, we fall back on the technical language of policy and law to define realities and experiences which are at their heart the products of racism and of a racist ideology that says some people are inherently less deserving of equal justice than others.

As charities, we resource ourselves to develop and privilege this technical expertise in our advocacy, but we do not share this expertise enough, nor do we value or elevate other forms of knowledge developed through lived experience and community. Though we can and must provide vital infrastructure and support for movements, we often forget that we are not movements ourselves, nor can we be.

We negotiate access and influence, with the media, decision makers and funders, but we do not share this access or hold the door open or step aside often enough. We assume that we hold power ‘in trust’ for communities instead of working with them to build their power, and we speak of their experience instead of elevating their voices.

We develop and deploy ‘case studies’ to evidence the human impact of policies, and we inadvertently fuel a media cycle in which each story of human suffering must be more moving or harrowing than the last. We demand rights on the basis of economic contribution or vulnerability, reducing whole communities to the status of mere commodities or objects of pity. We lack the confidence to tackle the treatment of foreign national offenders, ignoring the reality of a racialised criminal justice system which targets and criminalises black men more than any other group.

And though we may be quick to recognise the role that we have to play in fighting injustice we are often slow to recognise or respond to the ways in which we feed it. We work alongside fearless, often unpaid community organisers, representatives or leaders but we come up short when it comes to the representation and remuneration of people with lived experience in our leadership teams and on our boards. Solidarity without proximity or the absence of skin in the game.

The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one.

The work that needs to be done is difficult, and it needs to continue long after this ‘moment’ has passed. It needs more than hashtags or donations. It needs humility, focus and action. A willingness to t look critically at ourselves and the purposeful shifting of power towards communities.

Black Lives Matter. 

And these words need to be matched with actions. There’s a lot to do but we’re sharing here some of the steps we’re taking to give meaning to these words:

  1. We are redesigning our membership programme and rethinking the ways in which communities and people with lived experience can meaningfully engage in the governance of our organisation so that we are more responsive to and supportive of grassroots groups and communities;
  2. In partnership with the Mayor of London, we are providing more than £40,000 in seed funding to Black-led or local grassroots organisations across the country, working within communities to support survivors of the Windrush Scandal and their descendents; 
  3. For existing and future vacancies on our Executive Committee (our board of trustees), we will prioritise applications from people of African and Caribbean descent, acknowledging the absence of this lived experience in our governance;
  4. Our helplines are open to anyone experiencing problems with their immigration status as a result of taking part in protests or acts of civil disobedience against racial injustice;
  5. We will create in 2021 a new trainee solicitor post, reserved for candidates with lived experience of the immigration or asylum system, helping to develop the next generation of specialist, highly-trained lawyers within communities

If there are other ways you think we can become better allies and a better organisation, we’re always happy to hear from you.

If you have also been compelled to act, on our Twitter account you will find a list of amazing, Black-led or grassroots racial justice organisations doing the work, often without the credit, visibility or the resources they deserve. If you can, please support them. 

Black Lives Matter migrants rights being better aliies

Guppi Bola

Chair

JCWI

Satbir Singh

CEO

JCWI

Photo credit Alisdare Hickson