The first Welsh Independence march took place on 11th May 2019. With nearly 3000 people in attendance, a march route weaved in and out of the centre of Cardiff to finally arrive at the top of the Hayes.
It culminated in a series of brief speeches by Adam Price of Plaid Cymru, Carys Eleri, Sion Jobbins, Sandy Clubb, Ben Gwalchmai and Ajit Cheviz, to which you can listen online. There was representation of Welsh language speakers, black and minority ethnic men, LGBT people and white women: but no women of colour. Given that there’s no women of colour in the Senedd, or representing Wales in Westminster, this is part of a wider pattern of behaviour. So close to the starting date of the 1919 Race Riots and so close to its 100th anniversary, this was an opportunity missed for furthering racial equality.
Put the kettle on, it’s time to talk about race in the Welsh independence movement.
Welsh identity is in flux. Cardiff is nearly 20% black and minority ethnic, with roughly half of those people being women and non-binary people. Despite this, and the location of Cardiff in housing the UK’s oldest continuous black community, there were no black and minority ethnic women talking at the event.
Black and minority ethnic communities are located at the intersection of multiple indices of deprivation, and especially women, queer people, trans people and gender non-conforming people. Research recently released by women’s organisation Chwarae Teg found an unemployment rate of up to 80% amongst some Welsh diaspora communities. 20 years after devolution, we’ve never had a woman from these communities elected to the Senedd or to Westminster.
Black radical activist Claudia Jones coined the term “triple oppression”, a theory that articulates the relationship of oppression in looking at the experience of classism, racism and sexism amongst black women. Triple oppression is alive and kicking for Black Welsh women, and that’s compounded by the Welsh pay gap.
The indy movement can be feminist, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist- but none of this can happen without people of colour. Angela Davis said it’s not enough to be non-racist in a racist society, we have to be actively anti-racist. Here’s what the Welsh Independence Movement can do to make itself more inclusive and accessible to ultimately end the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy:
1. Learn its history
Wales shares an uncomfortable relationship with colonialism and the slave trade. That uncomfortable relationship is reflected today in the racial segregation of Welsh politics and Welsh society.
Wales’ history with colonialism is deep and yet to be fully explored and unpacked. The same can be said of our recent history on people of colour in Wales. Welsh BME history and heritage is more at risk than ever. In 2016, Butetown History and Arts Centre closed down and the future of the archive is under threat. The failure to fund a replacement to preserve this vital time period of Welsh history speaks for itself.
The onus is on us as people of Wales to educate ourselves about the society we’ve inherited in the belly of the beast, the British Empire itself, and adopt a critical approach towards our involvement in that Empire (along with the glorification of our own colony, Patagonia). There’s a reading list at the end of this article.
2. Talk about intersectionality
Intersectionality is a framework through which we understand our lived experiences and lives around us. Drawing on Black Feminist and Marxist philosophy, intersectionality looks at interlocking matrices of power.
A few years ago, a story went viral where a veiled woman was speaking Welsh to her child on a rail replacement bus. Told by an English language speaker to “Speak English”, an onlooker piped in that she was actually speaking Welsh. The English language speaker shut down. It went viral to “prove” how tolerant the nation of Wales is, the ignorance of the English language speaker and the diversity of Wales. This story reflects our loaded history. I’d like to think if she was talking Yoruba or Arabic, the racist comment would still be challenged by the passenger on the bus, but there’s a chance, given the relative status, that the onlooker might have been less likely to intervene with respect to a non-native minority language. How many times are ethnic minorities told to ‘speak English’ in Wales, and how many times does this go unchecked?
Intersectionality is useful to understand examples such as these where there are multiple power relations and layers of under-privilege at work.
It can also a frame through which to understand our recent history and provide insight into current complexities around identities and societal relations. Some issues have been tied to legislation: the Race Relations Act was implemented in 1965, whilst a far-reaching Welsh Language Act was not implemented until 1993. For those 28 years, there was a lot of distrust between the Commission for Racial Equality and other groups: BME community members on the ground in Wales, some Welsh language activists and especially people with a minority background who also spoke Welsh . There is some interesting commentary on structural relations between BME groups and Welsh language groups in Gender and Social Justice in Wales edited by Nickie Charles and Charlotte Aull Davies. There seems no doubt that these historical relationships have impacted us in the landscape of contemporary Wales, and we need to be more attuned to, and more prepared to discuss their legacies. We are enmeshed in all of this, and now we have more BME Welsh speakers than ever.
Practise your intersectionality, reach out to different groups.
Don’t ask “How can I reach ‘hard to reach communities?’, ask instead “What can we do to make our movement more accessible?” or “What might we be doing wrong?”
3. Practise intersectionality, practise solidarity
There are lots of ways to make your events and meetings accessible. Here’s a few tips
1. If you meet in a pub, have you considered not meeting in a space where alcohol is served, like a coffee shop? It might be difficult for people who are alcoholics, are recovering alcoholics, or people from minority faith or ethnic backgrounds to attend your meeting.
2. Do your meetings require people to buy stuff to be there?
3. Where you might choose to meet as groups or as friends might have an impact on who else might attend your events or meetings. Organising events or meetings are a bit like platters of sandwiches: some people are looking for gluten-free, some are looking for halal. Have a think about your venues, and unpack why some places might be suggested more so than other venues.
4. Different calendars work in different ways. Ramadan moves every year, and so does Eid. Christmas doesn’t, though: and Easter’s a good example of how the lunar calendar effects us on an everyday basis in Wales. Make sure you’re not accidentally clashing with something, like Eid, Yom Kippur, or any other events or meetings that may split your demographic.
5. #WelshAndEuropean celebrates Welshness and European identity. It makes sense to make links and support other small nations like Catalonia. Catalonia’s close in the imagination and close to Wales too, geographically speaking. Thousands of people from Wales went to Spain to fight during the 20th century, so there is a heritage there for many families. However, homogenised whiteness and western European identity has had a devastating effect on the world. There are only two countries in the world that Western Europe did not colonise. That same western European colonisation had a catastrophic effect on people now living in Wales. We need to build links (like the ones we have with Catalonia) with countries across the world. We also need interrogate how we come to the decisions of who we support in Wales, and how we practice solidarity. In 24 hours, Sudan recently got rid of two leaders, freed all political figures and secured the freedom of the press, but should ask, what was the sum of our response?
Decolonisation has to translate into real life action. It’s time to unlearn toxic behaviours that we have inherited from people before us. We need anti-racism trainings that are specific to devolved Wales that interrogate why it is so many people want to ask “So, where are you really from?” or reflect on the uncomfortable relationship between people of colour and various groups, asking people of colour how they can approach/attract people of colour to events. People of colour, like Welsh language speakers, aren’t monolithic, but questions that homogenise all people of colour for not being white unintentionally reinforces that dichotomy. Keep an eye out for active community and political groups in your area, and go out for a cup of tea or coffee. It’s not that hard, it’s about building bridges where you don’t see any (yet).
In a fascinating piece on the relationship of gender and race, Mamta Motwani Accapadi writes that “Understanding race and healing racism are deeply connected, yet entirely different concepts. Create active dialogue spaces to recognize the differences and inter-relatedness of these concepts. White people should also actively talk about White racism in safe, separate, spaces to challenge themselves, their peers, and/or their staffs. This process should be rooted in empowerment, not guilt.” I couldn’t have worded it better myself.
5. Make a place for us at the table
If we’re not at the table, we’re probably on the menu. Make the space hospitable, too. Don’t invite us to sit at your table and tell us to shut up. Make space for us: at your events and in your conversations.
White fragility is real, and it’s a term coined by academic Robin DiAngelo to refer to the overwrought responses triggered by experiences of racial stress – essentially when white privilege is questioned or challenged. Most white people enjoy a social environment of racial comfort that insulates them from the racial stress that people of colour face on a daily basis. White fragility looks like white people crying, asking dodgy questions or responding really, really badly to questions about race and colonialism; it also looks like all-white line ups. White fragility is guilt ridden, damaging and has the potential to ruin the independence movement.
It is exhausting for us to walk into spaces and be subject to the same microaggressions for years and years. Our allies see racism towards us and feel uncomfortable, too.
Audre Lorde wrote that “it’s not our differences that divide us. It’s our inability to recognise, accept and celebrate those differences.” Let’s learn to accept and celebrate those differences, so that the independence movement can better represent all of our communities in Wales.
Reading list (books)
- A Tolerant Wales? – Edited by Charlotte Williams
- Decolonising the Mind – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
- Postcolonial Wales – Edited by Jane Aaron and Chris Williams
- Slave Wales – Chris Evans
- Sugar and Slate – Charlotte Williams
- Women, Race, Class – Angela Davis
- Wretched of the Earth – Frantz Fanon