Sometimes, socialising with the Left can be a little like walking through a market in Marrakesh. You get all these people running to you, trying to explain why their organisation is better. When I’m in Djamma al Fna Square I’m generally just buying a leather bag- I like to think hard about the expensive Berber carpet before I even consider bartering for it. But when I’m at a meeting listening to some amazing speakers and those people with the patronising smiles (the “Aaw, it must be hard to be Arab and Muslim looking” smile) approach you and are all friendly and nice, you don’t realise that you’re being sold something as big as an ideology. These people tend to think I’m stupid, oppressed and naïve enough to believe anything I’m told. Unlike the Moroccan stallholders, I find them to be fake and pretentious and very bad at what they do. At least the guys in Morocco are pros.
I don’t want to get in to banter about socialists and Marxists and their tactics but people need to hear about the amount of racism and sexism inherent in the left. It makes me feel just as worse than being called a “paki” by white working class people in my neighbourhood or a “coloured person” by my stiff-upper lipped lecturers.
I’m an English Literature graduate and working at a sixth-form in my local area and loving it. Currently, I’m exploring the Black Power movements in America and the response and debate I get from my students is real and heartfelt. Sometimes emotions run high as students tell me of their experiences as both victims of racism, but also of their battle against racist friends and family. It reminded me of my students days of political activism which was only two years ago: the sit-ins, rallies outside our principal’s office, demonstrations on campus and being part of the national leftist movement.
Whilst I was university, I got stuck in to the romanticism that is the Left. A lot of the students I hung out with were like members of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Spoilt middle class brats who wanted something fun to do that would piss of their oppressive parents; rebels without a cause. Some of them were wannabe Baader-Meinhof fighters, they would copy how they dressed, their hairstyles and even travel to Germany just to take artistic photos. This one girl I knew looked just like Gudrun Ensslin, and she shared her boyfriend just like the real Gudrun, just because she felt she had to. Not because she wanted to. Some of them were just downright pretentious- they would rent expensive property in Brixton or Shoreditch or move in to a flat in an estate just so they could feel like they were living in the ‘ghetto.’ This one friend I had would always start of a conversation with, “This kid got shot outside my estate yesterday.” He was clearly excited by this horrible news.
I never became like them but at first, I thought they were genuine. I soon came to realise however that most of them were opportunists waiting to finally lead the movement. And if that looked out of reach, they’d just try and get in the pictures. Speaking to the crowds at every possible moment and joining the cheers. Meet the leaders, and if lucky enough make friends with them. And at the end of it all, they would go home and ponder on how many ‘famous’ people they knew or how they were a part of history.
One thing I never got was how happy they’d be when we’d be making our way to pro-Palestine demonstrations. In my final year the Israelis launched their barbaric attack on the people of Palestine in Gaza. They called it Operation Cast Lead and slaughtered 1300 Palestinians including over 300 children. There were demonstrations every day outside the Israeli embassy and we would all go together. I would be wishing it never happened, and that we wouldn’t need to protest because the Palestinians shouldn’t be having missiles thrown at their schools and Mosques. But my lefty friends were busy making Lowey’s tune the soundtrack to the suffering of the Palestinians. For them, the deaths of innocent women, men and children was just a memory that they could romanticise just like they did everything else.
Soon after, I became active in a national anti-imperialism organisation that was quite well known. I was asked to speak on their behalf at public meetings. The audience seemed to like me and as I made my way down the platform one by one, about seven different people approached me to join their organisations. And about twenty other people told me how ‘inspiring’ it was to see an Arab woman speak to passionately.
I went to speak at a lot of events and I did question why I was always chosen. I had the suspicion that they just wanted me as a token. But I didn’t complaint because I enjoyed putting my views across: I would never have been given that opportunity anywhere else. One day, I received a phone call from someone who worked at the headquarters, and she asked if I was free that week. “There’s a public meeting this Thursday and currently all the panellists are white men, so we were hoping you could come along seeing as you’re Muslim.” I was shocked to say the least. Offended. Insulted. I wanted to be picked because I was intelligent, not because she couldn’t see past the colour of my skin. It felt like the time this guy shouted raghead at me in the streets. It was Ramadan and I was wearing a hijab and I was too hurt to say anything back to that thug. Neither did I protest to this woman’s blatant racism.
A few weeks later, it happened again. “We need you at an even in a few days. The audience always like you and you’re Muslim so…” I hated being treated as their symbol of ‘diversity.’ The audience liked me because it made them happy that they were listening to an Arab Muslim woman talk. They would feel that they weren’t racist, and at social events they could sound cultured with conversations like, “this lovely Muslim girl I know- very intelligent you know. She’s not like other Arab girls.”
And that was the other problem. Men, and in particular the leaders- in the Left were always calling me a ‘girl.’ As if they could get any more sexist. Ironically, these were the same men preaching feminism. Ardent feminists in the movement patronised from a woman to a girl wouldn’t say a thing because they were in awe of the leaders they were now friends with. They thought their lives would be played in black and white reels in fifty years time and that made them content, if not jump over the moon at the prospect of fame. I always felt that women were underrepresented in the Left. Sometimes, they would only have extra female speakers because “it would look bad if we only have two.” They would settle for someone they didn’t even like just for the sake of appearances. I know this because after a while, they’d gotten so used to me that I think they forgot I was both Black and a woman. Their racism and sexism got worse and too wounded by their blows I would stay silent only to write it all down later when I got home. One time, I heard a discussion about Egypt and “how Arab men are very perverted.” Funnily enough, the same man who said that had his eyes all over a young girl who stepped on to the train.
A while later, they were saying how “tired they are of the local Asian community not joining our cause. We’re fighting racism for them. How can they expect change if they don’t support us?” I asked them what they meant by that. We should all attend meetings about anti-racism held by white people because that will tackle racism? Not surprisingly, I didn’t get a response. That was the last straw for me. It’s hard to explain what I’ve experienced and I’m sure lots of people reading this will think, “it’s not that bad. Get over it” or “that’s not necessarily racism/sexism.” I find myself too angry to express myself properly. Prejudice isn’t just a few words here and there. It’s an idea of superiority within them and the feeling of inferiority they inflict on you.
It all proved to me that women and Black people are not equal in the Left; far from it. We are always second best if not tokens and trophies. It’s so frustrating because there is so much in this society, this country, this world that we need to help change, and on the outset you think the Left has similar ideas. But for people who proclaim to have views then act in a different way there is only one conclusion- that they are deceiving their supporters for the sake of power. We need to organise and not fall in to the Lefty cliché of ‘recruiting.’ That way everyone in the cause is genuine and passionate about making the difference.
I would have liked to speak on that platform- not as the Black Muslim woman who is friends with the white people who set up the stage, or the Black Muslim woman who was the dash of colour to the room. But as a Black Muslim woman who is seen for she is.