communities in crisis

1 June 2020

There is a lot of talk about community at the moment. In my proper job community is the work and I think about it a lot. The how will we be ‘after lockdown’ conversations we have had, have talked about access to culture – who is involved in the making and presenting of work; which cultural institutions will /can be saved; why do these and not those matter. Today as people are talking about #BlackLivesMatter, some cultural institutions are writing in support (rightly) of the BLM movement. Other voices are clearly questioning the equality and diversity present in said organisations: in the work they present; in the staff and artists they employ.

Right now, the anger in people – if not palpable when walking in the street here in the UK – is evident in visceral writing and images on social media and in the protests happening across the US and globally. There is almost complete condemnation of the brutality of policing, particularly against Black people, if not complete agreement about the tactics and methodologies of protest. In the UK, there is a bit of naivety from some corners about the violent nature of racism right here. And, having lived in settler states, it does feel a bit different.  But inequality is raging here also. We just saw it exposed for exactly what it is in the Cummings affair and how the government handled it. But more critically, we saw it and can see it clearly in GrenfellWindrushMark DugganStephen LawrenceThe New Cross Massacre…you get the picture.

I read recently about how British policing of Irish communities/Irish people in Britain created an Irish community: a group of people with similar heritage do not necessarily make one identifiable community (the source text, which I haven’t read, was Paddy Hillyard’s Suspect Community: people’s experience of the prevention of terrorism acts in Britain.) Race was invented in the same way: to create identifiable systemic division and inequality. None of this is new, of course.

Through heavy handed policing and discriminatory public policy that protects property and the status quo at the expense of lives, I feel like it is pretty easy and quick to create a united community. But the work to maintain that unity, the shared objective, after the tide of anger has ebbed away is a different and harder task. We need alternative systems where people in our communities can openly discuss, debate, share and decide. This is needed for cultural organisations, for political parties, for governance of public office.  

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