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Malia Bouattia

There is nothing unconscious about Tory bias

Up to 40 Conservative MPs will reportedly skip the 'unconscious bias' training [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 September, 2020

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Comment: No amount of 'unconscious bias' training will remedy a political class that defines itself through the exploitation and oppression of others, writes Malia Bouattia.
In a fresh display of Tory resistance to addressing the deep-seated racism within the Party's ranks, some 40 MPs have stated that they will not be taking part in unconscious bias training. The decision to make the training available to all sitting MPs came from the parliamentary taskforce to address inequality. 

Unsurprisingly, there is however, much that Tory MPs could learn from the training - or from any initial engagement with anti-racist thought. In the last year alone, for example, the Conservative Party has repeatedly been accused of institutional Islamophobia by Muslim figures within its own ranks, as well as by the Muslim Council of Britain.

In addition, they have presided over the disproportionate deaths of people of colour since the Covid-19 pandemic – which even prompted an inquiry. These numbers are directly linked to their neoliberal policies which have led to growing inequality, poor housing, and a rapidly intensifying crisis in the NHS.   

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests which swept the UK on the back of the momentum they gained in the US also highlighted the violently racist practices of state forces under their rule - an issue with Boris Johnson has refused to engage with, preferring instead to criminalise the protesters further.

All of this is without even delving into the last decade of their leadership, during which the Tories have peddled a political agenda that has further criminalised, impoverished, and repressed people of colour, stoking the flames of the far right in a desperate bid to avoid people focussing on the actual outcome of their policies.

Yet, some Tories feel the need to take a stand against what one MP described as "that Marxist, snake oil crap". For Ben Bradly, MP for Mansfield, learning about "the kind of nonsense language that we keep hearing around things like the Black Lives Matter agenda" actually represents the biggest threat to so-called freedom of speech. And Ipswich MP Tom Hunt even rejected the training as pandering "to the woke agenda".

The problem of our entire government is that anti-racism is approached not as a basic requirement, but as an opposing political agenda

Some have pointed to the optional nature of the training as the issue, because it doesn't show that the Party leadership is taking racism seriously enough to make it compulsory. But the attitude expressed by those opposing the unconscious bias training sums up nicely the problem of our entire government: Anti-racism is approached not as a basic requirement for those ruling over us, but as an opposing political agenda and something the left pushes in order to edge closer to power.

When Bradley writes, "In my view we should be unabashed in our cultural conservatism," he is simply reinforcing the exact nature of a political party that was founded and is still dependent on the social inequalities that plague our society. 

Of course, a training session will not resolve the institutional problem within the Conservative Party, nor will it hold those foaming at the mouth at the mention of migrants, Muslims, or BLM protestors, accountable for their actions. Yes, they should be forced to attend, because it would represent a political setback for their right wing agitation, but no one should expect anything more substantial from it. 

That said, there is also a much broader issue at play in the very logic of demanding that MPs resolve their racism through such sessions. The gradual co-opting of anti-racist struggles by the state and official institutions is particularly telling of our current moment.

Training run by equality and diversity departments across education, healthcare, political institutions focuses entirely on interpersonal relations, individuals' thoughts and their language. It avoids understanding racism as a structural problem, one that requires collective action, and that is linked to other forms of oppression.
 

Read more: Opposing a migrant camp for all the wrong reasons

As a consequence, mass movements like Black Lives Matter have been criminalised along with those opposing racist police brutality, and the continued colonisation of Palestinians. Civil liberties have been curtailed in the name of the War on Terror, and this process has been normalised, and extended, while those responsible are given the option to sit through an unconscious bias training session.

It is not the unconscious racism of sitting MPs, on both sides of the dispatch that we should be concerned about; it's their conscious decision making process.
 

There is a fundamental issue of agency here. The underlying logic of such training is that if we are all more mindful, more inclusive, more aware of others' perspectives, the world would be a better and safer place.

While this might hold true in the absolute, it fails to engage with our stark reality: Companies and institutions that depend on racial and gender pay gaps, on racialised segregations of the workforce, and on the very unequal power relations that sustain them, are not suddenly going to change their profit making model because the CEO has had unconscious bias training.

In fact, it is more likely that the same structures will be better protected, now that their architects can proudly wear their training badges.
 

The same holds in parliament. Starmer and Johnson can undergo the training and demonstrate their "anti-racist credentials" to the nation, but last week Starmer abstained on, and Boris voted in favour of a bill allowing British soldiers accused of war crimes to go unpunished.

Both politicians support racist policies, from Prevent to Stop and Search, and while Johnson has written so offensively 
about "picaninnies" and "Watermelon smiles", Starmer too, has cheered on the locking up of countless working class black and brown kids across the UK, without proper representation or trial.

It's not the unconscious racism of sitting MPs that we should be concerned about; it's their conscious decision making process

There is nothing unconscious about their actions. Much like the Tory rebel MPs, they represent political traditions that at their core continue to defend the current status quo; a status quo based on exploitation, oppression, and division. One where property and those who own it rule supreme.

That status quo needs racism to survive, as it does other forms of oppression. It won't be defeated by making its wardens aware of their bad thoughts. It will need to be smashed by our collective resistance. 

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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