Race Matters

Revisiting A.Sivanandan

A. Sivanandan's work has a lot to teach us today, writes Runnymede trustee Professor Robbie Shilliam

There is much to remember A. Sivanandan for. In many ways, Sivanandan was instrumental (albeit not solely) for inaugurating a new era of critique when it came to Britain's "race relations" industry.

This was the case with regards to the domestic co-ordinates of racialized injustice as well as its imperial legacies.

Let me take one contemporary example of the salience of Sivanandan's interventions. For most of the 20th century, Black activists and intellectuals used the category of the “white working class” to draw attention to a class that benefitted relatively more than other workers so long as it accepted its place in a hierarchical imperial division of labour.

In doing so, such activists assayed the possibilities for a united front of all working classes against global injustice.

Sivanandan's relaunch of the Institute of Race Relations journal from “Race" to "Race & Class" created a key forum within which such critique could be pursued in Britain's post-imperial era.

Now compare with today's mainstream use of the category "white working class", which glosses a forgotten people indigenous to Britain, unfairly treated by metropolitans and globalists, and deserving of a social justice that is exclusionary of other working classes.

We might want to revisit back issues of Sivanandan’s journal to shed better contextual light on our present Brexit predicaments.

RIP A.Sivanandan (1923-2018)
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