BLACK STUDENTS’ CONFERENCE 2016

by Julian Ignacio Canlas

On May 28-29th, the Black Students Conference happened in Bradford, where black student delegates across the country congregated together in the conference hall of Bradford Hotel.

We listened to BME activists and journalists discuss about their own experience of oppression, institutional racism, and the hard, arduous path that led to Malia Bouattia’s victory as the first black female president-elect of the NUS. This included renowned journalist Gary Younge, who delved upon the progression of black activism and condemned the forms of racism existing in right and leftwing media. Younge later received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

We went through rounds of motions and amendments. We voted for our new committee members, including the Black Students Officer, now Aadam Muse. Most contentiously, we debated about political blackness and its relevancy or outdatedness within the movement’s campaign structure.

Norwich’s UEA didn’t come home empty-handed. Not only did UEA have the largest delegation with over 8 representatives, UEA’s student union also won the Best SU award for having organised the largest Black History Month in the UK, and for the continuous efforts of the University’s black students in improving black representation and participation in clubs and societies.

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(UEA delegates © Sarah Nwafor / Facebook)

As the voting delegate, I spoke on behalf of UEA’s delegation about a whole variety of amendments — from facilitating the process of reporting on-campus hate crimes by implementing resources and mechanisms that restrict any form of victim-blaming from occurring in student unions across the UK, to ensuring ways for student unions to be able to assess their levels of black representation in their own grounds.

UEA also called for the improvement of East Asian representation amongst black students’ campaign structures; despite Chinese students being the largest non-EU international student body in HE, their political representation in the NUS is among the lowest. UEA also expressed their opposing stance against student deportation, as education is a right, not a luxury, and called for resources and info sheets to be given to students wanting to go to arms trade industries connected to the wars and atrocities in the Global South.  Our very own full-time union officer Yinbo Yu talked about nonwhite imperialism. Fellow Norwich Radical writer Emmanuel Agu was elected in a job-share alongside Kelechi Chioba as LGBTQ+ Representative, and I as Disabilities Representative in a job-share with Sofiya Ahmed. Hussam Hussein was elected Postgraduate Representative in a job-share with Daniel Asaya.

despite Chinese students being the largest non-EU international student body in HE, their political representation in the NUS is among the lowest

The conference started off well, with Malia stating that ‘[BSC] changed the face of the student movement.’ But being in a large-but-stuffy space for more than nine hours straight, in a politically tense atmosphere, under the harsh fluorescent, discussing about bleak topics of racism and oppression will inevitably do something to your mental health. By Sunday, you could cut through the tension in the air with a rusty cheese knife.

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(Malia Bouattia, NUS President © Sarah Nwafor / Facebook)

Political blackness is clearly a divisive topic and rightly so; various delegates argued that you cannot pull away the historical discrimination and oppressions Africans and Afro-Caribbeans faced related to the notion of ethnic blackness, and to do so would be erasing and dismissing various racial issues they have uniquely faced based upon the identity of racial blackness.

discussing about bleak topics of racism and oppression will inevitably do something to your mental health

However, this debate also elicited some anti-BME rhetoric, some of which I had the displeasure of overhearing. On Twitter, when I voiced out my concerns regarding BSC not being a safe space for BME, namely me, a very few dismissed my claims under the argument that I perpetuated antiblackness by merely being in the conference, without actually even knowing my stance on this issue or the context of the conference.

I think that political blackness is a very important issue to be discussed. I think that we can debate about this without dismissing the struggles and oppressions of other BME, under white supremacy. Despite the fact that BME experience racism in varying degrees, we stand in solidarity against this oppression formed through the rhetoric of otherness.

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(Aadam Muse, elected as Black Students Officer © Sarah Nwafor / Facebook)

As Lina Bellos says, ‘when we let people divide and rule us, we suffer.’ Anti-BME rhetoric only derails the problems of erasure done to African and Afro-Caribbean folks behind the notion of political blackness. We cannot dismiss claims of any BME for safe spaces, because this hostility is where white supremacy festers and becomes stronger.

I just hope that in the next Black Students’ Conference we can have more discussions about the rights of working class and disabled BME — two subjects which were criminally underrepresented in the conference — and that we can debate about political blackness, whilst being perfectly aware of the decades of work NUS has done to improve the rights of working class and disabled BME.

Featured image © Sarah Nwafor / Facebook

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