New role for Black Britons in the public realm
By Thomas L Blair© 31 December 2018
Gina Miller’s book RISE should inspire the Remainers in the British 2016 referendum. And the rest of us as well. The remarkable writing and campaigning of this Windrush heir has foreshadowed a new role for Black Britons in the public realm.
“There were times, after the Brexit court case, when I was repeatedly told I was the most hated woman in Britain”, she recalls. Despite the bullies and the brickbats that followed, this confident woman of Guyanese heritage — an entrepreneur, a model, a domestic abuse survivor, and mother of a disabled child – survived. And in RISE she recounts her life lessons in speaking out, standing tall & leading the way.
To me, the best part of her story tells of fighting injustice. It is a deeply personal and painful contribution to the #MeTo movement against sexual harassment. She was a target not just of sexist and racist abuse, but physical threats to her and her family.
Nevertheless, Miller advises “It is when things feel the most uncertain…that we must dig deep”.
“That’s when we must rise up and be more vocal,” says the founder of endthechaos.co.uk
“If we hide, she warns, society “might be transformed into a hostile, alien environment in which we have no say and where things we love and value no longer exist”.
Her commentators agree. RISE shows Miller is “Unapologetic…and impatient to make a difference”, says Afua Hirsch, writer, broadcaster, and journalist for The Guardian newspaper
RISE is living proof that “Change happens when individuals speak truth to power “, says June Sarpong MBE and British television presenter.
What struck me about Miller’s RISE is that in one extraordinary action, the one-time staunch Labourite thrust her campaign into the murky political arena. Speaking out, she says the nation and the Windrush heirs are threatened by the government’s Brexit deal. Opposition party leader Jeremy Corbyn should “ensure there is an option for remain in the parliamentary vote”. So that “the people of the United Kingdom through parliament can end this chaos”.
Pressing her views more broadly, the anti-Brexit campaigner urged students at her former school Hurstpierpoint College and Littlehampton Academy to take collective action. . “People say that you get the politicians you deserve. Well, I look at the current crop and ask what did we do wrong, to deserve this lot?
Awakened from their slumber they should ‘rise up’ and ‘swamp’ their local MPs with phone calls, emails and letters. “You are the people who we’re relying on to remind us of our consciences, to remind us about the human values we seem to have lost in this country,” she said.
Moreover, “The foundations this country was built on, of empathy, integrity, individual and collective responsibility, seem to have been worn away. And you young people are going to have to rebuild those foundations.”
Recalling her own painful litany of name calling, castigation and repugnant behaviour, Miller abhors the current dire state of British politics. “Undermining rational debate or voices of concern and common sense, and silencing opposition through venomous personal attacks is now the order of the day,” she says. For remedial action she quotes the feminist author Rebecca Solnit, saying “”Who is heard and who is not defines the status quo. “However by redefining whose voice is valued, we define our society and its values”.
These sentiments carry over from her professional experience and legal studies at the University of East London. Miller’s “True and Fair Campaign, calls for an end to rip-offs and dubious practices in the UK investment and pension industry. She aims for 100 percent transparency of fees and holdings, as well as the introduction of a Code of Ethics.
Her commentators offer fulsome praise. “Gina Miller’s wisdom and courage have revealed the truth in a historical battle for democracy ”, said actor Vanessa Redgrave.
“Her story will shame those who preached freedom but showed intolerance,” said Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of the Guardian.
Life’s lessons are at their best when the furious Miller speaks out about racism and its impact. In the chapter “Skin and Silence”, she investigates “Britain’s racism epidemic” using herself as a potent case study.
“Wounds are being re-opened. Racism is attaching itself like a virus to the weaknesses in our societal body,” she writes. The uplift in hate crime after the Brexit referendum cannot be separated from the death threats she continues to receive daily.
However, the limitations of her sub-title “Leading the way” are evident. RISE reads too much like a tale of innocence betrayed. Miller appears to be a hard-done-by ex-colonial who simply wants to make the master better at social relations.
But this sentiment doesn’t chime with the times. Rather it reflects her arm’s length distance from the contemporary political scene.
Seriously delimiting state power requires the allegiance of trending Black voters. It needs the firm support of parliamentarians, such as the vocal Remain campaigner David Lammy, MP for Tottenham’s increasingly Black and minority population. Progressive journalists, researchers and civil-rights organizations could be formidable allies.
This said Miller deserves a commendation. She beat the system though she never held any kind of political authority, nor had any real role as a public figure. She didn’t stop Brexit. But she did prove that women like her can openly challenge authority. And Miller did it in one of the most fraught socio-political environments in recent history.
Miller’s RISE is a page-turner with a message. Inspired by Maya Angelou’s fierce defiance in “Still I Rise”, she condemns the growing climate of hostility, hate and defamation. Moreover, she believes she has voiced a “rallying cry” for other women to make their voices heard. Just the kind of gendered public intellectual Black Britons and the nation need.
Cover photo of Gina Miller, RISE – Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall & Leading the Way, Canongate Publishers.
This article is an updated version of BLACK BRITONS MUST HELP “END THE BREXIT CHAOS” which appeared November 26, 2018.
Read more in BLACK BRITONS STALLED BREXIT January 11, 2017, https://bitly.com/#