HIGHLIGHTS, with commentary, of Epic T’s interview with skilled facilitator & frontline activist Shanthuru Premkumar
#TellTheTruth #Racism #XR
Shanthuru Premkumar is an anti-racist movement and a riot unto theirself.
Below this HIGHLIGHTS video of my interview with them, check out the paraphrased transcription of their comments (these HIGHLIGHTS are a selection from the longer interview which will be released soon), and then further below, a blog post of related commentary from me.
“People with privileges, they’re comfortable; they don’t want to work. They want to sit & relax. They’re like, ‘Why should I read a book about a nice racism or why should I read a book titled Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race?’
I’ve been calling out, calling out, calling out…Extinction Rebellion, within, because I love the movement. I still love them. I think it’s such an important movement; it gives you hope…but for whom is extinction? Is it the extinction of the people who live in the north western hemisphere?
Many people are going to come; they’re going to come from different parts of the world, with different worldviews, with different realities. How are we going to support these people…?
I believe Extinction Rebellion has to immediately change. I don’t know, we talk about Tell The Truth, Tell The Truth, Tell The Truth, and here you have a leader who is blind…literally, and he then invites other blind people who are #@?%**# colour blind, and then they say racist stuff.
They don’t even apologize; I’ve been with XR for what, two and a half years; they don’t apologize; they ask somebody else to send me an email to say sorry. You can’t talk to me directly?! You’re afraid or what? Why are you doing ‘nonviolent direct action’ then?! ‘Tell The Truth’..?
You know, you’re not telling the truth, you’re telling, the most convenient truth which is helping you!
DAF -Deep Adaptation Forum, is another white supremacy group, and you can quote me on that. Jem Bendell…or whatever his name is…is a very smart person; I loved the writing, it was brilliant, but very Europe-centric.
They did have a BIPOC DAF group, an advisory group for DAF to try to become a bit more inclusive…
Nazism, thanks to Martin Heidegger…and thanks to many other thinkers, German thinkers like Hegel etc…systematically built up to the moment where somebody like Adolf Hitler could come to power…
If most countries around the world are rich, including Canada, the UK… it’s because of colonization, and you continue doing that…if you didn’t have colonization you would not have the infrastructure or science or anything…you have it thanks to us. It’s a human rights violation to me, the fact there is no concept of reparations to those people from whom you stole.
You didn’t ask, you didn’t take nicely, you stole from us…just give us back the money, just give us back what you stole from us…and here I’m talking for Sri Lanka right, I’m going for my country, a small island; just give us back the money, and I tell you, my mother would not have been killed because of the war, my father wouldn’t be in prison, so many Tamils would not have been murdered and killed…
Since the time that colonization started, carbon emissions have increased…
All the BIPOC people who quit XR, I understand, you had to do it, I also wanted to; you asked me to quit many times and I didn’t quit, but I think it’s time that we reclaim XR and everything else around it as well. Reclaiming doesn’t mean that we need to push out all the white people from the movement; it means just decentre the conversation; if Roger Hallam doesn’t see colour, doesn’t understand the importance, and only sees the emergency, ‘Roger, you are a proto-fascist!’ This is problematic! And if you don’t want to hear the truth, take out your first demand, ‘Tell The Truth.'”
Epic T’s (Matthew’s) piece:
I’ve been involved with Extinction Rebellion since the beginning. These days I consider myself a critical friend, rather than a hardcore Rebel. This is the only way that I can continue my wide studies of what makes and breaks social movements; the only way I can steer clear of certain cult dynamics that are sometimes present in XR circles, dynamics which would make it hard for me to maintain and develop my holistic and inclusive view on global resistance / rebellion / revolution / regeneration.
When I do engage with XR, especially in the UK, I am sometimes criticised for being divisive, when all I want to do, out of love for appropriate Rebellion against the destructive forces of our times, is to make things better. When the study Beyond inclusion? Perceptions of the extent to which Extinction Rebellion speaks to, and for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and working-class communities was released in the summer of 2021, it was clear that despite the rhetoric inside XR UK, not much had changed as regards racism and white supremacy ‘culture’. I am passionate about overcoming this supremacy, in myself first and foremost.
However, even the study above failed to acknowledge that by focusing on the UK it is in danger of reinforcing the colonialism of XR as a global movement; by concluding that XR UK is still implicitly racist, the assumption is that the whole global movement of XR is racist. This seems like a big mistake to make (even if the assumption is true), not least because XR on social media is still dominated by UK perspectives. It is only very recently that the XR UK YouTube channel, in true colonialist fashion, finally conceded to pressure to rename as ‘Extinction Rebellion UK’, from ‘Extinction Rebellion’; the original naming seemed to claim / reclaim a relative monopoly on XR video content from around the world. When YouTube is not just an entertainment and social media platform, but the second largest search engine in the world, second only to its parent company Google, this was a big problem.
XR, at least in the UK, has done well to decentralise some of its functions and processes. I have observed this happening since 2018. However this hasn’t yet fully occurred in the domain of Media & Messaging (XR lingo: ‘M&M’) including on Facebook. This somewhat disempowers any decentralisation that has happened elsewhere in the movement. When monopolised and inherently white supremacist social media channels keep propagating content, especially regarding social movement strategy, that platforms the same white faces / voices; from people who have demonstrated no significant action on racial inclusiveness, then a tragic lack of diversity and community cohesion in XR is continually reinforced, (regenerative white supremacist culture).
Sometimes, exceptional content breaks through, particularly from the XR Internationalist Solidarity Network, but basic structural colonialism in XR’s social media channels remains unaddressed. Moreover, the admins of these channels are relatively anonymous and appear, at least from the outside, to be subject to no mechanisms of accountability in what they post.
Steps are apparently being taken within XR UK to decentre white perspectives and promote BIPOC people to positions of power and leadership, as well as roll out anti-oppression training, as has been explicitly promised in XR UK’s 2021 and 2022 strategy documents. However the dangers in this liberal approach, which doesn’t demand deeper supportive democratic structures of decision-making in XR, and makes the anti-oppression training optional to those who are conscious enough of white supremacy to engage with it, are that it could be a little ‘hit and miss’ and create fresh power imbalances. These imbalances could be further uncritically magnified by centralised social media channels.
So, in the absence of a truly decentralised, democratic and diverse global movement (including on social media), for anyone who feels responsibility or solidarity towards XR, the only supportive thing to do at this stage, it would seem to me, as regards both BIPOC and working class demographics, would be to throw ourselves into the imperfect work of supporting diverse individuals to break through the power structures and white supremacy of XR, if they want this support (and obviously, if they even want to be in XR!). Crucially, this must involve decentring XR UK within XR the global movement, as well as decentring / counterbalancing white (supremacist) perspectives within XR UK.
This is not to deny that, as a friend of mine commented on social media after I shared the first version of this post, ‘deeper conversations on what racism and colonialism really are, are needed… claiming to be antiracist and against colonialism without ever having done the work to understand what these really mean to us, is merely reactionary and not helpful…’ (thanks M).
This short post is the first in a series where I will be making my small contribution to the ‘decentring’ work referred to above. This series will be written in support of my friend Shanthuru Premkumar (Shanthi) a Sri Lankan born member of XR Belgium and the co-ordinator of Decolonise XR Belgium. Shanthi is a talented and experienced facilitator within XR and other activist groups, and has recently been appointed to key roles within Greenpeace Belgium and Greenpeace International. For Belgium they are the Justice, Equality, Diversity, Inclusion & Safety Engagement (JEDISE) officer.
Unfortunately, I feel called to promote Shanthi as hard as I can within XR (seeing as they have chosen to remain in XR). Unfortunately, because the lack of diversity within XR demands a strong push-back, and also unfortunately, because despite their humour-filled assertiveness (as a BIPOC person, would Shanthi get away with being so assertive if it wasn’t done with such good humour?) I know that Shanthi is humble at heart and does not seek to be the next ‘great XR leader’. But they are game, and they play a good game. Let the Empire of white supremacy end across the climate and environmental movements. This, is the Return of the JEDISE…
Connect with Shanthuru on Twitter here, and LinkedIn here.