NUS needs to evaluate the use of “Political Blackness” in the student movement

By: Charmaine Jacobs, President of East Kent College Student's Union. (@charamjacobs)

The recent election of Malia Bouattia, whereby she has been globally hailed as the “First Black Muslim Woman to be elected as NUS President.”, raised questions and concerns for me, in terms of the use of language around the liberation campaign “Black Students”.  Why? Quite simply because Malia isn’t black. She self-defines as black 'politically'.

Nomination and Candidacy Regulations for the NUS National Black Students’ Officer reads: "411 All candidates and nominators must self-define as ‘Black’."

Black – Political vs. Ethnic?

If we were to survey a number of Black, Asian and Arab students across the country, if they are Black – a clear picture will emerge – one no doubt, we are all well aware of. Let’s keep it real, if I as an ethnically black woman, came into your house and told you I was “Politically Asian”, you would think I was weird!  The term “Politically Black” suggests a false essentialism: that all non-white groups should share the same experience as Black people and vice versa.  The term and misleading use of language conflates the differences of radically diverse peoples, packaging them together by virtue of non-whiteness. Some are born into a notion of blackness as part of their cultural and ethnic identity. This includes most generally African and Caribbean people, as opposed to people who adopt a black identity for political reasons. The ethnically black and politically black approach notions of blackness differently. For the politically black the fight against white racism and oppression is central to their identity and purpose, for the other, blackness reflects their ethnic and cultural heritage related to their “race”.

What I find ironic is that the non-Black people in the “Black Students” movement, will look you straight in the eyes and tell you that; it’s solidarity and standing against oppression our people have suffered; It’s for all our benefit because we all suffered oppression at the hands of European colonialists. question is where do non-Black people who aren’t white who are also oppressors fit in? Simply being not white does not mean you’re not an oppressor of Black people. Being oppressed by European colonialists doesn’t mean your people didn’t oppress or still aren’t oppressing Black people. Not all of our oppressors are white. Many come from the communities some self-appointed “Politically Black” students come from. Let's face it; in the real world, outside the bubble of NUS and the Black Students Campaign, anti-blackness exists among our ethnic minority communities.

"Black” in its ethnic definition is being marginalised within the NUS, in favor of the dominant perspective of ‘political blackness’, used to denote all people who are not White. For advocates of political blackness, Blackness rooted in African ancestry is too restrictive and a source of disunity among minority groups who are seen to need to unite to overcome racism and oppression. However, racism does not function in a simple Black/White dynamic. Different minority groups are subject to different processes of racial discrimination. The use of `black' as the primary identifier, falsely equates racial discrimination with colour-discrimination and thereby conceals the cultural antipathy to other ethnic minorities and the character of the discrimination they suffer.

No one idea or political tendency represents all ethnic minority students in the UK. It is unrepresentative and divisive to enforce “BLACK” as the one identifier for all. The idea that all ethnic minority students are the ‘same’ is a colonialist view, not much different to referencing us all as “Coloured”.  We shouldn’t homogenise the ethnic identities of our students by using language that alienates them, through the prioritising of “Black” as the identifier. As `black', is evocative of people of African/Caribbean origins, for other non-black students, it can be no more than `a political colour', leading to a too politicised identity.

NUS have endorsed this ‘Politically Black’ position which openly rejects ethnic Blackness rooted in African ancestry as being too exclusive and creating ‘separation’ and ‘disunity’ among minority groups. I believe that those who self-define as black should be reflective and consider that Political Blackness and its enforced flexibility, can actually cause ethnically black students to be subsumed and alienated from their own skin-blackness, under the guise of 'solidarity'.  Let’s say for example, an ethnically black woman becomes the next President of NUS - Will it be a historic moment or has this accomplishment already been claimed by a non-black person?

Will she be considered the first or second black woman to be elected??
NUS needs to evaluate the use of “Political Blackness” in the student movement NUS needs to evaluate the use of “Political Blackness” in the student movement Reviewed by Student Voices on 14:14 Rating: 5


  1. But what about the ethnically black people whose ancestors oppressed other black people. Cab they not identify as black either?

  2. But what about the ethnically black people whose ancestors oppressed other black people. Cab they not identify as black either?

    1. Yes, because they fit the required criteria of being actual black people.

  3. Malia is North African (indigenous Algerian). Is being black about how much melanin you have? People from her tribe come in varying shades of skin tone - some having very dark skin and blue eyes.

    This article, though it touches upon anti-blackness does not go into the depth of political blackness and why it was selected by our elders. They chose it and organised around it. It unified them.

  4. Many of us in the 80s and 90s defined ourselves as politically black. It was a powerful expression of unity between all those oppressed on the basis of the colour of their skin. It does not suggest that all oppressions and experiences are the same but it acknowledges the history of shared experience by those that have suffered racism.

  5. I'm old but my daughter is politically old. Can one be politically white? My nephew-in-law is the only genuinely black person (Nigerian) in the family. If he could claim political whiteness it would help him feel part of the family, particularly when he goes to The Plough at Grimley for a drink.


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