What the Welsh independence movement must learn from the mistakes of white feminism

Picture by Ifan Morgan Jones / Llinos Dafydd. (CC BY 2.0)

Melanie Owen

There’s nothing quite like a crisis to challenge voters’ political loyalties and Covid-19 has been a clear-cut exemplar of that notion in Wales. With Westminster vocalising its expectance of Wales and Scotland to obsequiously follow England’s lead, only to then make a dog’s dinner of its own lockdown regulations, it is no wonder that a new tranche of the Welsh population is, for the first time, considering the prospect of an independent Wales.

But whilst it’s true that Boris’s Conservative government has done more to bolster Welsh nationalism than it has to fortify loyalty to the union, the Welsh independence movement must now address its own Achilles’ Heel if it is to effectively mobilise its new-found supporters.

Whilst the movement sits resolutely on the left of the political spectrum, at present it is failing to integrate the notion of intersectionality into its core messaging, thus leaving myself as an ethnic minority voter wondering whether their vision of an independent Wales would be any more socially inclusive than the status quo.

The heightening of awareness surrounding racial prejudice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder has cast a much-needed floodlight over Welsh pockets of intolerance which have, until now, been largely accepted as the norm. Whilst the highlighting of such prejudice is a constructive first step in overcoming institutional and direct racism, these long-overdue conversations have exposed the independence movement’s predilection for correcting the narrative in favour of highlighting Welsh oppression.

All too frequently, vocal supporters frequently draw highly inappropriate parallels between English xenophobia towards Wales and the five hundred years of brutal enslavement of black people. A demonstrative snapshot of this was Welsh Twitter’s plethora of ‘racism’ cries in response to The Telegraph’s Matt Cartoonist and his illustration last week depicting airport staff testing travellers for ‘signs of being Welsh’.

The countless Twitter threads exhibited how quick the Cymry Cymraeg are to claim victimhood of racism, when the reality is that they as a white majority experience no day-to-day racism, no institutional racism and are more often than not the perpetrators of the most common microaggressions. Sure, a joke about being a leek-muncher is annoyingly lazy and predictable, but the claim that it is racism is painfully naïve and, in itself, a microaggression.

 

Missteps

The movement’s main mouthpieces have, to date, done little to educate their supporters on the stark difference between Welsh oppression and the severity of racism endured by ethnic minorities every day. Whilst the foregoing of such clarification could have been overlooked previously, the silence around the movement’s evident racial misjudgements is now growing thick and unignorable.

With the next generation of would-be campaigners having a heightened awareness of racial tensions in Wales, such silence cannot be continued if the movement is to keep the support of those who prioritise intersectional representation and equality.

One need only look to the errors of the white feminist movement to presage the destructive problems the Welsh independence movement will incur should it fail to address its messaging on race. White feminism refused to acknowledge or redress the fact that non-white women carry greater burdens and face magnified oppression in comparison to their white counterparts.

Their core message demonstrated their reluctance to combat patriarchal frameworks designed to keep women of colour down, provided white women dismantled the structures oppressing them specifically. As a result, many women of colour abandoned the feminist movement feeling neglected and overlooked. The Welsh independence movement must reflect on these missteps if it is to avoid stumbling down those very same pitfalls.

Acceptance

I share the same love for Wales as those fiercely furthering the independence cause, however I feel unable to align myself with the movement whilst it allows confusion over what constitutes racism to go unclarified. In the Spring of 2018, I grappled with the idea of joining the campaign and was, thanks to Westminster’s predictable neglect of Welsh needs, feeling enthused by the prospect of being a part of the movement.

However, that enthusiasm turned to crushing hurt and disappointment overnight as I read the news that, in response to calls from independence campaigners, a charity shop in my hometown had felt obliged to remove bunting and decorations originally installed to celebrate Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle.

As a Welsh mixed-race woman, witnessing a woman with very similar heritage to mine partaking in something so historic was seismic beyond words. In a world where black women are disrespected more than any other demographic on Earth, to see Ms Markle smash social boundaries in a way that would have been unimaginable only a decade earlier, was confirmation that I too could tackle institutional racism head-on.

However, not in Aberystwyth, it would seem. Local independence campaigners could not look past their own cause for the sake of intersectionality, even on this one occasion. The movement failed to appreciate that a Welsh woman such as myself saw the wedding as a mark of acceptance, as a knock to the racists and as a hint that maybe I as a mixed-race woman should no longer feel less important.

I did not expect for a second that nationalists would wave Union Jacks in joyous glee at the prospect of a royal wedding, but I was bitterly disappointed that they would not allow this small win for black and mixed-race women to at least be celebrated by a charity shop. So long as the Welsh independence cause was being heard, to hell with the advancement of race equality.

My own feelings towards the movement remain torn between the Welsh half of me who wants to see my country achieve its full potential and the mixed-race half of me who will always prioritise racial equality. I heartily hope that the movement will make that choice for me, by learning the lessons of the white feminism failures.

With education to members on the clear differences between Welsh oppression and racial prejudice, there need not be such a dissonance between those who can support the Welsh independence movement and those who have experienced the true meaning of racism.

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