Blog Archive

Monday, 28 September 2015

Video documenting BARAC UK & NOI solidarity visit to refugees in Calais

On 21st September, representatives of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts & the Nation of Islam visited the shanty town in Calais that refugees are forced to live in to bring solidarity & aid. Travelling with us was film maker & journalist Ray Rakaba who documented the day. This is the story of what is really happening that we will never see on mainstream newus as refugees there are labeled & demonised.

Watch the film here

BARAC UK is part of London2Calais , taking food & essential items to Calais twice a month.

We will be taking two BARAC  cars - one sponsored by the PCS Union - as part of a 20 car convoy, to Calais on 3 October. You can help by donating towards the cost of food, organising fundraising events - items needed include water proof coats, outer wear, hats, thermals, cooking items, stoves, sanitary towels. We also need people with cars willing to collect food from a warehouse in the UK & drive this to Calais (usually on a Saturday), then assist with making food parcels & distributing to our sisters & brothers in Calais. Contact

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Solidarity Visit to Calais by Black Activists Rising Against Cuts with the National of Islam; Refugees Welcome Here Demo

NOI & BARAC delegation to Calais

On 19th September 2015, a group of representatives from Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and the Nation of Islam including Colin Muhammad, senior representative of the NOI, Zita Holbourne, National Co-Chair BARAC UK and Donna Guthrie, National Women’s Officer, BARAC UK,  visited the so called ‘refugee camp’ in Calais, France to take aid, solidarity and join the International demo called by L’auberge Des Migrants; Refugees Welcome.

Participants at the demo were asked to bring gifts, in particular rain coats and personal cards / letters and to give these to those in the ‘camp’ and promote the event during the day on social networking using the hashtag #makeitpersonal.

Embracing a Sister from Ethiopia 

Young Sudanese men

When we went through French passport control our passports were taken, the window was shut on us and the official did not engage with us. We sat for what seemed an eternity watching all the cars either side of us sail through, their passports glimpsed at for a second or two. When the window eventually opened we were scrutinised one by one and asked to identify ourselves. No apology or explanation was given for the delay.

Representatives from Convoys 2 Calais, BARAC UK & Nation of Islam

On arrival our group of 8 visited a warehouse to take our donations of clothes, tents, sleeping bags, coats, toiletries and food.  There were many different groups there who had travelled from different parts of the UK doing the same. We met there with BARAC’s newly partnered organisation London2Calais part of Convoys2Calais who are taking aid to Calais twice a month.  BARAC will be part of the convoys going forward.

After sorting our donations we went to the ‘camp’ which is known as ‘The Jungle’. On our way there we stopped at a garage and shop to use the facilities there.  A French woman parked her car near to us and we greeted her and smiled. She gave us a bad look and told us in French that immigrants are a problem and not welcome there and were not allowed in the shop. At first I thought she must be the owner of the shop but she was a customer telling us that we were ‘unwelcome immigrants who were a problem and banned from the shop’. I shouted after her that she was ‘raciste’.

We spent a few hours walking around, talking with people and listening to their stories and gave out the gifts of coats, toiletries, toys, books and 200 rain ponchos donated by my union, PCS plus other items and handmade cards, shared our lunch, snacks and drinks and listened to heart breaking story after story but were uplifted by the strength, determination and hope of those there.

What was clear immediately is that the place near to the ferry terminal that people are staying is not a refugee camp, it is a shanty town created by these forced to stay there, in limbo, using the limited resources available to them.

As we drove towards the ‘camp’ we noticed the make shift shelters and tents set up in corners around the town and along the road towards it, as more and more people make the journey to France in the hope of making it to the UK and having a chance of starting their lives anew after escaping persecution, poverty, war and other horrific circumstances. 

Along the way we met with some young men from Sudan who were carrying firewood – to obtain it they have to walk for miles – firewood they told us was important as they needed it for fuel and heat.

Inside the main area that people are staying it was crowded and muddy with uneven surfaces.  At the entrance was a bank of 11 portable toilets, for the estimated 4000 people there are 30 toilets in total.  Water is obtained from pipes which are away from the toilets and there are no showers, washing or bathing facilities. People have to fill bottles with water from the piping to use.

Caked into the muddy ground was discarded clothing and rubbish as there are no facilities for placing rubbish.

I asked some people staying there if the French authorities came to clean and empty the toilets and take the rubbish away and they said no.

I asked a group of young women from Eritrea what they did to bathe and wash their hair and if they had access to feminine hygiene products. They said that if they wanted a shower, this was only available sometimes at Secours Catholique in Calais Town. To get there they had to walk for two to three hours as there was no public transport, they had none of their own and had no ability to earn money to afford a cab.  Otherwise they just had to fill up bottles with water and use that to wash and bathe.

The ‘camp’ is divided into separate country areas so different communities live together in different areas.  While we were there we observed a queue of people in front of van that had situated itself in the middle of the camp. People were coming away with random items, one had a box of cornflakes, the next a piece of clothing, the next a hat and so on.  We could see that some of the people were looking bemusedly at the odd pieces of clothing and food they had been handed and it started to explain the large number of rags and clothes embedded in the muddy ground as people were being given items that were not useful or practical as well-meaning people have donated their unwanted items without necessarily considering what is most needed and practical.  Amongst the items in the mud were ‘going out’ dresses and high heeled shoes which don’t keep out the cold and aren’t designed to walk around a muddy area.

We met people from Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Syria, Iran, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and many other countries, as we spoke with individuals and groups of people from different African countries including Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia we learned that there were divisions and unequal access to essential items and unequal treatment of those from African countries in the ‘camp’.   Amongst our group were fellow country people and between us we spoke a number of languages so we were able to overcome some communication /language barriers and  took the time to hear their stories and experiences in detail.

We were told that 60% of the people there were from Sudan but that people from other communities were coming to the ‘camp’ bringing essential items and provisions for others and saying that the items were only for those from that country and they are then offered the left overs that they don’t want.  Others groups have been provided with cooking stoves and building materials and equipment in order to build small businesses to bring some money in. All around the ‘camp’ were small businesses - shops and cafes but not everyone there can afford to purchase items and have to rely on donations but they also told us that they face hostility from some of the businesses and are not welcomed.

They said that the charities on the ground were very good at distributing items to everyone but that because of language barriers, if you don’t speak the language of the people doing the distribution you don’t understand what they are calling out – i.e. tents, blankets etc. and those that do speak the language get in first and they are too late or get the left overs.  Also food distributed does not cater for cultural / traditional needs, a bag of cornmeal flour or ground rice for example would be more welcomed and last longer than a box of cornflakes and would allow them to cook traditional foods. Traditional spices and dried fish would be welcomed also and the latter is as long lasting as tinned fish that is being distributed.

I will post a fuller list of the items needed later on but some of the items they asked for were:

A cooking stove so they don’t have to walk for miles to collect fire wood to cook on.

Cooking utensils.

Sacks/ bags of cornmeal flour, ground rice and other traditional food items.

Warm clothing for the winter such as coats, woollen hats, thermal underwear and other thermal items.

Waterproof items and inflatable mattresses so they don’t have to sleep on the ground.

We met lots of women from the African continent but we had been told in the 2-3 weeks leading up to our visit not to collect women’s clothing as there were not many women in the camp and the charities sorting the clothes had enough women’s clothing but the women we spoke to did need items, especially warm clothing and practical footwear and outer clothing to equip them to cope with the wet and cold season ahead.   Also feminine hygiene items are needed as although there are some donated they don’t always have enough. They also need African hair products.

Some had tents but others just make shift structures made with branches and plastic sheeting. They said that neither kept them dry when it rained.

Some of the gifts we took were packs of cards, balls and books and these were very popular, some groups we met only had one or two people who read in English but they said they would read the books and translate them as they went along so their friends could enjoy them too.

Spending days and months there mean that people need things to occupy their time and take their minds, if even temporarily from the horrible situation they are in so our experience is that also items to pass the time and share knowledge would be appreciated, not just for children but for adults.

We also learned that bicycles and trollies were very valuable – the ‘camp’ area is so far away from the town, shops and facilities that it takes hours to walk anywhere.

There is a library in the ‘camp’ which needs books in a variety of different languages plus a school.

Many of the people we met were young, in their late teens and twenties. 

During the day there were many tears shed as we embraced and encouraged our sisters and brothers there to keep strong. It was emotionally draining to see so many people in distress and hear so many tragic stories but we have to focus on the fact that they were also stories of hope and courage.

One young woman from Eritrea I spoke to told me that her parents and child had died, another that she had not seen her daughter for ten years.

One man on crutches told me that he had broken his leg trying to get on top of a train to the UK and had spent 20 days in hospital but then released and had no other option but to go back to the camp.  
A man told me that he spoke 6 languages and if I needed advice or information about anything in the camp he was there to help. 

As we visited the Eritrean area a woman with a megaphone was shouting; ‘We Are Human! We Are Not Animals!’.

People embraced us as we did them and even though they have nothing they invited us to eat with them and hear their stories – for some this was the first time anyone had taken the time to listen.

Some of our group stayed at the camp to speak and eat with the Sudanese people there and some of us joined the march out of the camp to the ferry terminal – we were joined by a large number from the camp.  They were upbeat and determined but understandably and quite rightly  upset about the way they were being treated.

There were lots of people on the march from the UK but far fewer French, I met a couple of Dutch women who had come by themselves to give solidarity but from the UK there were several organised groups who also brought aid.

Our partner organisation Convoys 2 Calais organised a coach to take people to the demo which around 45 people joined.

As we approached the foot passenger entrance to the ferry terminal some men expressed to us their frustration on seeing two passengers that they could not go too.  We also saw a few men walking along the track.

At the end of the march there was a rally with speakers and again we heard the words uttered ‘we are human, not animals, freedom, freedom, freedom’.

Other activities were a giant mural that everyone could contribute to. I painted a tribute to all the sisters I had met during the day in solidarity. There was a one minute silent die –in, in memory of all those who have lost their lives on their journey to freedom.

I carried a homemade placard which had a painting I did of a boat packed with people with the caption ‘Refugees are welcome, Racism is not welcome’.  People told me that this image was very important to them as many of them had travelled there by boat across the Mediterranean Sea. One man said he had travelled on a small boat with 350 people and it had been a frightening and perilous journey.

People filled in large cards with messages to the UK government, about themselves and their story and people signed a solidarity agreement.

We were the last people left at the demo, taking the time to sit, share food and talk to people and as we were about to leave, half of our group who had gone to get our mini bus saw the woman we had seen earlier with a megaphone leading a group of 70 African women on a march out of the camp and down the road. By this time the march and the demo were well over. Police attacked them and told them that they had to return to the ‘camp’ and were not permitted to march on the road – the women argued back that they were going to asset their rights to express themselves and march. They carried signs saying ‘Where is our right?’ they chanted ‘we are human beings, where is our right? We are educated black women’.  The police threatened to set riot police on them and as they started to arrive the brothers in our group intervened and stopped the police from attacking them. 

watch the powerful video of them marching  below:

 video courtesy of Colin Muhammed, National of Islam 

The image of these strong African women marching for humanity, demanding rights and reminding the world that they matter was not captured by the media, will not be seen on the news but it is an image that makes me feel empowered.

On our return journey we were asked at Passport Control what we had been doing in Calais and if the people in our mini bus now were the same people that had been in our mini bus on the outward journey!

We need to tell the stories of those in the Calais shanty town and we need to show our humanity by supporting them, bringing solidarity and the practical things they need whilst living on the edge of survival.

But the reality is that ‘The Jungle’ should not exist, those who find themselves at the end of a long and dangerous journey after escaping persecution, poverty and war should not be left in limbo hoping that one day their lives may begin again. The truth is that the 4000 there is growing daily and will continue to grow, no fences, barriers, demonisation, scaremongering or scapegoating by politicians, the mainstream media or the far right will prevent people coming or risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe, because for them, there is no choice, risking the dangers of getting here, is safer than staying where they were. 

Over the past few months we have heard refugees and migrants referred to us economic migrants, benefit tourist and even worse deemed to be non- humans marauding swarms of cockroaches and animals.   It is a shame and stain on the human race to treat their fellow human beings in this way.

Our role must also be to dispel the myths and lies, to lobby the government to grant asylum to those in Calais and to campaign for equality, freedom and justice for all. It’s not enough to be against injustice we must act to achieve it too.

BARAC is part of Convoys 2 Calais and we will be taking cars with food and essential items to Calais on the 2nd of October.  Information can be accessed here:

We have also invited the new shadow chancellor John McDonnell to come on a future visit, which he has agreed to do. It’s important for politicians to see first-hand the conditions people in Calais and wider are forced to live.

You can donate here:

BARAC has signed the solidarity agreement that was launched at the demo yesterday which you can sign here:

Earlier this week at the Trades Union Congress, the following statement was passed:

It commits the TUC General Council to:

Congress commits the General Council to campaign for Government policy to:

i.             recognise that the UK must play a full role in supporting refugees and fulfil its moral and legal obligations to significantly upscale its resettlement programme
ii. participate fully in a continent-wide response to the refugee crisis
iii. make welcome tens of thousands of refugees whether from camps in the Middle East or already in Europe
iv. fully fund refugee resettlement, avoiding the exploitation of refugees and avoiding extra pressure on poorer inner-city communities, whilst ensuring that the international development budget is only used in line with OECD guidelines on official development assistance.

If you can sponsor or provide a vehicle on the convoys, can donate items or fundraise please get in touch

Friday, 4 September 2015


BARAC is a sponsor of a 3 day conference taking place in October in Manchester marking the 70th anniversary of the 5th Pan African Conference which also took place in Manchester.  A lead organiser of the conference is Co-Chair of BARAC Manchester, Colette Williams and speakers will include Dr Gamal Nkrumah, Akala and  the co-chairs of BARAC UK Lee Jasper and Zita Holbourne who are also members of the organising and international steering committees. 

Visit for more info or email 

Attendance is free and we have secured discounts with a local hotel but we need are in need of donations. Please donate any amount you can here. Thank you for your support.

Refugees Welcome Here; March & Rallly 12th September & London 2 Calais Aid Convoy

Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK, together with the group of organisations listed below,  has called a national day of action Refugees Welcome Here and we are participating in aid convoys to Calais.

Painting by Zita; Poet~Artist~Activist entitled 'A place of safety'

March to Downing Street 
Rally at Downing Street 2pm

National day of action, Called by Stand up to Racism, BARAC, Stop the War Coalition, Migrant Rights Network War on Want, Peoples Assembly Against Austerity, Movement Against Xenophobia, Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism and Black Out London

***Please note we have changed the start time to 12pm and assembly point to Marble Arch as we were approached by the organiser of Solidarity With Refugees to work together and co-ordinate. We think it is sensible to have one event on Saturday 12 September

This event has been called in response to various reports of refugees fleeing war, persecution, torture and poverty losing their lives or struggling to find a safe haven. This includes the death of 200 refugees off the coast of Libya, around 70 refugees in a truck in Austria and ongoing reports of refugees drowning crossing the Mediterranean, stranded in Hungary and prohibited from moving around the EU, and those in Calais struggling to find sanctuary.

The government response to this has been disgraceful. Unlike Germany, Italy and Greece, Britain has not offered a safe haven for these people.

On Monday 14 September Home Secretary Theresa May will be meeting with EU leaders about the refugee crisis. We must learn the lessons of history and call on the government to take a humanitarian and compassionate response to refugees, and to meet its share of the responsibility for providing protection. Let's send a strong message: we say refugees are welcome here.

We are also calling for a national day of action on Saturday 12 September. Birmingham, Leicester and everywhere to the South of these should come to London. Scotland, Wales and everywhere to the North should organise local events.  Events could be vigils, unveiling a Refugees Welcome Here banner, launching a donation site for clothes and food. We want events anything from a vigil, to unveiling a "Refugees Welcome Here" banner at football matches or at places of worship and community centres, use your imagination!

Join us on Saturday 12 September 2015.

Painting by Zita; Poet~Artist~Activist, entitled 'Waiting' 

London 2 Calais

In addition to the demo, BARAC has affiliated to the London to  Calais  campaign which is sending aid convoys to the refugee camp in Calais which is known as The Jungle. 

On 19th of September there is a big solidarity event planned in Calais and BARAC will be joining the NOI taking food, clothes, toiletries and other essential items. 

London2Calais are working with L'Augberge de Migrants and Secours Catholique in Calais to distribute food and clothes. 

There are an estimated 4000 people living in the camp without adequate food, water, sanitation or shelter. 

How you can help:  

Donate on gofundme for 19th September.

Or donate items which can include food, water, medical supplies, toiletries, baby products, toys such as footballs, nappies, feminine hygiene products and mens casual clothes, jackets and shoes ( no womens or childrens clothes please as these are not currently needed) and books for the school and library at the camp in a variety of languages. 

You can drop these items to the NOI Mosque, Sunday all day, Monday, Wednesday or Friday evenings (6 pm - 9.30 pm). 1 to 5 Hinton Road, London SE24. 

Also if any BARAC members or supporters  have  cars or other vehicles  and can drive donations and people as part of the BARAC group please contact us

For future aid convoys starting with October 3rd more information about London2Calais can be found here:

and donations made here: 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Open letter to the Galway International Arts Festival from Boycott the Human Zoo Campaign


Open Letter to the Galway International Arts Festival from Boycott the Human Zoo Campaign 

14th July 2015

John Crumlish, CEO, Paul Fahy, Artistic Director
Galway International Arts Festival
Administration Office
Black Box Theatre
1 Courthouse Square
Duke Road
Republic of Ireland

Dear Mr Crumlish and Mr Fahy

We the undersigned are writing to you regarding your inclusion of the racist installation 'Exhibit B'in the 2015 Galway International Arts Festival.

As the Boycott Human Zoo Campaign; a coalition of anti -racist, Black community organisations, arts organisations and trade unions, we want to be clear that Exhibit B is not simply a ‘controversial’ art installation; it is an installation which features racism both in its content and in the process by which it has come to be put into the public domain.

As the UK campaign group Boycott the Human Zoo and associated organisations, we engaged in extensive public consultation and dialogue with people across communities in the UK and internationally. The overriding opinion was that the performance installation ‘Exhibit B’ is racist and immensely offensive and the curator Brett Bailey's alleged ‘educational’ message is lost to the point where it is a parody of itself and manifests the racism it claims to challenge. In addition, Mr Bailey's evident lack of understanding of the subject matter, and his disconnect from the social and political climate, results in distress, anxiety, tensions and public protest as seen in the increasing global voice - which continues to increase exponentially - requesting that the work be decommissioned and removed from programming in their towns and cities globally.

The recent protest events seen in the UK, Paris, Amsterdam and Brazil are part of a global response to the constant and continued de-humanisation of Black and migrant communities across the world.  After consideration, the city of Toronto refused to allow the exhibition to take place there due to the negative impact and offence it would cause for Black communities.  It is simply not enough for the artist, commissioners and venues - all of whom are speaking from a position of white privilege and none who are qualified in determining what is and is not racist - to state ‘it is not racist’; and that their word is the final word. A consortium of experts in racism, prejudice, discrimination and inequality from across the world have on multiple occasions unpacked and explained the ideology and methodology of racism that is prevalent in the process and accompanying actions of both the artist and the commissioners and hosting venues, and why the piece and the commissioning process are both examples of how racism manifests in the 21st Century under the framework of inherited draconian and archaic decision making that replicates and reinforces its colonial origin.

Hosting this installation and ignoring the vast surge of public opposition suggests that whereby politicians, organisations, institutions and select individuals can set the parameters of what is acceptable and accessible or not, we – the voice of the people, and particularly the voice of Black  people and communities– have no say. Our voice is being censored whilst at the same time we are being accused of censoring art for standing up to racism. Our profound understanding of racism in both ideology and methodology is dismissed. That in and of itself  is a clear example of the systemic and institutional racism that continues to manifest in current times.

Our collective voices include those that have seen the exhibition and actors who auditioned and declined involvement as well as those that have participated. The collective voice resulted in petitions in several countries including 23,000 signatures in the UK and of 20,000 in France. in the UK the organisations that make up the Boycott Human Zoo Coalition total over a million people in membership.

Over one million people around the world are saying ‘No’ to ‘Exhibit B’ including politicians, academics, activists, community leaders, artists (writer, poets, rappers, visual artists and musicians) plus ordinary people, black and white.  Each one of us see it for what it is, highly offensive, deeply insensitive and a tool to uphold the system of white supremacy and privilege that allows this work to be projected on society, while reaffirming that the attitude of white superiority and automatic entitlement is somehow acceptable and unchallengeable and takes priority over all else.

The protests against ‘Exhibit B’ in the UK successfully related the message that this piece should not have been shown in the UK and its intended run at a London venue was cancelled. Our ongoing work clarifies why this is not about ‘censorship’ - the predictable and lazy response for supporters of ‘Exhibit B’ - it is about the disconnected and uninformed process by which this piece came to be commissioned. It is not anti-art but anti-racism.

The artists and commissioners of these kinds of offensive propaganda manifestations veiled as art are stating they wish to have equality of access to appropriate or misappropriate diversity of culture and life experience, while at the same time being completely devoid of that same said culture or life experience being any part of the initiation or fundamental decision making process. The result is a juxtaposition notion that it is somehow acceptable to have discrimination and under representation in the decision making process of the very meaning of what equality is. 

To suggest, as the artist does, that the mere existence of his piece is a form of anti-racism and initiates dialogue is an arrogant and subversive appropriation of the real work that goes on to challenge racism through honest and legitimate artistic, academic and political means and methods. ‘Exhibit B’ is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem – as can be seen through the vast protests and the subsequent treatment and depiction of the protestors.  The resulting irony of the modern-day dehumanisation, demonstration and harassment directed at those speaking out cannot be ignored.

It is incredibly naive and condescending of the artist and the supporters and funders of ‘Exhibit B’ to suggest that we somehow ‘don’t get it’. Not only do we understand on a profound level which the artist would never begin to understand; we do not know the issues by association, we do not understand the topic vicariously, we do not dip in and out at times of our own choosing and we do not engage by selective appropriation. We live with covert and overt - and all the subtle nuances of racism - and live with the consequences and legacy of historical racism daily.

This piece is a propaganda vehicle for the artist as we have observed though our close inspection and observation over the past year. The inconsistencies and contradictions in the artist’s explanation, justification and narrative of his work are evident to anyone who took the time to read the articles and social media posts by Brett Bailey. The artist revealed he neither understands the subject matter with which he is using as his artistic playground, nor the results of his folly.

The extremely misleading literature contained on the artist’s website provides statistics relating to where the installation has been shown and favourable reports, it does not however refer to the overwhelmingly larger number of people that have opposed its residency in their towns, cities and countries.

It is profoundly disturbing to see the sheer level of physical force used against Black people who speak out against ‘Exhibit B’. That the army was brought in and the protesters were tear gassed and pepper sprayed for standing up and exercising their right to protest in Paris, is directly connected to a resurgence of the civil rights movement reminiscent of the 1950’s that we see across America and around the globe.

Are the civil rights activism of the past decades and centuries to be forgotten so readily? Does the Galway International Arts Festival think this crude regression is the image the Republic of Ireland and the people of Galway want to send as a message as to how it views Black and migrant people?

Is one man’s quest to insult and offend, whether inadvertently or unintentionally or otherwise, of more importance than those who live in a country, where they are now revisiting the oppression and subjugation of the past that manifests in nuanced neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism, which condescends us with; “this is good for you”, “you misunderstand”, “you are uneducated” and “we know best”? An artist who reinforces racial stereotypes and actively practises racial profiling calling the intelligent campaign of opposition to his work an “angry violent mob” and dehumanising the protesters and feeding the stereotype of Black people in mainstream media. All this despite there being peaceful protest with no record of violent incidents.

It is essential to understand that the finance and resources available to the artist, producers and commissioners of ‘Exhibit B’ create a luxury of time and opportunity by which to voice their views. This luxury of time, finance and opportunity are not afforded to those who call for its decommission. That in itself reveals the inequality at play here and the systemic construct of white privilege that frames this matter. It is by no coincidence that there was an extraordinary imbalance of available resource between the campaign initiated by an African-Caribbean-British mother from Birmingham who was incensed enough by the racism of ‘Exhibit B’ to start an online petition and The Barbican and it’s all white senior management and board of governors who nonchalantly signed-off the commission without any consultation with, or understanding of, the communities who feature within this installation, a community who would ultimately pay the price of the racist installation.

The road to equality is not through the production of ‘Exhibit B’ and art that reinforces racist stereotypes, it is in the ceasing of commissioning of such works and a change in the procedures and processes by which they come to be commissioned and access to opportunities for black artists.

It is one thing to support art and freedom of expression, but it is something entirely different to support racism and propaganda guised as ‘art’- the publicity of which only serves to benefit one individual; the artist - who will ultimately be reaping the promotional and economic benefits long after the alleged installation ‘message’ is forgotten.

It is for all these reasons that we call on Galway International Arts Festival to decommission 'Exhibit B' from its program. 

As you have programmed 'Exhibit B' as part of your Galway International Arts Festival, we kindly request that you furnish us with all the details of your consultation process and those you engaged with - particularly from Black communities - in order to obtain your decision to proceed with this commission. It is of significance  that Galway International Arts Festival receives 28% of finances from public sector grants - which brings with it further requirement for transparency and responsibility.

There is a real opportunity for art institutions and politicians, who themselves are significantly lacking in diversity, to understand how we stop the cycle of inequality, division and discrimination and work together on the solution. The decommissioning of ‘Exhibit B’ is a start.

Yours Sincerely,

Sara Myers, Founder of Boycott the Human Zoo
Zita Holbourne, National Co-Chair Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK & PCS Union NEC, Poet, Visual Artist & Curator
Lee Jasper, National Co-Chair BARAC UK  & Movement Against Xenophobia Steering Group
John Mullen, Collectif contre Exhibit B, France
Marcos Ferreira, Contra Exhibit B, Brasil
Donna Guthrie, BARAC Women's Officer & UCU staff Unite Branch Executive Committee
Paul Richards, Creative and Educational Director of BrazenBunch & UpRise
Rosemary C Adaser, Founder Member, Mixed Race Irish
Sharon Murphy, Black Irish & Singer, Songwriter 
Ngoma Bishop, Author, Arts Campaigner, & Chief Officer of BEMA
Austin Harney, Chair Campaign for the Rights for the Irish Communities (CRAIC) & SERTUC Race Relations Committee Secretary
Zena Edwards, Spoken Word Artist & Creative and Educational Director
Adrienne Frye, British Black List 


Wednesday, 8 July 2015

JOINT BARAC & TNBFC PRESS RELEASE; Victory in the Dear White People Campaign

JOINT BARAC & TNBFC PRESS RELEASE; Victory in the Dear White People Campaign            Thursday 9th July 2015 

On Wednesday 8th of July the BFI confirmed that they will be granting lottery funding for the wider distribution of the film Dear White People in UK cinemas. This decision follows a month long joint campaign by Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK and The New Black Film Collective to challenge the institutional racism in the UK film industry at large.

Campaign actions included a screening of Dear White People in the Houses of Parliament, hosted by John McDonnell MP with a post film discussion on the issue of institutional racism in the film industry and a petition signed by over 1000 people including politicians, trade union and community leaders and celebrities.

The initial refusal of the BFI to grant lottery funding for the distribution of the film in cinemas without fully exploring all avenues for release and the refusal of major art house cinema chains to screen it could have led to the film going straight to DVD in the UK despite it being a Box Office success in the USA and an award winning film.

BARAC UK & TNBFC are pleased that the BFI, be it belatedly, agreed to work in partnership with TNBFC to find a solution for Dear White People and going forward to discuss measures to improve distribution and audience development for black film in the future.

National Co-Chair of BARAC UK Zita Holbourne said;

‘I am happy that BARAC was able to work jointly with TNBFC to achieve this victory, but the institutional racism that exists in the arts and culture sector including the film industry must be challenged going forward.  Black and migrant communities have made a tremendous contribution to the arts in the UK and the disproportionate impact of austerity means that the racism in the sector is amplified.  Going forward the BFI must ensure that their decision making bodies reflect the communities they are supposed to serve, that they consider the equality impact of their actions and equality proof their policies and processes.  It is simply unacceptable in 2015 that the only films featuring black characters or about our story on the big screen see us whipped, chained or ridiculed or that the token black character in the film is the first to die.’

Director of TNBFC, Priscilla Igwe said;

'I am delighted that through the intervention of Ben Roberts, Director of Film at the BFI, a way has been found to widen the release of Dear White People, a film that could not be more relevant in light of recent events and it bodes well for the vital investment required for contemporary Black cinema to be received in this country. We would like to thank BARAC and the support of British audiences for recognising that it is time for a change and getting behind this film.'

The campaign was always about more than just Dear White People and about the repeated rejection of films written, directed and produced by black people and about black people.  Our stories just like all stories deserve to be told, it is only by sharing our experiences that we break down barriers and as we experiencing deepening racism, film is a powerful medium for initiating debate about the issues of race and racism. It is not enough for institutions to say they are for race equality, they must put this into practice and demonstrate a real commitment to ensure that bias conscious or unconscious plays no part in their decision making, that  so called ‘black films’ are not pigeon holed or ghettoised and that they reach wider audiences.  Therefore we see this victory not as the end of a campaign but the start.

The Dear White People Premiere and After Party took place on Wednesday 8th July at the Prince Charles Cinema and Ruby Blue in Leicester Square, London respectively.  Dear White People is on general theatrical release from 10th of July
Zita Holbourne, BARAC UK    Tel. 07711 861660   Email
Priscilla Igwe, TNBFC    Tel. 07860613246   Email

BARAC UK is a national campaign with regional structures against racism and injustice and the disproportionate impact of cuts on black workers, service users and communities and deprived communities.

TNBFC is network of film exhibitors, educators and programmers spread across the regions in the UK. As part of their range of services, they host screenings that matter to the local community featuring international and domestic films of black representation and are one of only two black film distributors in the UK.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Dear White People goes to Parliament; racism in the arts & culture sector must be challenged

BARAC UK are working with The New Black Film Collective (TNBFC)  campaigning against institutional racism in the film industry.

In the past months we have supported and participated in a wide range of campaigns against institutional racism in the arts and culture sector and the disproportionate impact of austerity on the sector. 

The BFI has refused lottery funding to distribute the film Dear White People in the UK even though by their own admission it meets their criteria and cinemas have been reluctant to screen it, especially outside of London with no cinemas agreeing a standard 7 day run. 

This week the BBC interviewed Director of TNBFC, Priscilla Igwe together with a spokesperson from the BFI  who was unable to explain their rejection of the film, you can listen here.

We can only conclude in the absence of any other explanation offered by the BFI or those cinema chains rejecting it that institutional racism lies at the heart of their decision. 

TNBFC has now lodged an appeal against the BFI decision, we challenge them to do the right thing and not only apologise for their blatant attempt to ghettoise the film as only suitable for black audiences but to grant lottery funding for its distribution. 

Racism is deepening every day and the film offers an opportunity to initiate dialogue about some of the issues explored in it. Whilst the film  is set in a USA university,  highly racist and offensive 'blacking up' is something that has taken place in universities in the UK as recently as this year; Stirling University Students Black Up and  York University students black up for fancy dress prank. These types of horrific events and the discrimination and isolation that black students face in the UK, in addition to the disproportionate impact of austerity on black students, mean that the work of the NUS Black Students Campaign is essential. 

The nine  people who were  murdered in Charleston

Black deaths at the hands of the State is a concern both in the USA and in the UK, since BARAC was formed in 2010 we have supported a number of family justice campaigns, a week ago we saw the horrific mass murder of worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, yet the media both in the USA and the UK have been reluctant to call it out for what it is, a terrorist attack by a racist supremacist  even though the murderer himself declared his racist intent. The church, one of the oldest black churches in the USA  was burned down in 1822 and 35 people were hanged  in response to a slave rebellion. 

Bree Newsome has now been arrested for taking down the flag in the USA #FreeBree

A debate has followed in recent days about the permanent removal of the Confederate flag in the US because of its historic connection to  racism and the fact that photos were found of the killer posing with the flag.  

BARAC team at Glastonbury led by BARAC Women's Officer, far right, Donna Guthrie

Last week BARAC sent an all black woman team of volunteers to work at Glastonbury Festival but they had not anticipated yet another campaign against racism in arts and culture whilst there. After only one day at the renowned music  festival, they were shocked to discover  a Confederate flag on display.  They  staged a picket outside the staffing area the flag was situated in order to force its removal by the festival organisers but we believe that questions must be asked as to the intent of those bringing the flag to the festival in the wake of such a brutal racist massacre associated with the Confederate flag and will be writing to Glastonbury about this. 

Confederate Flag found at Glastonbury 
Racism is very real and its effects are deep and harmful.  Black Lives Matter and It is time that the BFI puts in place robust equality monitoring and equality proofing systems, ensuring that those who make the decisions are representative of the communities and diverse population that  they are supposed to serve. if the BFI really believe that a film entitled Dear White People which explores race and racism is only for black people to view, then  are they suggesting that the racism experienced by black people is a problem for black people to address and not the perpetrators?

How do young black film makers in the UK stand a chance of getting a platform for their work with attitudes like this from the BFI?  

As the general release date is only a couple of weeks ago we want to present the campaign petition to the BFI - please help us to build the petition by signing and sharing widely here.

Well known people who have signed the petition include Clive Lewis MP, Assistant General Secretary of Unison, Roger McKenzie, actresses Dona Croll and Judith Jacob and broadcasters Rosemary Laryea and Jasmine Dotiwala. 

Photo by: T Cobham, all rights reserved 

We are grateful to John McDonnell MP for hosting a screening and post-film discussion in the Houses of Parliament about how we challenge institutional racism in the film industry which took place on June 24th.  Speakers included  Co-Chair of BARAC UK Zita Holbourne and Director of TNBFC, Priscilla Igwe. Jeremy Corbyn MP also took time out of his busy schedule to attend and give support.  Those in attendance committed to support the campaign and bring together the various campaigns against race discrimination in the arts and culture sector in joint campaigning activities. 

Left to right, Priscilla Igwe, Zita Holbourne, John McDonnell MP     Photo by : T Cobham, all rights reserved 

John McDonnell MP talked about film being a powerful medium for challenging negative views, Priscilla Igwe talked about the challenges she has faced trying to get the film distributed and her commitment to doing so and Zita Holbourne talked about the link between austerity and cuts and the deepening institutional racism in the film and wider arts sector. 

Zita Holbourne & Jeremy Corbyn MP      Photo by T Cobham, all rights reserved 

In the same week the film was screened as part of the Images of Black Women Film Festival at the Tricycle in Kilburn, London, followed by  a post film Q&A with Rosemary Laryea and Zita Holbourne. The film received a very positive response from the audience who also endorsed the campaign to get it screened and challenge the institutional racism in the industry.

Zita Holbourne & Rosemary Laryea

Links to the campaign media, social networking, forthcoming screenings and events can be accessed via the website  #dearwhitepeopleuk 

Dear White People cast

Zita Holbourne; National Co-Chair BARAC UK