Julia Edthofer: This is what radical democracy looks like!
Reclaiming urban space in Vienna
On the first of May 2009 more than 2000 people gathered together at the “Marcus Omofuma”-Memorial stone in the centre of Vienna for a protest march in memory of the Nigerian citizen Marcus Omofuma, who had suffocated during his deportation in May 1999 because the police tied him up and covered his mouth with tape. The demonstrators followed a route through the inner city districts which saw them passing by the Austrian parliament to protest against racist immigration laws as well as a place near the Viennese Opera where, in 2004, Nicolae J., a Romanian citizen got shot by the police. The march ended in the Viennese “Stadtpark”, where the Mauretanian physicist Seibane Wague was killed in 2003 during a police action. The organisers of the protest march mostly belonged to autonomous migrants’ initiatives and non-migrant autonomous action groups, and the demonstration at the 1st May 2009 can be seen to mark the end of a decade of transnational anti-racist urban protest politics in Vienna.
In recent years, urban social movement studies have paid much attention to the emergence of transnational urban protest networks and politics. I discuss these developments with reference to Left-wing urban protest in Vienna, focusing on autonomous protest politics and its transformations within the last decade. During this period the “glocal” dimension of urban protest – i.e. its local impact and its interconnection with economic, social but also discursive shifts on a global scale – are increasingly focused on autonomous street politics. The decade reflects specific struggles within Austrian urban protest, which are related to the national post-nazistic setting.
 I acknowledge that these are also connected to globalised political issues related to the Middle East conflict. However, I do not cover these issues in the paper.
This is what radical democracy looks like! Autonomous Urban Protest in Vienna
Starting with the example of the last decade of urban protest in Vienna, I will briefly describe the national setting and relate it to the development of the autonomous movement. In the second half of the 20th century Austria was economically wealthy and politically stable. However, the collective suppression of the involvement in the Nazi regime became an important part of the Austrian national identity after the Second World War. This suppression was combined with the discursive construction of a “victimization myth”, i.e. the shared collective belief of having been Nazi-Germanys first conquest and the importance of a “collective national effort” to regain economical and political stability in the post-war period (Musner and Maderthaner 2007; Uhl 2001). The first developments concerning urban protest politics became visible during the 1970s, while the social-democratic party was in power. Economically, this period was regulated by “Austro-Keynesianism” installed by the government of chancellor Kreisky. The regulation of production and consumption corresponded to the Fordist model and the social-democrats enlarged the welfare state significantly (Penz 2007). There was no considerable extra-parlamentary opposition in Austria following the events of 1968 and the first vital signs of such oppositional movement appeared alongside ecological protest and the development of a squatting movement, which was mainly based in Vienna. In 1975, the historical inner-city building “Amerlinghaus” and in 1976 the former industrial slaughterhouse “ARENA” were temporarily squatted and subsequently transformed into autonomous cultural centres. In 1978 the first bigger ecological protest movement developed around the protest against the nuclear power plant “Zwentendorf” (Foltin 2004). In the 1980s an active autonomous squatting scene emerged and various cultural and/or political centres were established throughout the city, of which the bigger ones like WUK (Werkstätten und Kulturhaus), ARENA, Amerlinghaus and EKH (Ernst Kirchweger Haus) are still existent. At present, the EKH is the largest autonomous social and cultural centre in Vienna; it was squatted in 1990, got precarious user contracts and since has housed more than twenty political initiatives, including migrant organisations and asylum seeker support groups. The 1990s were a period of retreat for movement politics and this holds especially true for autonomous contexts, which are subjected to a wave of state repression after a bomb attack in April 1995. The attack was directed against an electricity pylon in the lower-Austrian municipal Ebergassing to call attention to the threat of nuclear power (TATblatt +164, April 1995). At the end of the decade, however, protest rose again as a result of the aforementioned racist murders and the change of government.
Since its emergence in the second half of the 20th century, Austrian autonomous urban politics has addressed what is known as the Right to the City – or the ´right to inhabit on the one hand, and the right to use and occupy urban space, to gather and to protest´ on the other (Leontidou 2010: 1181). As a focal point of Austrian urban protest, Vienna now contains a counter-hegemonic network of autonomous political spaces, which provide the necessary spatial precondition for organizing politically. The Viennese counter-hegemonic rhizome consists of a network of different infrastructures like autonomous women’s centres, mixed squats, trailer parks (“Wagenplätze”), free shops, autonomous counselling organisations for asylum-seekers, self-organised political clubs and bars, public libraries (“Volxbibliotheken”), etc. This network of infrastructures houses a heterogeneous mix of political action groups and networks working on special issues like anti-racist action groups, anti-sexist action groups, the anti-capitalist MayDay network, the information network indymedia, etc. Although not negating the importance of spatial political infrastructure, I focus on temporary appropriations of urban space, because they can be regarded as the “lynchpin” between autonomous heterotopias and mainstream society and reflect the changing topics and issues of protest.
From Fordism to Neo-Liberalism: Transformations of Urban Protest
Autonomous protest politics traditionally addresses topics such as free housing and law and order politics (Birke and Holmsted 2007). But activists also act in response to prevailing political issues; they react to ´glocal´ political developments and integrate issues such as racism and ethnic profiling, gentrification and increasing surveillance into their protest. All the addressed political issues correspond to material changes as well as to transnational hegemonic and counter-hegemonic political discourses and are linked to the transition from Fordist to post-Fordist urban regimes. Taking a regulation-theoretical stance, Mayer (1998, 2003) distinguishes three major trends of change with regard to their impact on urban protest politics. The author´s three-step model that illustrates these changes for german cities can also be adopted in the austrian situation and thus the transformation of urban protest in Vienna is illustrated following her approach. In doing so, it is possible to take into account how the changing topics are related to hegemonic and counter-hegemonic discourse as well as to address the material groundings of the transnationalisation of Viennese protest politics and protest culture.
Co-Option as an Option:
The first trend regards formal political structures and points to the neoliberal shift from “state government” to ´local governance´, introducing a ´deliberative´ and ´inclusive´ form of city governance (Mayer 2003: 286). This creates an ambivalent protest milieu, as protest can get neutralised when heterotopian protest spaces are co-opted. Thus this change in the urban regime implies a sort of dialectical process of co-opting certain urban movement initiatives and/or counter-hegemonic spaces on the one hand and criminalising other movements, mostly the more radical ones (Mayer 1998: 67). In Vienna, such developments are not that new because the city looks back at a history of consented contention (Foltin 2004). The outcome of such politics is indeed ambivalent, because co-opted spaces can still be important nodes of protest within the city. An example would be the history and current role of WUK (Werkstätten und Kulturhaus), which started off as a squat in the beginning of the 1980s and has turned into a highly subsidised cultural centre. On the one hand the WUK clearly lost its autonomous political impact during this process, but on the other hand it is a centre for numerous political initiatives and events and it is also one of Vienna’s oldest and largest autonomous feminist centres, the FZ (Frauenzentrum). This centre is not part of the WUK structure but exists independently within the building complex. The FZ is not subsidised by the city of Vienna but it can still benefit from money given to WUK and also from the WUK infrastructure. Strategies of governing and co-opting dissent are accompanied, however, by a shift in political discourse concerning non-cooptable protest. This development is also stressed by della Porta in her analysis of the protest against the G8-summit in Genoa 2001 and afterwards. The author observes that the public perception of new social movements and the state reaction concerning the policing of protest reveal a shift from acceptance to an accentuation of a movement radicalisation and its dangers for society (della Porta 2006: 195). In Vienna, the last decade also shows various waves of repressive state action concerning movement politics. In 1999/2000 a clear crashing of the newly arising transnational anti-racist mobilisation took place and was exclusively directed against Black people (GEMMI 2005). Furthermore, state repression was also directed against animal rights activists in 2008 and 2010. Currently, drastic policing methods are observable during anti-racist protests against deportations, above all when attempts are made to prevent an ongoing deportation (http://austria.indymedia.org/node/18490).
On a local municipal scale, the division between “good” and “bad” protest was both emphasised and “localised” (Ronneberger et al. 1999; Stadtrat 1998; for Vienna: Foltin 2004). In Vienna, the “battle of the EKH” is one case where such a demonisation of protest and concrete heterotopian spaces can be illustrated. The already mentioned EKH (Ernst Kirchweger Haus) is the largest squatted social and cultural centre in Vienna. In 2003, the owner of the house – the Communist Party of Austria – sold it to a publicly known right-wing real estate company and the activists were threatened with eviction. After a long public struggle that encompassed demonstrations, public interventions, press conferences, etc., a company with close contacts to the municipality of Vienna bought the building in July 2005, and the threat of eviction seems to have passed for now. The struggle to maintain the centre was supported by many Austrian left-wing artists and politicians, but more public attention was paid to a considerable anti-EKH campaign in the media during 2004. Being located close to a giant urban renewal project centred on the reconstruction of the Viennese Main Station (Südbahnhof), the EKH currently could be once again endangered by the ongoing urban renewal process. This observation leads to the second shift focused on by Mayer with a major impact on urban protest, namely gentrification processes and the political protest against them.
Resisting Neo-Liberal City-Face-Lifting:
Part of the economic transition to Post-Fordism is the new role of cities as competitive headquarters in a global city ranking (Mayer 1998, 2003; Sassen 1998 a, b). Contrary to political discourses during the period of Keynesian welfare-state interventionism that focussed on social issues, urban renewal is now to be “achieved via place-bound and spatially targeted redevelopment schemes” (Swyngedouw, Moulaert & Rodriguez 2002: 216). As the city itself became a sort of global player, its image plays an increasingly important role. Major cultural and sporting events satisfy its “spectacular needs” and are linked with an increasing trend towards “spectacle-oriented” urban renewal, which is in turn connected to gentrification processes as well as to “law and order” and “zero-tolerance politics” (Ronneberger et al. 1999; Dangschat 2001; for the Viennese case: Zinganel 2003).
With regard to urban movement politics this has led to a newly increased focus on protest against gentrification processes that is mainly acted out by autonomous activists (Mayer 1998). It is a question of contestation whether the term “gentrification” can be applied to Vienna, where urban renewal does not lead to massive expulsions of marginalised and has only recently included huge restructuring processes of whole districts. Nonetheless, such processes are visible and denominated as gentrification by autonomous activists, who explicitly criticise two developments: the accelerating renewal processes, which in the last years especially have concentrated on the two biggest Viennese train stations and their surroundings, and the issue of gentrification and the endangerment of alternative living projects. Currently, it is above all the Viennese traveller activists (Wagenplatz – Gruppe Treibstoff) who are broaching this second issue. Until summer 2009 there was only one Viennese trailer park, located in the city suburbs. Since the local council chairman wanted to get rid of it, the activists bargained with the department for planning permission for an alternative site where they would not disturb anyone and could use the land temporarily. After six months of bargaining, the city council withdrew its initial offer in July 2009 and, in retaliation, the activists illegally occupied two urban waste areas for the rest of the summer and had to leave both sites in October 2009. Since then they have been evicted various times and are still looking for an adequate site. The whole process of eviction was accompanied by a quite fruitless media campaign in which the activists pointed to the sustainability of alternative living forms, such as political caravan dwellings, and criticised gentrification processes in Vienna, which do not leave any sites left for alternative use.
Neo-liberal politics of urban renewal are accompanied by a discourse on “city-securitization” and by repressive trends in the policing of marginalised groups such as the homeless, beggars, sex workers, drug users and also the political public. In the last years, racialised social groups are depicted as groups that do not fit into the image of a secure and competitive global city. Such groups are discursively constructed as new dangerous classes and “enemies of the state” and are increasingly affected by ethnic profiling (Kravagna 2005; Oberlechner & Schasiepen 2010; Ronneberger et al. 1999). This development points to the third area of change stressed by Mayer, namely the growth of informal and precarious working sectors, which is linked to an increasing transnationalization of the workforce, the construction of migration as security risk and the growing importance of anti-racist struggles, which also seek to transform public space into a – temporary – space of resistance.
 The term “racialised” (or “racialisation”) refers to Miles (2004) notion of ´race´ as social construction which is historically embedded and linked to biological as well as to cultural categories of otherness, it is.
Transnational Protest Politics and The Right to the City:
The route of the anti-racist demonstration on the 1st of May 2009 followed an invisible dot-to-dot drawing with each dot marking points where racist murders had occurred. During the march these spaces were transformed into politicised spaces of memory, re-evoking the deadly consequences of structural racism in Austria. Such transnational anti-racist protest politics and space production has gained importance during the last decade; it demarcates a turning point in Austrian movement politics and is embedded in a set of societal transformations. The period of time which is chosen for the empirical illustration also corresponds to a period of massive political transformation. It starts with the change in government in 1999–2000, when the newly formed coalition between the conservative Austrian People´s Party (ÖVP) and the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) brought about a strong and lasting transformation of the political landscape. The last decade has also shown the increasing importance of anti-racist protest politics, itself connected to international “no-border campaigns” which are a response to repressive EU migration and asylum policies and have also been triggered by the racist murders that were protested against on May 1st, 2009.
Note – used alternating with the term “ethnicised”, whereby the choice of words reflects the austrian discourse, which primarily refers to the term “ethnicity”.
Critical urban theory stresses the political potential of international migration movements and the transnationalisation of the workforce with Mayer (1998, 2003) and Sassen (2001) suggesting that these processes lead to a growth in urban protest about social issues within the cities of the global North that link in to post-colonial anti-racist struggles. Both agree in their analysis of ´global cities´ as venues for the emergence of transnationalised social conflicts, connected to post-colonial continuities. Sassen furthermore elaborates a brief analysis of the political potential to develop new claims as well as its potential for the development of a post-colonial, anti-racist counter culture (Sassen 1998, 2001). On the one hand she emphasises that the ´new [neoliberal] economic regime´ devaluees and informalises labour and leads to the emergence of ´new classes of disadvantaged workers´ – many of them being ´women, immigrants and/or people of colour´ and stresses that this development increasingly becomes – and should become – an issue of political protest (Sassen 2001: IV). On the other hand, it is stressed that framing of migration as “security risk” accompanied by racist politics of exclusion can be observed on a supra-national and the national level, thereby of course also affecting local politics. This development as well evokes new forms of anti-racist protest focussing on the Right to stay and no-border politics. Drawing on Hall (1996), Sassen finally points to the political potential regarding the development of a post-colonial, anti-racist counter culture and interrelated political subjectivities. In conclusion, she introduces the notion of a “strategic transnational space” (ibid. V) to denominate the discursive formation (and the contemporaneous materialisation) of such new, transnational claims to the city, which make use of and hegemonise post-colonial political criticism within urban protest politics.
Viennese autonomous movement politics of the last decade clearly reflects such analysis. Anti-racist politics gained weight and point to an important re-orientation of political interventions launched by autonomous activists. Autonomous urban protest increasingly focuses on the Right to the City of marginalised groups (including political action groups) interweaving these claims with anti-racist struggles. In Vienna, there has been systematic autonomous protest following the establishment of so-called “Protection Zones” (Schutzzonen) in 2004. Protection zones impede – often racialised – groups like sex workers, drug users and potential drug dealers from residing in public spaces nearby schools, churches and playschools. In 2004, a right-wing citizens’ action group formed around Vienna’s West Railway Station (Westbahnhof) launched a campaign against sex work in the district. The citizen’s initiative thereby exclusively concentrated on the necessity to control and prohibit “Black female sex work”. The racist focus, and the general trend to racialise social issues, was addressed by autonomous activists and was the subject of various political information events.
Autonomous politics has changed also regarding the development of concrete anti-racist political practice and increasingly turned towards transnationalised politics and anti-racist action. The main focus of this protest concerns European politics of racialised exclusion with the counter-concepts such as the Freedom of Movement and the Right to Stay. Apart from that, anti-racist protest refers to three racist occurrences that took place in 1999 and 2003. Two aformentioned incidents concerned the racist murders of the Nigerian asylum seeker Marcus Omofuma and the Mauritanian physicist Seibane Wague. The third concerns the biggest racist police action in Austrian history. These events had a considerable impact on autonomous protest politics in Vienna. They triggered anti-racist campaigns and new transnational protest-networks and have been the main foci of anti-racist protest over the last decade. In the following, these events and their impact on protest politics are described chronologically. On the 1st of May 1999, the Nigerian asylum seeker Marcus Omofuma died during his deportation after the police tied him up and covered his mouth with tape. After his killing, the African community in Vienna started to organise and protest publicly against racist harassment and, in May 1999, for the first time in Austrian movement history, a big outreach of Black political resistance gained visibility on the streets. Contemporaneously, networks between Black and white autonomous political action groups were established, as well as the anti-racist network “For a World Without Racism” (Für eine Welt ohne Rassismus) and the “Austrian no-border network” – both of which were located in infrastructures provided by the anti-racist wing of the autonomous scene. Initially, the main organisational work was done by activists who belonged to the African community. In May 1999, two large demonstrations and a series of solemn vigils were organised and supported by white activists. However, this form of protest stopped quite soon as a consequence of the so-called “Operation Spring”. Operation Spring has been the largest police action in Austria since the foundation of the Second Republic after the Second World War. It was directed exclusively against Black African males, and rounded up 127 people suspected of being drug dealers. The police operation, and the arrest of the accused persons, was accompanied by a huge media defamation campaign that established the discursive image of the “Nigerian drug dealer”, which was also imposed onto the murdered Marcus Omofuma (Krawagna 2005; Mößmer 2007; http://no-racism.net/article/521/ ; http://no-racism.net/article/848/ ). Empirical data shows that Operation Spring functioned very well as a state tool to criminalise and smash the newly formed Black protest movement (GEMMI 2005; http://no-racism.net/article/2905 ). Indeed, the demonstrations, which were organised by the Black community stopped almost immediately after Operation Spring, due mainly to the fact that the leading activists were imprisoned. Protest went on, of course, but was mainly organised and led by white anti-racist action groups. The second racist murder occurred in 2003 when Seibane Wague, a Mauritanian physicist, was killed during a police operation in which six police officers held him down by standing on his chest. Ambulance men present at the time injected Wague with a strong sedative and did not intervene. Their sentence in November 2005 pointed to the racist consensus within Austrian politics, the judicial and the executive power. Out of the ten people on trial, eight policemen were discharged, while the doctor present at the scene and one of the policemen were given an eight month suspended sentence. Like the killing of Marcus Omofuma, the murder of Seibane Wague was explained – and thus implicitly legitimated – by officials and in the media with recourse to racist stereotyping of the victims as “hyper-aggressive Black men” (Collins, 2004) who had been endangering the officials during the police interventions. These racist incidents are only two within a very long history of racist oppression and endangerment of people with African background, though they became the triggering factors for the African community to strengthen political self-organisation. After Seibane Wagues death another wave of activism was organised, and in October 2003 the Black Women’s Community (Schwarze Frauen Community – SFC) was founded as a form of self-defence against structural racism.
Notwithstanding these new waves of self-organisation, in the years following Operation Spring anti-racist protest was mainly organised by white anti-racist activists and long discussions about the necessity to protect Black people during demonstrations took place. Sassen’s notion of the ´strategic transnational´ space therefore has to be reformulated regarding two different layers. First, following Mayer’s regulation-theoretical stance, it is not realistic that political opportunity structures should be taken more into account, because they vary significantly between different urban settings. Second, from an intersectional point of view, they vary significantly within one urban setting according to the activists’ ethnicised background and legal status (Messinger 2010). This leads further to the question about who has the Right to the Heterotopian Protest City. The possibility to articulate protest in the public is not the same for everybody: people with a migration background and/or a precarious legal status do not face equal opportunities to build up a radical democratic counter-public at demonstrations and if they do, they are bearing a much higher risk when they are subjected to state repression. The empirical example from Vienna emphasises this fact in pointing to the repression, which immediately followed the political organising of the Black community in Vienna in 1999. The enforcement of a post-colonial, transnational counter-culture is an important political aim of course, and the notion of a strategic transnational space serves to impede a victimisation of people of colour and/or with migration background. The empirical case, however, shows on the other hand that on the level of hegemonic state discourse, African or Black political activists were soon and easily constructed as major enemies of the Austrian nation state through media discourse on “(male) Nigerian drug dealers”. Together with concrete – and material – state repression, post-colonial and anti-racist struggles were soon endangered and partly destroyed. In conclusion, one can thus stress that an empirical look at “post-colonial urban struggles” immediately reveals differing levels of oppression and differing Rights to the Protest City pointing to the materiality of structural racism. Such a conclusion further calls for intersectional analysis considering legal and state-bound categories such as “citizenship” or “legal status”; and, for an analysis and combating of differing forms of “epistemic violence” inherent in processes of racialisation and/or ethnicisation and interrelated racist practices.
 This information is drawn out of an interview with the white anti-racist activist B
Autonomous activists formulate criticism and – by using their bodies as instruments – transform urban space in creating radical democratic publics. Such issues are very well addressed by radical democratic theoretical approaches. What these approaches leave out however, is the importance of material issues concerning activists´ positionalities. The material level can be integrated when intersectional viewpoints and critical urban theory are taken into account. Such views point to the activists´ embeddedness in state-run ´axes of inequality´ (Klinger/Sauer 2007) and stress the fact that not everybody has the equal Right to the Protest City. Furthermore, radical democratic theory has only recently glimpsed the production of a rhizomatic counter-hegemonic protest space. However, a crucial feature of radical democratic publics is the fact that they politicise and transform the spaces they occupy during demonstrations. Furthermore, counter-hegemonic political niches play an important role in providing space for the “protest bodies” to articulate their critique and in providing spaces for the set up of solidarity-bound communicative networks. These networks are of crucial importance for political mobilisation processes. This is even more the case, when the protest is a spontaneous and urgent one, where people have to be mobilised within a short period of time. This is what happened on the 29th of April 2010, when between 300 and 400 people gathered together within a few hours to impede the deportation of two Nigerian soccer players, who were active in the anti-racist political soccer club “Sans Papiers” (see: http://www.fcsanspapiers.org/; http://no-racism.net/article/3406/; http://at.indymedia.org/node/18058). Unfortunately the deportation could not be impeded but at least the racist incidence evoked strong resistance and could be made public through the activists´ intervention. Such spontaneous “direct actions” are on the one hand the product of an infrastructure, which makes it possible to spread political information within a very short time. Put differently, it would not have happened without the regular gathering of activists and politically interested people in political venues and their willingness to join local information lists. Also, the spontaneous political intervention required a sense of solidarity within the scene and towards the affected “Sans Papiers”. Such politics is thus the result of constant political work throughout years in heterotopian spaces. The material perspective of critical urban theorists emphasises these spatial aspects of protest. Furthermore, it addresses the ´glocality´ of protest and points to the relevance of political opportunity structures, which themselves are embedded in national and supra-national economic, legal and social structures. What this approach does not address, however, is the cultural and discursive influence on movement identities and the specific contents and concrete functionality of radical democratic practices. The autonomous scene, and post-Nazistic radical left-wing politics, in Vienna strongly focuses on Austrian past-politics, pointing to the states´ involvement in the Nazi-regime as well as to past and present anti-Semitism. However, up to now this special focus of Austrian protest politics has exclusively been addressed from a cultural studies´ perspective (Sternfeld 2006; Steyerl 2003).
Concerning radical democratic practices, it is also the radical democratic and cultural studies´ approach, with its ethnographic focus, that has grasped and sought to strengthen concrete political and social protest practices. The last decade also showed an increasing development of such practices. The autonomous political scene in Vienna can generally be described as a ‘white middle-class scene’, but since the events in 1999/2000 new protest formations emerged and migration, racism and transnational politics were increasingly discussed. Ever since, racism as well as whiteness within the autonomous scene have been important points of discussion. These point to “inner-movement” within hegemonic struggles and thus to a radical democratic processes of change within the scene. This observation leads back to Sassen’s concept of a transnational political space in which a postcolonial, anti-racist political discourse can be developed and put into practice.
To grasp and synthesise these two perspectives, or to look at concrete political practices and their transformations, it is important to look empirically at social movements. Enforcing ethnographical works on concrete movement settings would help to link theoretical approaches to a concrete urban movement setting and to reveal forms and content of urban protest as well as heterotopian spaces. As the role of autonomous street politics tends to get marginalised and underplayed within mainstream movement research this seems to be even more important because there is autonomous urban protest in Northern European cities just as there is a vital and active autonomous political action scene in Vienna. This autonomous urban protest politics importantly contributes to public political discussions pointing to societal antagonisms and reclaiming the Right to the City.
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 I acknowledge that these are also connected to globalised political issues related to the Middle East conflict. However, I do not cover these issues in the paper.
 The term “racialised” (or “racialisation”) refers to Miles (2004) notion of ´race´ as social construction which is historically embedded and linked to biological as well as to cultural categories of otherness. It is used alternating with the term “ethnicised”, whereby the choice of words reflects the austrian discourse, which primarily refers to the term “ethnicity”.
 This information is drawn out of an interview with the white anti-racist activist B