Around the same time, on a local bus one Saturday with my son, we heard chanting. On the upper deck all the passengers—mostly young and black—pressed their faces against the windows only to be greeted by the NF marching and chanting about us. The police surrounding them outnumbered them three to one and I remember thinking that I pay taxes so that racists like them can get police protection to flaunt their fascist views. My son was well clued up on the NF and British National Party, but it was upsetting and I worried about the other children on the bus. I was extremely angry that the nightmares of my childhood were parading themselves in front of these children and in the heavy silence that ensued I wanted to gather them up in my arms. Looking at the way forward, there is no simple answer. One thing’s for sure: while the right to self-organise and self-determine for black people is essential, equally important is the need for black and white people to work together in the fight against racism, learning from those who have experienced racism first hand.
We have to dispel the myths, strengthen the unity, fight collectively and, most importantly, invest in our young people. There’s an old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” We all have a responsibility towards ensuring that they receive the love and guidance they need and are raised to understand, accept and embrace the differences between them. It has to start at pre-school and continue right through. Schools have been teaching that black people began as slaves—as if we had no history before that. The achievements and identities of black people have been written out of the history books in Britain. Every subject on the curriculum must reflect accurately the roles and achievements of black people. While children need to be aware of the past they also need to grow up with pride for their individual cultures plus a shared identity where they are treated as, and see themselves as, equal. Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We have to tackle the roots of racism or we will continue reacting rather than preventing. We have to break down the barriers that divide us and expose racism. Nobody is born racist. It’s a disease—the longer you leave it, the more it spreads, but if you cut it out when the first signs emerge you have a better chance of curing it. We must be confident and empowered to challenge racism as soon as it rears its head, because each time we ignore it, the racists feel emboldened. We will never cure every single person of racism but we can tackle the roots and make it clear that it will not be tolerated using the tools available to us—not just laws and policies but the goodness of the human heart and our united strength—to overcome. Zita Holbourne is a member of the TUC race relations committee and joint chair of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts. She is also a member of the PCS national executive, vice-chair of the PCS national equality committee and a (visual) artist and poet.
“We cannot let history repeat itself” Weyman Bennett
ver the last 30 years we have witnessed enormous changes in racism in Britain. When I was growing up in the late 1970s racism was deeply enshrined. At school one of our arts and crafts teachers had two canes. One was black and the other white, and he would use the appropriate one according to the race of the child he was chastising. I am glad to say we broke into the cupboard where he stored the canes and demolished them in an act of revenge. That act was a consequence of the fight against racism which dominated much of the 1970s and early 1980s. The question of whether black people were here to stay in Britain had not been fully answered, and Britain changed from a country with a labour shortage to one with mass unemployment. Today racism is no longer seen as respectable, unlike in the 1950s when people openly claimed that black and Asian people were naturally inferior. In a recent opinion poll only 20 percent of people said that they were prejudiced—a substantial fall. It is important to identify what has changed and the role that integration in schools and workplaces, along with the challenge to racism from trade unions, has played in this. Now we can see the emphasis shifting from race to religion. This is most noticeable with the rise of Islamophobia. Fascist organisations like the BNP even claim they are not racist, though of course their practice exposes the reality. Racist and fascist organisations suffered severe defeats in the 1970s and 1980s. The NF, the biggest fascist organisation in Europe, was smashed by the Anti Nazi League and consistent anti-racist struggles. The old biological concepts of racism were partially demolished, so today the targets of anti-immigrant hostility are not necessarily black and those engaged in racism towards Muslims are not automatically hostile to all black Britons. Organisations like the English Defence League (EDL) are willing to accept black and Asian individuals so long as they accept racism towards Muslims. Islamophobia remains the cutting edge of racism. In 2001 riots provoked by fascists in Oldham, Burnley, Bradford and elsewhere
It is the tradition of an integrated working class that can determine our future.
indicated this new chapter. The New Labour government narrative tried to explain the riots in terms of cultural separation, not deprivation, and this developed into a full-blown attack on multiculturalism. The “war on terror” then further intensified Islamophobia. The gap between the new racism and previous manifestations of racism shouldn’t be exaggerated. It is not an accident that less than a month after the 7 July 2005 bombings in London, black teenager Anthony Walker was murdered in Liverpool because he had a white girlfriend. People from black and Asian groups are around four times more likely to be unemployed than the white population, despite them having the required skills and qualifications. Poverty rates for ethnic minorities in Britain stand at 40 percent—double the figure for white British people.
In the 1960s and 1970s the consequences of the Black Power movement meant that many people blamed the system for producing inequality. Today many Afro-Caribbeans look instead to blame models of family for gun and knife crime, for example. This means the problems are internalised into the black community rather than being seen as rooted in wider society against which we can struggle collectively. This can change, especially against the background of government spending cuts which will affect all groups. When racist organisations such as the EDL or the BNP have taken to the streets they have been met by overwhelming united resistance by black, white and Asian people. It is this spirit and tradition of an integrated working class that can determine our future. One of the most convincing factors in my journey to becoming a revolutionary was the experience of unity in the working class. In the aftermath of the Great Miners’ Strike in Socialist Review | OCTOBER 2010 |11
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