Monday, 13 June 2011

Black men in the community on 18th June - a conference that is long overdue?

Black men living in Britain are under acute social and economic pressure. The evidence of that is replete and is for all intents and purposes self evident. That’s why I am particularly pleased to attend this much needed conference.

I hope that as well as facilitating a dialogue among black men about how best to respond to the crisis we face as a community, the conference could also offer the opportunity to produce an overarching narrative of how we arrived at this point and the lessons we need to learn to move forward.

My concern here is that the structural nature of the social and economic challenges we face will be sidelined in favour of what I have termed an approach that can be best described as “projectitis”.

This is a reactionary trend, a policy disease that seeks to reduce responses
to profound structural economic and acute social problems to the level of a
project. What we need is legislative and policy changes at the highest level not a plethora of projects.

Any real attempt to tackle the huge problems we face as black men
has to be premised on a correct understanding of history and the dynamics that
inform where we as a black community are today and how we arrived at this point.

I have to say that I am impressed by the ambitious aims of the conference described
as the birth of a new movement. One of its primary objectives is economic empowerment and it promises to explore and create new partnership opportunities with the aim of creating an entrepreneurial base within black communities. The organisers also wish to establish a clear leadership platform for black men to offer a
positive counter narrative to the constant commercial and news led demonization of black men in British society.

The black man in British society is theoretically and notionally accepted as a British citizen. Britain the beacon of modern democracy offers the promise of a society where all citizens, regardless of race, are considered equal under the law.

A Britain where he could rely on robust protection under the law for those who face the misery of race discrimination.  A country where his children would not suffer the depredations and humiliation of racism. Britain offered that dream the enticing opportunity to live in a country where the colour of his skin was insignificant. It was the UK version of the American dream stripped of its Hollywood hyperbole this was the vision the hope the aspiration.

This was always going to be a tall order for a nation born of wave after wave of
war, invasion, integration and assimilation. A nation whose history is one of brutal
imperial expansion, neo liberal democracy, unregulated consumer capitalism and multiculturalism.

Here he lives, a black man in Great Britain, the mother of all democracies whose institutions have lasted a thousand years and whose political economic and military advances were secured and paid for with the blood of millions of his enslaved African ancestors.  A debt that remains unacknowledged and for which no reparations have been paid despite the legacy of racism we live with today that blights our lives.

A nation, one of whose many gifts to the world was the concept of theological, scientific, economic racism. A rabid virulent social disease that has infected the human race and killed more people than any other single political philosophy in human history.

Britain was the crucible for the development of the politically enduring concept of white supremacy whose legacy can be detected in situation he now finds himself.

500 years of brutal slavery and colonialism. A country who when facing the treat of Nazi Germany called on its colonial subjects to lay down their lives to defend the mother county. A call that saw hundreds of thousands of black people from across the British Empire respond willing lay down their lives for the promise of freedom, equality and a better tomorrow.

A black man whose parents struggled to breathe the air of equality so heavily contaminated by the rancid stench of racism. 'No Dogs No Irish No Blacks' was the welcome offered to his parents. They struggled against the odds to survive and offer a lifeline to their children.

At a time of economic prosperity finding work became easier for the luck few. As the economy waxed and waned black people fared only marginally better in the good times and whole lot worse in the bad. Those in work endured low wages, long periods of unemployment that became a permanent feature of most family’s lives.
As he asses the post war period he sees the grim reality of long term generational unemployment creating a cess pool’s of cynicism, ignorance, poverty poor health and criminality. Moreover he says the poverty of ambition the denigration of education and the collapse of his family structure that results from emersion in long term poverty. He can’t lead or feed his family. He can’t get the break he needs or the opportunity his talent deserves and as a result the very fabric of his
community is ripped apart.

He surveys the acute social problems of mental ill health, infant mortality, lack of good housing and schools and an institutionally racist criminal justice system that targets him and his children. He watches as black unemployment continues its remorseless increase and bears witness to the fact there are no jobs for the majority of black young people another generation laid to waste waiting quietly in the vain hope of the benevolent fulfilment of the promise of British society.

And now in 2011 living in Britain being black and disadvantaged as a consequence of the bitter legacy of systemic racism, malign neglect and generational poverty, society now demands that in spite of his history which he must now forget, that he must step up and be a man. 

He is called upon to educate his children, to end crime in his community and to be a stand up role model for the nation.  The arrogant assumption of a nation in denial about the reality of racism results in the victims of racism being pathologised; blamed for their own inadequacies and failures. He endures the moral lectures of
those who pathologise black communities supported by a minority of educated elite blacks who have bought the dream of British meritocracy translating their own modest success into a conceited mantra that says that “If I can do it anybody can do it”.
At a time of austerity, racism invariably worsens and in doing so reveals and exacerbates the brutal reality of racism, poverty and economic exclusion.

He watches the mouths of politicians moving proclaiming their commitment to equality whilst enacting policies that are tearing the very fabric of his already fragile community apart.

He seen no meritocracy in the UK just hypocrisy, he sees no real equality for him or his children despite the promise of British democracy. The evidence of his inferior status as a citizen is all around him and reinforced ever day.

A society that refuses to acknowledge the existence of systemic institutional racism that imprisons black communities that suffer acute social problems driven by criminal levels of poverty and the apartheid like culture of a private sector that in the main
refuses to employ black people as anything other than shop assistants cleaners, cooks and security guards.

He sees his children attend poor schools taught by a succession of supply
teachers that don’t believe in his children’s ability to learn. He sees his children excluded from school and condemned as failures before they sit down to take an exam. He weeps at the rate at which black women are being made redundant and critically important vital services are being cut. His observes his communities flooded by drugs and guns become killing fields and he feels disempowered and deeply alienated. His children leave school barely literate with a jail cell already built in advance by a government planning for his predictable failure.

The housing estate where he lives acts as a historical time capsule freezing the culture of poverty  ensuring that the majority of each successive generation is inducted into
culture of failure. Thus his powerlessness is reinforced by a daily reminder that he is a third rate citizen in a supposed fist rate democracy. He lives in fear that things are about to get a much worse.

These are big themes which most people would run away from focussing
on the project response promoting this or some other localised initiative. That would be a mistake our problems are indeed deeply political and require an over arching explanatory analysis that informs and underpins a plan for the future.  The reactionary emotionalism of the instant off the shelf project solution is a product of a consumer led democracy. We need more than that: I hope we get it.

Lee Jasper