Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Black Youth Unemployment: Crisis? What crisis?

Edith Lee-Payne at the March on Washington, 1963

The mood music for black Britain has changed. The future looks bleak as the Euro zone crisis threatens to escalate violently out of control bringing Europe to its knees. Whilst all eyes are on Greece there is a crisis much closer to home that is threatening to become a national disaster.

The current economic crisis is ripping through UK black communities with all the force of a 1930’s style double dip recession. Public spending cuts and austerity, magnified through the lens of racism, has incinerated both hope and opportunity for many young people living in Britain’s urban areas. Black Activist Against the Cuts (BARAC) campaigns to highlight the economic and social injustice that preys on poor black communities.

The average rate of black youth unemployment is now 56%. As a community we are suffering a Greek style Euro economic crisis right here in Britain and yet though these figures are in the public domain the callous indifference of this Coalition Government and large sections of the media mean our plight is disregarded and ignored.

It is the historic destiny of all parents that we work hard to ensure that subsequent generations inherit a better world than world bequeathed to us by our parents. What freedoms we do enjoy today have been secured by the sacrifice and commitment of heroes and heroines of a bygone age many of whom laid down their life for the cause of equality. Whatever the machinations of the press and politicians, it our profound duty to raise the alarm and ensure that the powers that be are forced to recognise our plight and take action. We must fight for our own children or their fate will be sealed and another generation lost. Do you want your grandchildren to face the same racism you or, worse still, your parents faced? 
Image Detail
 Simmering racial tensions: Notting Hill  in 1958

We must rouse ourselves from our deep slumber anesthetized by the soothing balm of consumer society, reality television and an irrational attachment to brand labels and other diversions. Such is the scale of the crisis we must act, we must take radical action and we must do so now. Failure to do so will be an abrogation of our historic mission as parents, a feckless rejection of our tradition of resistance.

In the deep recess of our collective memories the cries of our ancestors ring loud. They call to us across the great expanses of endless time space and history. They ask us what we have done with the gift of freedom and equality which they paid for with their blood. They demand that the next generation is not only protected but advanced.

Let’s get real here: our youth are in acute crisis and we should bring the country to a complete standstill in a determined effort to secure their futures. Roadblock demonstrations, occupy public spaces, organised mass peaceful protest and civil disobedience, economic boycotts: these are the tools and tactics that can get this issue back onto the agenda of press and politicians.

These people live in the world of white privilege looking at the black community through the eyes of privileged white males. Where we see unemployment, they see gangs and criminality, where we see potential they see problems, where we see black disadvantaged humanity and discrimination they see black pathology.  Racial prejudice has shaped our history decisively: it now threatens to affect our futures.

Black communities are becoming characterised by routine racial disadvantage, particularly economic exclusion and rampant racism in private sector recruitment and employment practices.

There are whole neighborhoods where both economic racism and relative poverty converge on the young to destroy opportunity and enforce failure.

Where a profound sense of injustice pervades the atmosphere: this is as a result of the injustices of stop and search and suspicious deaths of black men in police custody.

These are neighbourhoods where parents are sometimes frightened of their children because of the rising rates of youth violence, which in turn is driven by educational failure and a profound lack of opportunities.

Our children want to see us lead a fight on their behalf and each day that we remain silent our children lose a little more respect for us as parents who seem to be all talk and no action.

These issues should strike fear into the majority of law abiding black families through the country who have a genuine desire to secure the future of our children. We must not become entrapped by a paralysis of analysis and a fear of white authority. Remember that Rome burned whilst Nero fiddled.

Harsh words you may say, but for me the simple and bitter truth is that although black youth suffer the highest rate of youth unemployment of any ethnic group in Europe, nobody gives a damn and at the moment that includes us: their parents. Too many of us talk the talk but do not walk the walk.

80% of those of us from the African Caribbean currently in employment work in the public sector. Most of these are black women employed in the lower to middle tiers and they are taking the brunt of redundancy cuts. Black women are losing their jobs in their thousands.

Black men have long endured high unemployment rates and now black women and young people are set to overtake them plunging our communities into a descending economic spiral of worsening levels of poverty, deprivation and racism.  In a year’s time our communities will be unrecognizable: what little community spirit survives will be overwhelmed by racial disadvantage despondency and desperation.

With rocketing rates of unemployment and racial profiling in policing leading to escalating criminalisation of our communities, people are extremely angry. The numbers of black people on remand or in jail continues to increase sharply as a result of disproportionate arrest and sentencing rates following the August 2011 disturbances.

We are told that Britain is a meritocratic society where race or religion matters not one jot and that all British citizens are judged on the basis of their individual merits and talents. This we are told is the quintessential essence of 21st century modern British society: tolerant, fair and law abiding. Yet the evidence of the reality of racism in Britain is compelling. Clear figures demonstrating race discrimination in the administration of criminal justice, educational achievement, unemployment rates, affordable access to higher education, and the ethnic pay gap in the private sector, racism in the workplace, housing and health, all tell the same miserable tale of routine denial of black British human potential.

The Government now disregards the recommendations of the seminal McPherson Report into the death of Stephen Lawrence. The entire Stephen Lawrence central and local authority policy infrastructure has been dismantled.
Race equality policy as a concept is now considered not only unnecessary but also inimical and hostile to the very principle of equality itself. Government now regards multiculturalism as fostering racial separatism and extremism.

Blind to what they refuse to see, racism continues its remorseless rise.  Britain having now adopted the French model of citizenship invites the type of widespread and serious civil unrest saw in France in 2005 resulting in a state of emergency being declared and the rise of the racist Le Front Nationale. As students of history our struggle teaches us that in western economies where there is recession there is increasing racism. This is true of Europe and the UK. We become the convenient scapegoats for the politicians who are keen to deflect public attention away from those responsible for the economic misery inflicted on British people.

England, the home of the majority of black people in Britain, is now in effect two societies - one black one white, separate and largely unequal. Acute lack of housing, education and welfare cuts, ill health and mortality rates, jobs and justice reflect, what is now an unrestrained and growing level of institutional racism, now given a green light by the Tories who refuse to recognise wholesale race discrimination.

This is criminal negligence by this Tory led Government whose ideological hatred of multiculturalism and race equality policy has cost the country dear. The London riots I believe will be the first of many if this crisis continues to grow.

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