Thursday, 17 January 2013

Britain: One of the most ‘tolerant’ nations in the world?

Illustration/Stokely Baksh

Is Britain a post-racist society? The Governments view is that for the most part institutional racism and covert racism are relics of history. Britain, they are fond of saying is ‘the most tolerant country in the world. This hackneyed and much overused term is usually offered up in response to accusations that British society remains a racist society.
The dictionary definition of tolerant is to permit or to endure something or alternatively the acceptance of the existence of different views.
The loaded implication of this statement is that British Black people and other ethnic minorities are only here on sufferance. We are endured, not celebrated, as if we are some alien or foreign virus capable of somehow infecting British society.
Whilst Britain is a plural society I don’t believe, the usage of this term refers to the ‘acceptance of different views’ as that would mean that Black people or ethnic minorities would be considered to hold widely divergent views from the majority of white Britons.
I despise that phrase. British citizenship is not a gift for which we should be grateful. My citizenship has been secured by the struggle and self sacrifice of our ancestors from Africa and Asia whose forced labour under slavery and colonialism and the expropriation of those nations’ resources made this country what it is today. We’ve more than paid our dues.
Born here in Britain, born of a family now grown to include the fifth generation of Black Briton’s, why the hell should my children and I be ‘tolerated’?
My citizenship is not a legal fiction. I don’t want to be ‘tolerated’ in my own country. The term reflects a colonial mindset that is deeply patronising and relegates black people to the status of unwanted and unwelcome guests.
The use of this phrase is a form of paternalistic racism that tells us we are only here on sufferance and moreover we should be very grateful to Britain for allowing us to live here.
This phraseology is indicative of a broader view on racism held by almost all in Government and the majority of the British press. That view concludes that the back of racism in Britain has been broken and that the worst aspects of racism have been largely eradicated.
All that remains, they say, are the infrequent examples of individual prejudice that represent the last dying embers of a once powerful and ancient hatred.
Black people’s claims of institutional racism are defined as nothing more than political propaganda in pursuit of personal gain. They consider all such claims as overblown racial posturing and their claims are usually dismissed as a case of ‘playing the race card’ by ‘race activists’.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the reality of widespread institutional racism and its deleterious affects on the life chance and human rights of Black and Muslim people in the UK, the evidence is simply ignored. 
Of course, there is nothing new here; claims of historical and contemporary racism in Britain are always met with outright denial;
  • Stephen Lawrence killed by racists? Initial claim denied.
  • Racism in policing? ‘Black people commit more crime’. Strenuously denied.
  • Racism in council housing allocations? – ‘Don’t be stupid’. Denied.
  • Racist immigration laws targeting Black people? Denied.
  • Black men dying in police custody due to racism?  ‘He had superhuman strength’ - denied.
  • Racism in schools?  ‘Educational failure is a result of parental failure and a dysfunctional black culture’ - denied.
This powerful culture of denial of institutional racism results in no serious action being taken to protect Black people from unfair discrimination. Far from being a post racist society, Britain is a nation in denial about the powerful social reality of institutional racism.
2013 is the 50th anniversary of one of the most famous speeches in the world. In August 1963, Dr Martin Luther King led the US civil rights movement in a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, they gathered in their hundreds of thousands, united in confronting the Jim Crow segregation of apartheid era America.
Dr King delivered his ‘I have a dream’ speech that would resonate around the world. Dr King set out his vision of a post racist America in prophetic fashion encapsulating the essence of common humanity in declaring the God given equality of all men and women.
The dream of a world where racism is no more still resonates with many throughout the world.  You see I still hold to the goal of achieving greater level of equality in our lifetime. I don’t want my children to repeat our history fighting the same battles we fought. It is our duty as parents to move things on and secure the future for our children.
So is Britain a post racist society?
Take two healthy British babies, one white, and one Black, their new lives stretched out before them comforted in the bosoms of their grateful parents.
Both are British citizens, yet their life chances differ dramatically as a consequence of the colour of their skin and the polite, yet devastating overt institutional racism so perfected by the British.
Contemporary British racism has culturally transformed itself into a very ‘genteel overt racism’ that presents no obvious offence. It has none of the social embarrassment of times gone by and yet despite that, racial discrimination still manages to enforce deep economic and social exclusion.
These two British babies start their lives on an uneven playing field with the black newborn being twice as likely to die in next 24 months. In the first years of their lives, the black child and family are much more likely to suffer child poverty and live in low standard overcrowded houses.
Once at primary school, the black child will be more likely to be excluded, once in secondary school the black child will be more likely to fail their exams. They will be much more likely to be unemployed once they leave school. On the streets they are much more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, more likely to be arrested and if convicted they will receive a heavier sentence for a comparable crime committed by a white Briton. These are just a few of the most obvious areas of discrimination; there are many more examples in areas such as health, regeneration, and politics.
This is not solely a matter of class difference. Research has shown that even middle class black people can suffer the debilitating effects of racism. Middle class school children, wealthy black footballers, black politicians, prominent religious figures, celebrities; all suffer from racism despite their economic status. Black people and Muslims suffer higher levels of economic and social exclusion than their white working class counterparts.
Austerity and budget cuts have magnified racial disadvantage. Yes we are all on the same boat but some of are forced to inhabit the stinking bowl of the ship, some are working on the mid decks and some stroll in the sunshine on the top deck. Yes, we are all on the good ship Britannia but some sail in acute distress and some in relative comfort. 

One Nation: Divided by race.
Of late, there has been much talk about “One Nation” politics. This unfortunate term with a dodgy history has been recently co-opted by Labour from the Conservatives. Used in the 1980’s One Nation politics was an attempt at forced assimilation and a denial of difference encapsulated by this 1993 Tory election poster.

The message was clear and unambiguous: you can be British if you disregard your ethnicity and culture. Labour’s recent articulation of this theme echoes this assimilationist sentiment with its emphasis not on racism, but on the small minority of people who don’t speak English. Posed as a barrier to integration, Labour fails to explain why it is that Black Britons who have no such problems still face social and economic exclusion racism despite their ability to speak English.
Whilst we are ‘One Nation’ geographically when it comes to the equality of British citizenship, many Black and Muslin people are relegated to the status of third class citizens in a supposed first class democracy.
Today, politicians and the press mediate your citizenship, contingent on adherence to a nonsensical set of “British values”. The reality of British equality is that it is based on your race or religion, on whether you’re Black or Muslim, and whether you live in an area considered a ‘ ghetto’ having made a ‘deliberate choice’ to ‘separate yourself ’ from white society.
Whether you wear a hijab or a hoodie will affect the extent to which you can enjoy real equality of citizenship in equal measure to white Britons.
The Coalition Governments record on tackling racism.
David Cameron’s Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister and his Deputy PM and leader of the Lib Dem Nick Clegg don’t ‘get’ racism or discrimination or understand the profound consequences of Britain’s changing make up.
This island is no longer the bland monocultural place of the past.
Britain is undergoing dramatic demographic changes; these changes are seeping into the cultural fabric of the nation, enriching our daily lives and changing the culture, personality and character of Britain irrevocably.
The recent publication of the 2011 Census demonstrated just how much has changed in the big metropolitan areas of Britain. Research done at Leeds University suggests that the growth of ethnic diversity will reach 20% by 2051
Having been brought up in a life of spectacular privilege renders Cameron devoid of any real experience or understanding of either the reality of race discrimination or how best to tackle it.
As with most high profile politicians, Cameron talks a good talk when it comes to race equality. Take these comments made by Cameron in a video broadcast to the 2010 OBV ‘Black Britain Decides’ general election hustings;
‘We must tackle the deep and structural inequalities that all too often hold Black people back especially the young… We know something is extremely wrong when the colour of your skin dictates how likely you are to succeed at school, starting a business, employment, or ending up in prison.’
Or those of Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Lib Dems who was equally forthright in expressing his commitment to race equality.
Addressing the same OBV event Nick said;
“ I don’t want to live in a society where a child’s life fortunes are still determined by the circumstances of their birth, where if you’re from an ethnic minority you’re still more likely to be out of work, more likely to be on low pay, more likely to be hassled by the police when you haven’t done anything wrong.”
Powerful words that ring absolutely true today and still provide an accurate and informed description of the reality of racism in Britain. However as the sun set on Labour and a Coalition Government was formed, these fine words and political commitment were jettisoned as election rhetoric, designed to appeal to black voters in a tightly fought election.
We’ve been had, conned and bamboozled.
In the two years since the 2010 OBV hustings we have endured the most systematic political attack on the general and progressive concept of multiculturalism and an almost scorched earth approach to anti racist policies within local and central Government.
Both, bizarrely, are now designated divisive by this Government and have been wrongly identified as encouraging separatism and extremism. This political about turn by Cameron and Clegg simply illuminates the extent to which both parties have a thin veneer commitment to delivering race equality.
Looking back it is now clear that the OBV audience and the wider British black community were conned by two slick snake oil salesmen.
The Coalition has made a small number of symbolic gestures to tackling racism, but has collectively determined that structural racial inequality will remain untouched. Current economic policy is in fact exacerbating racism
As a result virtually nothing is belong done to eradicate structural racism, the consequence of which will see yet another generation of Black and Muslim citizens and their children sentenced to a lifetime of struggle against racism.
Let us examine the Governments efforts to tackle racism. 
The extent that this government is committed to race equality can be judged by the quality of their policies designed to respond to known areas of race discrimination.
The Governments has no specific race equality strategy preferring a ‘mainstream’ equality approach to tackling any areas of discrimination. The problem is that in terms of reducing racism without the adoption of a laser like specific focus on race, results in the bone achingly slow pace of incremental change.
There is no historical or contemporary example in Government of the huge scale of race discrimination faced by Black Britons being reduced in the absence of a clear and robust policy focus.
All evidence demonstrates that the most effective way to tackle racism is to adopt a specific policy focus with timescales, stated outcomes, targets, sanctions and a budget.
The Tory Lib Dem “colour blind” approach to achieving race equality, implemented in the broader context of a right wing political climate, ensures that this Government pays lip service to achieving the goal of race equality whilst remaining ideologically blind to structural racism.
Leadership comes from the top.
Other than some vague commitment to increase diversity in public appointments, I can see no real race equality strategy for one of the most important Offices in Government the Cabinet Office.
‘Public appointments of 50% women by end of this Parliament’ is the only policy commitment. Unfortunately, there is no base line information, no BME targets and no implementation strategy.
Civic engagement is mentioned; however this Government has failed to maintain a race equality policy consultation forum and subsequently dismissed national black group members from a legacy forum established by the previous Government.
Minster Eric Pickles has made his view clear that he sees no reason to convene such a group. As a result there is no national statutory policy consultation forum on the issue of race equality currently in the UK. Government has simply dismissed the Black Voluntary sector as irrelevant.
The PM talks about racism in football and Deputy Prime Minister Clegg about the racism of British banks and the inability of black business to access credit, loans, and investment funds.
Both are saying the right things but only in those areas where Government does not bear primary responsibility. The FA in terms of football and banks are easy targets for Government to target for tough talk: seeking to create the false impression of zero tolerance in relation to racism.
In November 2011 Clegg highlighted the difficulties that ethnic minority businesses and would-be entrepreneurs were reporting in accessing business loans. Clegg established a review to look at this issue and 15 months later the Government has failed to publish the findings of Clegg’s review. 

Meanwhile the fundamental problem of the strong economic character of institutional racism in the financial services sector cements black communities into a prison of poverty and disadvantage as banks exercise racial profiling and post code racism in determining creditworthiness and assessing loan and investment opportunities.  

Government inaction on race and our response.

Meanwhile Black Britons are expected to suffer racism with a smile, thankful that we are not living in Europe.

Black people have helped to build this country through slavery, then colonialism immigration and then settlement. Our legal citizenship rights were fought for and secured by preceding generations paying a heavy blood price for the privilege.

In the modern Britain of 2013 black people are still unable to achieve full-unfettered equality of opportunity.

Racism is on the rise and many of the gains made over the last 30 years have been squandered by a Government whose ideological attack on the poor will result in future generations facing a level of racism worse that that endured by their parents.

Can we achieve equality in our lifetime? Only through commitment to a dedicated, protracted, disciplined struggle focused on legislative change and democratic reform.

This Government is committed to conducting a largely symbolic campaign against racism. What initiatives do exist are well meaning, piecemeal, short term, lack consistency and are incapable of delivering the goal of securing race equality in our lifetime.
The result will be to condemn yet another generation of Black people to suffer increased rates of structural inequality and injustice. Is this the legacy we want to bequeath our children?
Since the first enslaved African decided to leave the plantation each successive generation of the African Diaspora has fought, struggle and died to ensure that the future generations did not face the brutal racism they endured. We may be the first generation to fail in this regard.
I say that we cannot afford to allow the future of our children to be destroyed by racism. We cannot allow their futures to be dominated by a lifetime of struggle against increased rates of racism that should have and could have been more effectively dealt with by their parents.
I believe that the future of our children requires that any price be paid whatever the cost. It is our genetic and historic destiny to strive to secure a better future for our children.
In terms of tactics I believe that having tried appealing to the better angels of the Government and failed, the Black voluntary sector having sought to work in partnership and having been shown the door , having appealed for understanding and received none, bearing witness to the increased evils of unemployment injustice and poverty magnified through the lens of austerity, facing the stark reality that our children will inherit a society where racism is worse than that faced by their parents, I say we must now urgently step up our fight against the evils of racism that strips our children of their God given innate human potential reducing them to a crude racial stereotype. We must engage in heightened campaigning, we must organize, agitate, and educate. We must never give up our struggle for equality and justice. That’s one lesson our parent taught us, they never did and neither should we.
Whatever the odds, whatever the challenge, never ever give up and on the 21st January 7pm in the Betty Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House Victoria Embankment Black Activists Against the Cuts will be holding a public meeting. We will be setting out our plans to achieve equality in our lifetime. We invite you to join us. 

Lee Jasper

Celebrating the life of Dr Martin Luther King and launching the 2013 MLK50: EQUALITY IN OUR LIFETIME Campaign taking place on Martin Luther King Day.

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom & Dr King’s iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech.

An evening of reflection, poetry & an exploration of radical approaches to tackling racism, asking the question from Dr King’s dream; ‘How long will it take to achieve race equality in the UK?’
Joint Chairs, Zita Holbourne & Lee Jasper BARAC UK

Speakers include:

Donna Guthrie. Trade Union Activist, Unison

Khi Rafe, Mary Seacole Campaign

VENUE: Betty Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House, (Parliament) Victoria Embankment, London, SW1 1AA

Portcullis House is next door to Westminster tube station on the Embankment, please note you cannot enter via the Houses of Parliament.

DATE: January 21st 2013
TIME: 7pm to 9pm

Due to limited places please book in advance by emailing:

with ‘MLK50’ in the subject box & names attending in the main body of the email

Take the sending of this email as confirmation of your place. We will only contact you if we become fully booked.

Twitter: @BARACUK
Facebook: ‘black activists rising against cuts’