Thursday, 29 October 2015

Kids Company: White privilege personified.

If you're a member of one of Britain's many black communities you've probably  had the experience where you've witnessed well articulated black expertise or experience ignored or invalidated until re-articulated and spoken by a white person.

We've all been there right? Sat in a meeting with the 'suits' who've ignored and marginalised your every word, only to see them erupt in a chorus of applause and adoration for a suggestion made by a white person, that you've made a thousand times before.

Its probably one of the more lesser known aspects of the British black experience and its true not for just white people. Lets be frank, our own can be just as bad, if not worse.

I know of black professionals who will often line up a white person to make suggestions to a black audience, recognising that if they were to suggest something similar they would most likely be sorted down or ignored. Women can face much the same dynamic.

Now hold that thought and think of the recent travails of Kids Company, who for the last 15 years were considered the  'cutting edge psycho-therapeutic' response to the needs of predominantly 'dysfunctional' black children.

I have known of the company for years and even declined to fund them whilst Policy Director for Equalities for the Mayors Office. My reasoning and assessment back then was simple. Kids Company were never going to have any problem getting funding. That was the underestimate of the decade.

If you've worked in the black voluntary sector, you'll know the scenario. Governments, civil servants, local authority officers, funding officers, with little to no real understanding of the reality racism and poverty are predisposed to pathologising black communities as problematic, the black voluntary sector as chaotic and incapable.

This lack of expertise and insight into the reality of racism and its effects, leads to cultural racism infecting public and private funding policy approaches. Lets be clear hear with regard to  Kids Company, their perspective was that black people are incapable of looking after their own children.

This  approach of course resonated and indeed elevated their standing in they eyes of Government and London's white middle classes.

Camila Batmenghelidjh and her all white Board at Kids Company, were seen, by many as the traditional 'white saviours' of poor black communities, who despite their best intentions. were incapable of looking after their own children.

It's a scenario that has its roots in an outdated, racist and colonial 'missionary approach' to 'community development' in Black communities.

Unfair? Lets remember what Camila told a Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into Young Black People and the Criminal Justice System in 2006 where she told  the BBC and MP's that 'black women were hugely responsible for the family breakdown which fuels crime'

In front of an eager and attentive audience she informed them that in her 'experience', black women had a 'cruel' culture of rejecting black men and adolescent boys.  She told the Parliamentary committee that ...

I also think that actually the mothers are hugely responsible, because they have created a culture where they can get rid of the adolescent boy; they can get rid of the male partner, they can survive on their own.'  24the October 2006 Ms Camila Batmanghelidjh Home Affairs Committee: 

Camila's view of black culture and Black History Month was equally problematic. Here's what she told the same committee.

' I really think these differentiations (Black History Month ) are destructive. Why are we having Black History Month? I am not sure that these constructs are very conducive to having a society that accepts everything as a citizen, and does not define people by their racial identities.'

We now know, through a report published by the National Audit Office, that although concerns were expressed about Kids Company by some senior Civil Servants, they were given a whopping £46 million over the last 15 years, money British black organisations can only dream about.

Further, the National Audit Office has uncovered what appears to be huge sums of money, inappropriately spent on paying peoples mortgages, private tuitions for her chauffeur and God knows what else.

Contrast this with London Evening Standards stories published in 2007 falsely alleging that over 17 London black organisations, all working in the same field, tackling youth violence, were potentially corrupt and or inept.  Two years later and investigations by Met Police. Boris Johnson Forensic Audit Committee, Audit Commission, London Development Agency, Deloittes Forensic accounting all concluded that not a single penny was found unaccounted for.

Kids Company were arrogant and patronising. They simply refused to work with other black organisations period. I know of occasions where funders suggested that they work in collaboration with other groups and were told by Camila in no uncertain terms  'You either give all the money to us or we pull out'.  They complied and backed down.

The reality is Government, desperate for political cover for the cuts to local authority budgets, blinded by their own prejudice, welcomed an Iranian 'Mother Theresa' saviour figure as the solution to our problems.

They loved her, this woman who dressed in vibrant 'ethnic' clothing. A woman who was happy to confirm and support their reluctance to fund black organisations. The Prime minister was also  impressed and in agreement with Camila's demonisation of black communities.

It is also true that with the reality of reductions to health and social care budgets, Government  needed a convenient fig leaf to mask huge cuts to children's services. Problem was Camila was happy to play the game as long as the cash kept coming and come it did by the bucket load

This peculiar conversions of interests and ' ethnic' alchemy worked for Kids Company and as a result local and central Government,  the adoring City of London and wealthy celebrities were all too willing to give Camila all the money she wanted.

No doubt some will say that Kids Company was extremely popular with the very community Camila held in such low regard.  I cannot, nor would I, deny that excellent work done with many with families, it would be churlish to do so.

The harm reduction, therapeutic approach to violence trauma and familial dysfunction utilised by Kids Company is the correct philosophical and pragmatic approach to this incredibly difficult and complex work. Work done by the Wave Trust over a decade a go pioneered this approach.

 Great work indeed but all is now overshadowed by the incredible way in which finances were managed.

Notwithstanding this good work, we cannot lose sight of the brutal fact that handing out huge sums of money every Friday afternoon will always be popular among poor, desperate, deprived  communities.

Then as we saw the slow unraveling of Kids Company, as it neared its end, we saw the hapless Alan Yentob Chair of Kids Company and Camila deploying the classic  'Mau Mau' strategy remonstrating with Government, telling them, 'If you close us down there will be riots.' 


Racism never comes cheap and the effect of Kids Company dominating the funding arena's and hoovering up all available funds, made possible because of the predisposition of white people to stereotypical tropes about black people and their fundamental fear of the black communities, has cost the country dear at a time of great austerity.  

£46 million of our money to be precise, millions that could have been spent more effectively in in other areas desperate for funds. Money that could have saved many of the credible and effective black and white voluntary sector organisations many of whom were sacrificed to ensure Kids Companys survival.

Such community organisations struggle on valiantly against the odds, but many have closed being unable to compete with Cameron's favourite charity. The damage of raised child expectations now being dashed is incalculable and the retrenchment of institutional racism in funding circles is explosive.

We are all victims of the  combination of hubris, racism arrogance, political naivety and white privilege that defined the charmed existence of Kids Company.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

I've heard the warm words of Cameron and the Tories on their 'commitment' to tackling racism before. I'm not impressed

I watched the recent speech of Prime Minister David Cameron at the Conservative Party conference, with much interest as I suspect did many on Black and ethnic communities. 

After the Powellite excesses of the Home Secretary Thersea May's toxic speech on immigration, the previous day, I tuned in anxious and concerned as to what the PM might say to either calm or inflame the anger felt by many in Britain's black communities.

This was his first major speech to the party since the May election. Not surprisingly Cameron was at his confident best. Buoyed by a jubilant atmosphere at the Tory conference his speech was classic Cameron. 

What we saw and heard from the Tories was an audacious policy land grab of Labour ideas, offering the opportunity for the Prime Minister to seek to reposition the Tories, in the minds of the public at least, to the centre ground of British politics. 

Cameron deployed the classic tactic of triangulation first extrapolated by Dick Clark  Chief political strategy to former President Bill Clinton in his bid to get reelected during the US Presidential in 1996. Clark commented at the time that 

""the president needed to take a position that not only blended the best of each party's views but also transcended them to constitute a third force in the debate."

This speech was in many respects, classic Clinton with a nod to Tony Blair. Its a sobering fact that despite Clinton's overwhelming popularity with African American community racial inequality and poverty both grew under Clinton.

Political triangulation of this kind, can offer serious benefits to politicians who are deploy it effectively and David Camerons PR background and his ambition to crush Labour provided the perfect blend of skills and opportunity. 

Cameron spoke movingly about race equality and equality of opportunity in speech peppered with examples of racial and religious discrimination. This speech was to that extent, unprecedented I haven't heard anything like this from any Prime Minister in the last 30 years. 

Cameron regaled us with example after example of race and religious inequality   He said ; 

" One young black girl had to change her name to Elizabeth before she got any calls to interviews. That, in 21st-century Britain, is disgraceful. ”

He also mentioned " Opportunity doesn’t mean much to a British Muslim if he walks down the street and is abused for his faith,”
Before issuing a clarion call for us to work together stating,
"I want us to end discrimination and finish the fight for real equality in our country today.” 
Wonderful stuff, you might think except, Cameron and the Tories record on delivering race equality is undermined by their record in Governement. 
The Runnymede Trust recently published research that demonstrated that far from reducing discrimination, race inequality and social injustice Camerons Government has actually increased these social evils. 
In response to Georeg Osbournes May budget, Runnymede's view was emphatic."Black Britons worse off after Budget" was the headline in the Guardian on Budget day.  In 2012 in a briefing provided to the All Parliamentary Group on Race  on Black and Asian Unemployment they that found that,
55.5% of economically active Black men, aged 16-24, are unemployed. This figure has nearly doubled since 2008. The figure is 44.4% for all Black people aged between 16-24 . For economically active Asian people aged between16-24, unemployment has risen from 22.8% in 2008 to the current figure of 26.7%. Breaking it down by specific groups, this is 24.2% for Indian young people and 33.6% for Pakistani/Bangladeshi young people (ONS 2012) 

Or look at Criminal Justice. The Youth Justice Board published statistics reported in the Guardian in June 2015. 

" The share of Asian prisoners as a proportion of the total youth custody population has risen by 75% and the share of black prisoners, who now account for one in five young people locked up, has risen by 67%." 
Islamophobia in Britain is now rampant, bordering on the rank hysteria last seen during the McCarthyite era. Veiled Muslim women are the targets of constant racist attack whilst hate crimes have soared, particularly in London. 

If these facts are not enough to cast doubt on the integrity and veracity of our Prime Ministers commitment to tackling these issues. maybe this will convince. 

Prior to his election five years ago, David Cameron spoke with great passion and insight about the scandal of racism, the urgent need for action and his total commitment to ensuring these issues were addressed were he to be elected.  

Speaking to Operation Black Vote's 'Black Britain Decides" hustings meetings in 2010, Cameron gave a masterful performance, that impressed many at the time. 

As you can see form this video, the gap between Camreons rhetoric on racism and his actions is as wide as the Grand Canyon and only matched by his equally rhetorical commitment to that other great social evil tackle poverty. 

Despite his soaring eloquence and declarative  intentions the facts are chilling. Figures produced by the Department of Work and Pensions published in June 2015 showed that 4.1 million children live in poverty and increase of 500,000 since his election in 2010.

This is the rank hypocrisy of Cameron. Black and ethnic minoritioes should not be impressed with such cynical and scripted, sympathetic sounding rhetorical flourishes. Its a sign of our own political disempowerment and the utter contempt with which Cameron views our communities, that he has the brazen audacity to try and fool us once more.  

If we trusted him once and he fooled us, then thats on him. If however he returns  to fool us a second time and we fall for it, then thats on us.

The objective reality, the brutal truth, whatever Cameron's warm words about his 'determination' to tackle racial inequality, is simply this, the Conservative Party has no real commitment to race equality and austerity economics have amplified racism. 

Friday, 2 October 2015

Black Teenage Murders: The Unpalatable Truth.

Lewisham Community Action Meeting.
Honor Oak Community Centre SE4 2DJ.
Black Men Pull Your Socks Up!
Lee Jasper Speech.
Thursday 1st October 2015 7pm.

Thank you Sharon it’s so inspiring to see a new generation of leaders coming through on this issue. People like yourself and Gwenton Sloley are leading the way for the next generation and showing real leadership of our community and I want to acknowledge that and ask the audience to do so too.

Just to acknowledge the parents of the recently deceased and the Deslandes Family whom I know having supported them when their son was brutally murdered you all have my condolences and respect.

I want to talk to you today as a father of five boys and four girls, as a Grandfather of five and first and foremost as a black man.

I want to tell you a short personal story. I live in Lambeth and have done so for some 30 years now. My Wife’s and I last child, is a lovely bright intelligent boy who we brought up to have empathy and compassion for all people. I had told him, as I had told all our children, if you see someone in distress you do not walk on by, you help, if your see someone bullying another person, help then if you can.

Then one day in the summer of 2010 my 16-year son was on his way home from Rugby practice, he’s small but powerfully built lad and on his way home he came out of our local tube station and was confronted with a groups of our boys in a fight with a small boy, whom he knew form school.

My son intervened on instinct and knowing the boy he tried to placate the group of boys.

Seeing that one of them had pulled a knife, he grabbed his school friend by the collar and yanked him out of the way. As he did so, the boy with the knife lunged forward and my son was stabbed in his torso just above his hip.

All the boys fled, including his school friend and left my Son stabbed bleeding on the pavement. I got a call at work form my wife who was frantic. I just couldn’t make out what she was telling me. Finally I she was able to tell me our son had been stabbed.

The feelings of morbid dread, fear and feelings of powerlessness that overwhelmed us were indescribable; a gut wrenching fear gripped me as I headed for Kings College hospital. Once there we saw our beautiful boy, surrounded my doctor’s nurses, tubes connected to him and clear panic in the medical team.

The doctors and nurses, God bless every one of them, worked to stabilise his condition. For two hours we waited not knowing how serious he was injured. That was the worst nightmare of our family life. They told us the blade had almost nicked an arterial vein above his hip.

A millimetre to either side and he would in all likelihood bled to death on the spot.

This isn’t about politics for me it’s the reality of life and death.
Today I’m here to say what needs to be said. 

I seek only to speak with clarity no modulation, clear and unfettered without the binding constraints of ego, agenda or ambition.

We have to face the fact, that as it stands today, our young people are engaged in war of self-hatred, bitter enmity and extreme violence.

Look where we are? Once, not that long ago, we were a community united. Today our children kill each other with a shocking frequency and a sickening ferocity.

Today, we all sit here in shock about the increase in teenage murders across London and in Lewisham in particular.

Lets for us one moment, consider our condition as a community.

Knife crime is up 18% in London and… over the last year and there are a reported 1000 stabbings a month and 10 young people have died this year already.

According to the statistics form the Ministry of Justice published in 2012 in London for every 1000 white people there are 11 murders. For every 1000 black people they are 32.

Black Youth Unemployment stands at 50% according to official figures published in 2012.

The findings of a Met Police Multi agency Domestic Violence Murders Review for 2006 stated approximately 25% of all murders in London.

Furthermore, 30% of children are actually witnesses the murder of their mother. Many of these murders are happening as a consequence  of bitter disputes about separation and child contact/custody. The long-term impact to children witnessing their mothers being beaten and killed  and experiencing is children who are predisposed to  or have a propensity to violence. 

We the Black Community, have one of the highest rate of Domestic Violence and DV murders of any single ethnic community in London.

Research published by the Safe Network shows that Black children and those of mixed heritage are more likely to be subject to child protection plans and/or end up in the care system than white children.

Figures produced by the Youth Justice Board this year show that since 2013 there has been an increase of 54% in the number of Black Youth being imprisoned.  

We have more black men in prison than University.

Prisons and youth institutions have themselves become breeding centres of organised violence and racist abuse by staff, according to Her Majesties Inspector of Prisons.

London Poverty Profile published by the Trust for London shows 20% of the White population lives in low-income households, compared to 40% of people from BME backgrounds.

We all know Black Homelessness is on the rise as well as the desperate figures relating to the incidence of mental health in our community, I cant tell how many of our children our excluded from schools because with the introductions of Academy and Free Schools, who no longer are required to publish these figures, we know less about this issue today, than we did 30 years ago.

The poor state of the economy is aggravating these acute socioeconomic conditions and that leads me to conclude, looking forward, that things could get much worse given the very strong link between these issues and the incidence of violence.

The World Health Organisation is very clear on this issue, as is the Equality Trust whose work the Spirit Level sets our very clearly the relationship between long term deprivation and violence.

So, I say to all of you all gathered here tonight, that the situation we are facing is likely to get much worse and the critical question that hangs pregnant in the air over every single one of us…. is what are we… not the Council, not the police, not the schools, what are we going to do about it?

Add to these facts the reality of cuts to public services and Local authority budgets means that their ability to help in financial terms is reducing year on year, so we know that times are going to be tough.

I want to speak to the Black men in the room and those watching elsewhere. Because all too often we are absent from the home and too often we are the perpetrators of Domestic Violence when we are in the home.

We populate the mental health, prison system and dole queues in disproportionate numbers and sadly we are the most likely to be shot or stabbed in London. 

We are in danger of ourselves, we are our biggest mortal threat, and all of us are at risk of someone close to us, losing his or her lives unnecessarily because of the unaddressed needs of another young person.

The challenges that we face are immense, but not insurmountable. The most basic and fundamental question we must ask ourselves is, what is the value of young Black lives?

The answer is as simple as it is sobering. The value of young Black lives is precisely commensurate with the value we as a community place upon them. 

As we stand today, young Black life is cheap.

Too often we contrast the values of our children’s lives with the perceived value place by wider society of the lives of young white people. This is an error.

The ugly, abhorrent truth is that as a community, we value our own children’s lives least of all. 

More Black teenagers have lost their lives in the UK since 2000 than the combined total of British soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They are not the only casualties as we often totally ignore the number of Black youth fortunate to survive. The walking wounded, scared, maimed and disfigured bodies that constitute the invisible causalities of a war of self-hatred. Then increasing rates of black male suicide are terrifying.

These are the inconvenient truths we must now face head on.

The pains of these losses are borne largely, but not exclusively by Black women and children alone. The reality of the abandonment of too many of our children are broken hearted angry boys, without fathers.

The broader consequences of this implicit, public and yet unacknowledged failure that so corrosively attacks both the heart and soul of poor communities can be read on the headstones of the dead youth.

The causalities of the deadly virus of violence and in particular youth violence are all around for us to see. 

And like any other deadly and infectious disease, violence and the fear of violence, leaves whole communities in deep pain, traumatised and paralysed by a toxic combination of pain, fear and feelings of powerlessness. 

Our moral failure is only matched by our political failure. 

We all know economic injustice, poverty and depravation exacerbates, aggravates and amplifies violence. The World Health Organisation is very clear on this point, as are a plethora of international studies that bear witness to the tragic consequences of long-term poverty and high unemployment. Public health approaches to tackling violence are urgent priority and we need to utilise a social action model of community organising, that is funded by us. 

Against this backdrop of ever increasing public sector cuts the problem, dipping our hand into our own pockets is an important part of moving forward and restoring our self respect. I believe given these problems, the awful prognosis is that things will get worse, as the public sector’s ability to meet these challenges diminishes. In that context we must step up not step down. 

Not only are we an economically impoverished community, we also suffer a poverty of ambition, a poverty of empathy, a poverty of social solidarity and a poverty of ethical leadership. 

Community organisations seeking public or statutory funding are forced to compete rather than co-operate, contributing to a climate of distrust and alienation.

Too many Black men in our communities feel both disempowered and disrespected, generating feelings of low self-esteem, shame and anger.

Even our everyday language has become increasingly violent and dominates our discourse infecting our psyche and thought patterns producing self-regulating crabs in a barrel.

In the midst of this deep dysfunctionality, lies a minority, but a significant minority, of broken families, broken children and broken communities who are starved off familial leadership in the home and ethical leadership in the wider community. 

These casualties of economic injustice produce damaged psychologies, where emotional intelligence is minimal, where commitment to learning and education can be weak and the language and physicality of immediate, intimate violence and abuse becomes infectious.

Over time these dysfunctional and damaged families and local communities create a self-reinforcing environment where the virus of violence becomes not only highly infectious, but also malignant.

The simple truth is only compassion; love and empathy can overcome the challenges we face.

Doing so has the unique potential and the hopeful possibility of enthusing feelings of pride, familial love and community responsibility. Therein lies our goal and best weapon against this plague of violence.

Absent Black men need to home both literally and to their communities. They must come home and join Black women and children struggling to cope with the desperate trauma and grievous loss and become evident in the fight against this deadly infection.

Gwenton Sloley issued a simple and yet profound challenge. He called for community leaders to ‘ pull up our socks’.  We can do that but we must empower our communities through action knowledge and compassionate love.

We must return to the family, defend our communities become and principled ethical leaders. We need a paradigm shift toward a 'do for self' social economy.

We are the key to effectively dealing with this issue.

As the African American poetess famously said, when asked where are the black leaders and responded.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Thank you