Socialist Worker

Right wing wants to cover up racism

Issue No. 1719

Outcry greets new report

Right wing wants to cover up racism

By Hassan Mahamdallie

A NEW report on racism has sent the right wing press into an absolute frenzy. The press picked out one passage in the 400-page report which said, "Britishness, as much as Englishness, has systematic, largely unspoken, racial connotations."

The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, produced by the Runnymede Trust, was called "rubbish", "balderdash", "sub-Marxist gibberish", "PC crap", "ludicrous", "offensive" and "garbage".

The Tories demanded the report was "binned", and one journalist even called for its authors to be prosecuted under the Race Relations Act. Tory leader William Hague wrote in the Daily Telegraph that if the report's recommendations were implemented "then our police would be paralysed, school exams would be fiddled, classroom discipline would collapse and our political institutions would be stuffed with people on the basis of their colour rather than on whether they could do the job."

Hague said that in the 1970s the "threat" to British society came from "militant trade unions". The "danger" today was from "anti-British" campaigners against racism. New Labour ran away from the argument. Home secretary Jack Straw distanced himself from the report, saying that he was "proud to be British". The right wing press and politicians want people to suffer racism silently, and for institutions such as the police to continue discriminating against black people unhindered.

Those attacking the Runnymede report are exactly the same people who attacked the Macpherson report into the Stephen Lawrence scandal. One of the first Tories to condemn the Runnymede report was Aldershot MP Gerald Howarth.

He said, "It is an extraordinary affront to the 94 percent of the population which is not from ethnic minorities. The native British must stand up for ourselves." It was Howarth who attacked the Macpherson report, saying, "It is fair to say that no government has ever received a mandate to turn the United Kingdom into a multiracial society.

"Some who have come here appear no longer content to learn and accept our native customs and traditions, but wish to assert their own." If people like Howarth had their way there would be few black people in this country and we would all have to put up with the "English culture" of warm beer and cricket on the village green imagined by Tory ex prime minister John Major.

The central truth that the Runnymede report talks about, and which the right wing seek to deny, is that racism is structured into British society. It points out:

  • "Overall, unemployment rates for black and Asian people of working age are double those for the white population, and even higher for the 16-24 age group."
  • "A Policy Studies Institute investigation in the mid-1990s found that overall one in eight of the people it surveyed-Bangladeshi, Caribbean, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani-had experienced racist insults or abuse during the previous 12 months."
  • "60 percent of people of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin live in poverty."

The report highlights discrimination by employers, the lack of opportunity for young blacks, the way in which minorities are targeted by the criminal justice system, and the hatred whipped up by the established parties against asylum seekers.

Nowhere in any of the articles condemning the report has there been any mention of these problems or how to tackle them. As Guardian journalist Gary Younge wrote last week, "If you really want to take the racial temperature in Britain, you would be better off examining the reactions to the report on multi-ethnic Britain rather than the report itself. "The reactions of Lord Tebbit, Gerald Howarth MP and the Daily Telegraph leader writers suggest that we may be no closer to having a mature and open debate about race in this country than we are about cannabis."

THE MAIN problem with The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain is its belief that the solution to racism lies in the hands of those at the top of society. This reflects the make-up of much of the panel that put it together-"respectable" anti-racists and establishment New Labour figures such as Trevor Phillips and Lady Gavron.

The report says that there is a "multicultural drift" in society in general. It means by this that on a day to day basis people of different "ethnic" groups tend to mix together. The report says state institutions should speed up this process through legislation and positive declarations of multiculturalism. There are two faults with this argument. Firstly, the way in which black and white have integrated with one another has not been due to a "drift". It has been the result of battles that have taken place largely at the base of society.

When mixed couples in the 1950s and 1960s braved social exclusion to set up house together, or when black people refused to obey "colour bars" in the workplace, they pushed society a step forward. The campaigns in the trade unions in the 1950s and 1960s to stand in solidarity with black workers and adopt anti-racist policies also made a big difference.

Then there have been key struggles such as the fight against the Nazis in the 1970s, or when the miners supported the Asian Grunwick strikers in 1977, or the overwhelming support from working people for the family of Stephen Lawrence. Secondly, the report looks to the very institutions that are part of the problem for the solution to racism.

It asks the government to declare itself "anti-racist". Yet this is a government that has passed anti-immigration controls that have boosted racism. Studies have shown for decades that major employers discriminate against black workers, yet only a handful a year are taken to court. The idea that the police can be reformed by a top-down approach of the "carrot and the stick" will not work.

For 40 years and more black organisations have been saying that the police are racist to the core, yet the police are still allowed to get away with racist stop and searches, and black deaths in custody.

No gold medal for the police

THE RIGHT wing has used the success of black Olympic athletes to show that black people have no problems in British society. But the right wing cannot have it both ways. Olympic British boxing champion Audley Harrison was feted for winning his gold medal.

But seven years ago Harrison won a �27,500 out of court settlement after he was jumped upon by police officers from London's notorious Stoke Newington station. He recalled how during a wrongful arrest "five or six of them struggled me to the floor, gave me a beating and dragged me to the back of the station".

Is 'British' always racist?

THE FUTURE of Multi-Ethnic Britain laid itself open to attack when it talked about "Britishness" having racist connotations. It has let the right use this issue as a diversion from the real problems black people face.

It is also patently not true. There are many white people who may think of themselves as "British" who are not racist. The desire to be known as "black British" can reflect black people's defiance of racists-who say that you have to be white to be a real "Briton". It is also wrong for the report to believe that simply by changing language from "British" or "English" to "part of a community" you can change the way people think or act.

What does alter people's attitudes about themselves and the people around them is by living, working and struggling together.

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Article information

Sat 21 Oct 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1719
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