Socialist Worker

Leadership questions and community tension

The recent riot in Birmingham has shown the need for unity between African Caribbean and Asian communities, writes Lee Jasper

Issue No. 1975

illustration by Tim Sanders

illustration by Tim Sanders

Recent community tensions between the African Caribbean and Asian communities in Birmingham have starkly exposed the gross racial inequalities suffered by both communities.

Undoubtedly real concerns and tensions between these communities do exist and need to be acknowledged. The serious allegation of rape of a minor, made by the African Caribbean community, will need to be investigated by the West Midlands police service in a transparent manner. This will need to be understood by the African Caribbean community.

In addition, the brutal murder of Isiah Young-Sam has left his family and the wider community in deep shock. This terrible attack has inflicted serious psychological wounds and given rise to much anger within the African Caribbean community.

Isiah Young-Sam was an innocent victim and the Asian community’s response to this murder will contribute to the extent to which the process of justice and reconciliation can move forward and community relations eased.

It is also true that the Asian community has suffered both violent intimidation and attacks, leaving businesses closed, property damaged and people seriously injured. Such violent behaviour is equally unacceptable and must be acknowledged and addressed.

Much to the credit of both communities, discussions between community organisations and faith groups have taken place throughout last week all across the city.

Youth groups, mosques, temples, churches and community organisations have been engaged in serious dialogue to gain an understanding of the issues that gave rise to these terrible events.

One clear area of consensus is already emerging that those engaged in the violence within both communities are young men. They are largely unemployed with no real educational qualifications. Their alienation underpins both their anger and frustration.

There are no winners in the events that took place in Birmingham. Both communities have lost and continue to lose out on any real equality of opportunity within the city.

Poverty, educational failure and unemployment are rife within these communities and while such levels of inner city deprivation affect both communities the potential for community conflict will continue to exist.

The real failure here is that of Birmingham City Council to recognise the growing community tensions that are a consequence of deep felt alienation, particularly among young people of the African Caribbean and Asian communities.

Although Birmingham has received millions of pounds in regeneration money, this much needed resource has been spent on local councillors’ pet projects rather than on tackling the deep rooted inequalities endured by both communities.

Both see regeneration spending as a form of political patronage used as a controlling mechanism to keep communities divided and suspicious, as they are forced to compete for meagre resources.

Throughout the last week one voice has remained absent from the debate. Where was Birmingham City Council leadership during this difficult time?

We saw very little in the media from the leader of the council or indeed the chief executive. This is reflective of just how important the council leadership views the events that took place in Birmingham.

The reality is that the council is not interested in seeking to address these issues and as such has abandoned its responsibility to both communities at the time of crisis.

The reality is that both communities suffer high and increasing rates of racism and discrimination and it is fundamentally the responsibility of the local council to address these issues.

Both the African Caribbean and Asian communities are playing their parts in seeking dialogue and reconciliation. The events of last week again have left the African Caribbean community in particular feeling embittered and angry.

The Asian community has felt unjustly accused without due process taking place and in turn are themselves angry and sad that people have lost their lives and suffered serious injuries as a consequence of the disturbance.

What is clear is that the failure of the council to provide anti-racist leadership has made the situation worse. The communities have been left to fend for themselves. This is a dereliction of duty.

Hopeful signs continue to emerge. We saw mothers and children from both communities hold a peace march together, demonstrating real unified response from both communities. This is a time for calm reflection and real anti-racist leadership on this issue.

There are growing racial inequalities in both African Caribbean and sections of the Asian communities. There is Islamophobic hysteria in sections of the press. And not much has changed for the African Caribbean communities over the last 30 years.

Within this context the real challenge for both communities is to unite in challenging racism. Both communities have much more to unite them than divide them. It is our responsibility to ensure that such leadership is supported.

Lee Jasper is the policy director of equalities and policing for the mayor of London

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Sat 5 Nov 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1975
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