AFA criticism of liberal anti-racist initiatives in working class communities in London.
From Fighting Talk issue 20, 1998.
AFA criticism of liberal anti-racist initiatives in working class communities in London.
From Fighting Talk issue 20, 1998.
On July 22 1998 the killers of Hanish Patel were convicted in Harrow Crown Court. His attackers, fellow pupils in the same school, were convicted of manslaughter and grievous bodily harm respectively. According to evidence given at the trial Hanish had been beaten to death in broad daylight for being a 'stupid Paki.' Coming within days of the end of the Lawrence inquiry the disavowal by police of a 'racial motive' in the attack seems cynically apt.
Despite the incontrovertible evidence in the Lawrence case of the racist motive, even at the inquiry police officers still contended that it was 'simple thuggery'. Little surprise then that 'bullying' was the reason offered by police in the Patel murder. What this means is that despite the public relations disaster suffered by the Metropolitan Police at the hands of the Lawrence inquiry team, it is evident that nothing has changed.
Where a racial element is evident in a crime, police will according to statistics continue to detect it in only one out of three cases where it will subsequently be discovered. Additionally it has been estimated that in regard to racial incidents generally, police figures under report the true facts by a factor of ten. Consequently it is likely that from a police perspective that Hanish, attacked for being a stupid Paki', will not even register in the 3,500 racial incidents that occur in Britain every single day.
A number of recent projects have addressed the problem of racism and race attacks in working class communities from the point of view that existing policy is simply not working: is superficial, inadequate and even counter-productive. Of interest to militant anti-fascists is not merely the confirmation of existing suspicions but also an opportunity to explore precisely how to best deny the Far Right any future possibility of exploiting the issues politically. Essentially this means making sure that militant anti-fascism does not get locked behind defending outdated, discredited or untenable political positions; in essence positions that are not seen as fair and rational from a working class perspective.
Looking at things from precisely this perspective is 'Blood Sweat and Tears', a detailed report on the work the Bede Anti-Racist Project in Bermondsey in south London. The primary targets of the Bede Project were the young working class people living there where levels of social and economic discrimination are high and racist attitudes commonplace:
"Racial violence is nothing new [in Bermondsey]. Nevertheless the 90's have witnessed a marked uprise in the vehemence and frequency...two local youth clubs had been closed down and the neighbourhood youth office was operating with only one full time worker".
From the outset the Bede project recognised that in dealing with working class kids "a PC approach would be disastrous". Undoubtedly such a rational approach was influenced by the working class composition of the Bede team: one was a black East Londoner who had done a bit of time, while another was a white south Londoner who had been active in the NF in the 70's.
So, for instance, in a confrontation between local Bermondsey youth and some Somalis the working class influence was decisive. Challenging the racist attitude and attacks was effective because:
"they knew we were on the case and that it wasn't going totally unnoticed, and that made a difference. That was probably more powerful, us stepping in like that than the police coming in...it probably would just have escalated".
In the contact with the kids, however racist, "consistency and respect" were the key words. They noted that the white youth generally had a strongly developed though "false" sense of injustice - "it’s not fucking fair". While the Bede Project had some personal successes with individual youngsters, converting them from violent racists into equally aggressive anti-racists, the project seemed to accept that without an explanation of why things were like they were, and how to change them permanently and on a national basis; without the ability to replace the race card with a class analysis and hate reversal, the do-gooder aspect and the overall lack of political symmetry can leave no lasting impression on the area as a whole. Racist culture will continue to propagate because of the amount invested in reactionary propaganda, and of the individuals converted many will revert to type.
During the three years it is estimated that of the 200 kids worked with around 15% were turned around. While acknowledging that "in Bermondsey the whole culture is racist. It'll take more than a youth project to change things". When from the Bede perspective the wider world was viewed at all, the encouragement was to protest "legitimately", i.e.. petitions, lobbying, etc. In other words the working class kids were encouraged to plead on bonded knee to the very institutions that have rejected them. Ultimately the cutting of funds for the Bede project itself proved the biggest illustration of that rejection.
This vital aspect, the overall lack of funds, was repeated again and again and was the dominant though subliminal theme. In its own damning conclusion the Bede project was not slow to point the finger, denouncing the whole orthodox, politically anti-racist mindset that pervades much of the voluntary sector as negative, reactionary and counter-productive:
“The feasibility study conducted by Bede House Association in 1992 prior to the project, showed a blanket reluctance among the existing youth and voluntary sector services to work with the young people who were the project's primary target group. Widely regarded as too threatening and dangerous to work with, they had effectively been written off as a lost cause. The intention to bring about changes in their behaviour and views about race, was therefore regarded as idealism."
If to challenge working class attitudes to race is to be regarded as hopeless "idealism" then presumably the orthodox anti-racist position is that racists are born not made. And if by that standard the working class is racist, then it justifies shoring up, empathising with, and vitally, funding only the victims of racism. The perpetrators, and the community that spawned them need punishment not understanding. Compounding the problem is that monies allocated to groups on the basis of race is widely regarded as both prejudiced and profligate. One recorded report from the Southwark News highlighted the fact "that of the £140,000 given to black women's groups between 1992 and 1993, in one off grants, almost a third had been misspent or was unaccounted for."
The Council rebuttal spoke only of "a misunderstanding between how the council thought the money would be spent and how the groups thought it would be spent." Which is merely to confirm in the eyes of the public that of the examples given by the paper, i.e. of people submitting receipts for only £923 out of £6000 allocated (and of the amount actually accounted for £789 of the £923 was spent on groceries) the rebuttal is not substantiated.
Rather than deal with the prima facie case the council attacks the paper for "careless journalism" particularly in the "current climate of increasing racist activity - by implying that black groups are less accountable than others - an implication without evidence." Now there cannot be the slightest quiver of doubt that such an article would feed racism; however to even consider where precisely the ultimate responsibility lies for that state of affairs, i.e.. with the racists or with council policy, would itself be condemned out of hand as racist - by the policy makers!
For all its honesty, throughout 'Blood Sweat and Tears' there is an obvious, though unstated, need for an anti-racism with a broader analysis of society than simply being against something. Otherwise the feeling remains it is only the racists that have rounded philosophical solutions. Ultimately progressive solutions need to be based on more than the moral choice of individuals, but must instead be tied into the collective self-interest of the individuals and neighbourhood as a whole.
it is from this premise that 'Routes of Racism: The Social Basis of Racist Action' tackles the issue of race attacks. Routes of Racism, written by Roger Hewitt:
"is an account of major developmental work with young people in central and southern parts of the Borough of Greenwich in order to extend understanding of the social basis of racist activity and thereby facilitate appropriate and effective strategies and resources to counteract it."
Its objectives and conclusions are more far-reaching, controversial and radical than the Bede study. Primarily because from the outset it was prepared to openly identify anti-racist custom and practice itself, and the mindset of the class who frame it, as a source of many of the problems.
Along with the other reports reviewed it observes that pockets of extreme racism in certain neighbourhoods has not changed or is changing for the worse "if the severity of assault is a measure." Early on it identifies what it regards as "a major theme" which is the widely held perception of "unfairness" by the white working class community, which in contrast to 'Blood Sweat and Tears' the Greenwich report insists "cannot be dismissed as illogical or racist".
This 'unfairness perception' stems from the belief that minority problems are constantly highlighted, but the:
"problems, grievances and perspectives of the white community are ignored by the press, local authority, the schools, the police, the government and so on. This theme is widespread in all age groups and all social classes in Greenwich".
'Routes of Racism' considers it most important that this perspective of "unfairness" is responsible for deflecting attempts to tackle more 'extreme' racism. In that a culture of denial fostered by genuine resentment of being continually ignored creates a situation within which real and extreme racism can flourish.
Importantly, it notes that racist abuse is usually done:
"by people who believe that they are safe, or in a place that guarantees them safety: racist actions are generally performed by groups and rarely by individuals".
Again from a strategical viewpoint it stresses the main agent for the "reproduction of adolescent racism did not seem to be parents - but peer group". Meaning that it is not inherent or taught from birth, but each generation learns from their own experiences, schools in many cases feeding the grievance.
In addition to the anti-racist strategy in Greenwich schools:
"Local government anti-racist policies clearly show a tendency to appear to buy into racialisation a very visible way... and in this creation of difference of difference communities are set against one another."
This analysis of current economic ills was provided by one 15 year old girl:
"I don't like the blacks full stop right. We brought 'em over 'ere for slaves, but now they are getting all the money and taking it off out of our money".
Her rationale being that if we, the working class, have nothing then it can only be because they, the blacks, are getting a large percentage of what would normally be doled out to us. No hint, or suspicion on her part that if the working class are being badly done by, maybe this is how the working class were always treated.
The study notes that in dealing with ethnic cultures the emphasis is on "each minority culture is celebrated as being unitary". In other words the inference is that within minority communities, unlike their white English counterparts there is neither distinct class interests, or class conflict. Not only absolutely inaccurate but this celebration of diversity often results in a "stereotypical ethnicity" in which even the "ethnic minority pupils cannot identify".
More insidiously the denial of any similarities with the indigenous social structures (a working class, middle class, etc.) results in a complete lack of empathy and an inability to comprehend how such societies might function. A rational conclusion might be that if this is how African or Indian societies are run it can only mean that they are 'different'. While being different might justify them celebrating their own culture in their adopted country it must also feed the resentment and confusion of the white working class children who recognise that this espousal of cultural variety "includes all cultures but their own."
Of course it is not the case that this approach is exclusive to schools. Instead it carries over into the adult world and is reflected in council policy on a national basis. And because the entire multi-racial policy is superficial, simplistic and lacks credibility, it is without any tangible return except in providing raw material for the propagandists of the Far Right.
According to the research conducted in 1995 the British National Party were found to have an important symbolic significance for local kids even when they didn't have a physical presence in the community:
“If the BNP didn't exist we'd probably have a black government. If we didn't have them we have nothing...we wouldn't have nobody sticking up for the whites."
It is evident from where this youngster stands `whites' and working class are interchangeable. As a consequence of its research 'Routes of Racism' concludes:
"new approaches are needed based on how young whites actually conceive of their world rather than on moral and political agendas imposed from outside."
What is clear throughout, is through failing to address the factor of class the anti-racist initiatives, whether well intentioned or cynical, inevitably leaves race as the prime motivator. The implied obligation for black and white alike, being that you identify with people of your own race first. Or only. One consequence of the strategy is that individuals are encouraged or indeed forced to think along nationalist lines politically. “What do we get out of it?” Meaning my tribe rather than my class.
Alternatively, if you identify along racial lines from the stand-point of a race or culture other than your own, see it from the other point of view, from an anti-racist perspective, such a sentiment immediately registers as mealy-mouthed, weak, or ambiguous. To actually act on such a principle means thereafter to be regarded as a renegade whose views will always be suspect. Moreover it is the anti-racist lobby itself which sets out the terms for this inter-racial conflict. In doing so they make no apology for identifying solely with the interests of Blacks and Asians. As they are the victims of racism, they need the defending. The white community as aggressors, as the enemy, they need only to be defeated. Crushed. Their racism is tied up with Britain's imperial past and must be eradicated and so on.
Any sympathy or acknowledgment of bias against them would set back the multi-cultural experiment by a generation. Instead this bias toward creating a black middle class, a middle class designed to be effortlessly assimilated into white society should be applauded and funded runs the argument.
On the other hand they, the whites, cannot ever be rewarded for their contemptible racism, in itself genetic. They are a lost cause. Essentially, it would appear that the middle class legislators see the working class as a people to be pacified first, and then through coercion drill into them, if possible, 'an understanding and an adoption of our superior habits and customs'.
This is why the policy of lots of stick and no carrot has apparent widespread approval in these circles. That this racialisation is often as marked within the Asian and black communities is of course never addressed.
"The fundamental error of morally based anti-racist policies is that they assume that a complicated set of human relations made up of many strands, including class, gender, age, size and race can be slotted into a white versus black pigeon hole. The other things are assumed or not dealt with. This simple model assumes that there is a uniform access to power by all whites, and a uniform denial of access to power to all blacks. Clearly this is not the case. We do not believe that an effective anti-racist policy can exist unless the other issues are dealt with, in particular class and race."
This was the conclusion of 'Murder in the Playground', an inquiry led by Ian McDonald QC into the murder of Ahmed lbqual in Burnage School in 1986. It is poignant that in an era of escalating racial incidents this report both comprehensively challenges the orthodox mindset and... has been totally ignored. Ten years later 'Routes of Racism' concludes:
"We believe that unless anti-racism becomes re-focused and open to new ways of implementation, it is likely that racism will continue to be supported however indirectly from this source. With regard to white adults, and to the routes racism takes through adult talk, we believe that it is here in particular that anti-racism needs to re-focus its theories, policies and practices."
Any anti-racist initiative sponsored by the political establishment, and handed down from above, that fails to acknowledge the social basis of race hatred must be regarded with suspicion, as it is always in the interests of the Establishment to see us fighting each other as an alternative to fighting them. In Britain in 1998, the gap between rich and poor continues to be the highest since records began.
Millions in this country are surviving on crumbs and it is contrary to human nature to expect them to share them. If Establishment anti-racist strategists really wanted integration to work smoothly, the working class communities that play host to immigrants would be rewarded with extra resources rather than as things stand, be penalised by having to share the existing and woefully inadequate provisions. Clearly the existing approach merely pits the most impoverished against the most wretched. Given the body of evidence that exists, for the Establishment to persist in addressing the symptom rather than the cause, raises the question as to whether their efforts can be regarded as a sincere attempt to resolve the epidemic of racial violence or might instead be a strategy to perpetuate it.