When I first got involved in campaigning for race equality the Tories were in power, unemployment was rising steeply and money was too tight to mention. Yet back in the early 1990s there was an energetic anti-racist movement making waves despite a chronic lack of cash.
Whether it was the consistent protests against the BNP’s bookshop in Welling, the marches for victims of race attacks, or the vibrant ARAfests – organised by the Anti Racist Alliance (ARA) – it felt like I was part of a mass movement. The leaders were young, smart and fearless; the campaigning full time. Conferences echoed to passionate rhetoric from around the hall, not just the top table.
Black MPs, Bernie, Diane, Paul and Keith, had only just won their first re-election. It was a time of struggle. Against institutional racism – even before the term entered the popular lexicon. And against the far right, who were still cloaking whole neighbourhoods in fear.
Twenty years on and little has changed concerning institutional racism. Black young men are currently 28 times more likely to be stopped and searched against a background of heightening tensions on the streets that were partially responsible for last years’ riots.
Black unemployed has rocketed during this recession, especially for the youth, and disproportionate rates of incarceration and higher sentences for the same crime continue to rise.
Controversial deaths in custody appear to be back to their 1980s level and still no police officer has been convicted of any offence relating to the death of a black person.
With so much still to campaign over, who is doing the campaigning? The answer is that today there are precious few dedicating themselves to these perennial issues. The truth is, these days there isn’t a lot of movement left in the anti-racist movement.
That united collective voice, that clear leadership, those recognised personalities, have given way to many people pulling in all directions or promoting their individual projects.
Groups like Operation Black Vote (OBV) can still pull a crowd – like they did for the Mayoral Hustings this year – but there is a yearning for a forum where people can genuinely speak out for themselves and participate in a movement for justice that is solid and sustained.
Much campaigning over the past four years has not had the air of momentum. We’ve gathered for a conference on Black Men in the Community only for things to go quiet. We’ve attended a large event, after last years’ riots, on combating stereotypes of black youth only to be disappointed by a lack of follow-through.
We heard what a powerful force Equanomics was going to be in redefining the debate over race and economics… and then we heard no more.
It’s almost as if fads have replaced strategic goals.As if we need to flag up new issues because the old ones – the ones keeping the community down – are just too boring to really interest the community.
Granted, the Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) group continues to hold public meetings, but compared to back in the day I just can’t sense that activists are harnessing a groundswell of protest. It’s not like ordinary people are not suffering.
Levels of frustration at lack of opportunities, oppressive policing and racism – albeit ever more disguised and insidious – are as high as it has been since the 1980s. So why are today’s black leaders seemingly unable to galvanise the community to fight back like before?
Well, the fact is many of them first became leaders in the 80s and 90s. This is part of the problem. The movement has suffered from a lack of nurturing younger talent. Retaining a firm grip on positions has eclipsed succession planning. Yet after 20 years of leadership, those same individuals are now well into their middle age. Diamond-mines of expertise, but less fuel in the tank.
The advent of social networking media has revealed some prominent figures to be locked in a mindset of reacting to events, to news stories, without offering solutions. The pro-active campaigning I was first exposed to appears to have dissipated somewhat.
There are very many highly talented young people – from youth workers to former gang members – with great leadership potential.
We can either wait for them to form national campaign organisations themselves or the elders can tutor them to step up. The latter is clearly the quickest way of filling the vacuum of radical day-to-day leadership necessary to rebuild a grassroots movement.
That’s not to write off the ‘old hands’ – far from it. They (and I include myself in this category) still have much to offer. But we cannot speak for the youth today or fully understand their experiences. Age and time invariably erodes the uncompromising idealism we once felt, and while the outrage at injustice may burn as strongly as ever, the tactics and approach will be different, perhaps better suited to an earlier era.
Years of politicking and the accumulation of friendships and interests can alter outlooks. Middle age alone will blunt appeal to the disaffected youth. It is time that black youth spoke for themselves, not as invited guests on an old platform, but on their own platform inviting us oldies to pontificate before telling us how they are going to do it now!
Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of life left in us 40s-somethings! But just as ‘democratic’ governments lose their legitimacy if the same leaders have remained in situ for 20 years, so too voluntary community leadership needs to churn through new talent to remain relevant and fresh.
For every creaking Al Sharpton we must promote a dozen new Toure’s. And let me state clearly, I will get behind a young leader no matter how many years my junior if he or she has the vision, dynamism, intellect, energy and uncompromising bravery that the cause deserves and needs.
Back in 2008, as the London Evening Standard were waging an intense political campaign against Lee Jasper, I wrote an editorial for the New Nation newspaper making the case for a renewal of the anti-racist movement. What was needed was a mass democratic movement not a permanent small elite, I wrote.
We needed leadership that strived to form a broad church not exclude sections of the community because they were not fully signed up to a specific political perspective. And we needed active succession planning that developed and promoted young leaders.
Myself and New Nation were standing full-square behind by Mr Jasper in the face of the sustained assault on black leadership, but I felt it crucial that the black community also thought deeply about the way forward and didn’t just leave the future of campaigning to fate.
That they considered what the long term impact of this assault would be and learnt lessons about creating an anti-racist movement which cannot in future face such an attack – because the level of unity and activism in the community would rise up in strong defence of our leaders.
I was not writing off Mr Jasper or the prominent race equality campaigners in his circle – quite the opposite – but I was seeking to plot future for the movement, or at least ask the questions that will aid such a debate.
Despite Mr Jasper being innocent of the allegations and insinuations thrown at him during the 2008 London elections, it was notable how few people in the community rose to his defence. The biggest anti-racist organisations seemingly crumbled, unable to mount a counter response or to galvanise the masses behind them.
It was a watershed moment. The 1990 Trust, where I had previously worked, entered hibernation and the Black Londoners Forum collapsed. When inquiry after inquiry cleared Mr Jasper there was no revival of fortunes for these groups.
Four years on and the campaigns for race equality are still in deep-freeze. While OBV, another organisation where I’ve worked, is continuing to deliver on its’ shadowing programmes the reality of finances have forced it to slim down.
Largely, Britain’s black community still lack an engine driving a strong anti-racist movement. There is certainly nothing comparable to Rev Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH coalition, or Sharpton’s National Action Network, or indeed the NAACP. And all the while, indicators of unequal racial outcomes in Britain continue to worsen.
Today there is not one organisation taking a lead and mobilising a popular response across the country. Both proactive campaigning and research into these topics has fallen below a level that the crises demands.
And while the United Families and Friends Campaign has done much to draw attention to the increasing numbers of deaths in custody, the vigils and marches could have benefited from the kind of mass mobilisation that the old ARA or a once-funky National Assembly Against Racism used to deliver.
It is almost as if we’re still shell-shocked from 2008. We cannot afford to be. When London mayor Boris Johnson announces an inquiry into race and policing, or when Home Secretary Theresa May talks about an investigation into police corruption in the Stephen Lawrence case, where is the anti-racist perspective in the media? Where is our own black media to work alongside the movement to popularise the journey towards justice and give it social and historical depth?
Where is that voice that speaks for a whole movement of activists? Today, commentators on such matters are an ever-changing collection of talking heads speaking for themselves or a small group they represent. Their agendas are not informed by a constituency of campaigners behind them.
That is why we need a new generation of young leaders to pick up from where the older generation have left off. The class of the 80s and 90s have much to offer and our experience is being put to good use setting up useful social enterprises to mentor black youth, and a range of specific campaigns such as domestic violence.
But we need more, much more. We need to mobilise those that are suffering most, the disenfranchised black youth. Give voice to the oppressed and renew our demands for justice. But in new ways, led by a generation who will take the reigns of national leadership, galvanise the masses and breath new life into the issues that we all face.
We can’t recreate the campaigning of the 80s and 90s but create a springboard for the campaigning of the 10s and 20s.
By Lester Holloway
First published at: http://cllrlesterholloway.wordpress.com
Saturday, 30 June 2012
Friday, 22 June 2012
OBV brings movie to London’s west end.
Imagine you are one of the fastest men on the planet you’ve just won the Olympic gold medal at 200 meters and fame, fortune and the easier life beckon. This is what Tommie Smith confronted in his once in a lifetime moment of glory.
Yet, he and fellow American John Carlos chose another path. Standing on the podium as the flash bulbs flashed, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and raised the black gloved fist in a silent protest. They used their moment of glory not for themselves but to highlight racial and social injustice in an America and beyond.
The ‘Salute’ has become one of the most powerful non-violent symbols of any protest. In terms of the Olympic games it is truly iconic.
But the story behind the ‘Salute’ is also one of great intrigue, sorrow, glory and sadness. The third man on the podium that day in 1968 was an Australian Peter Norman. Although, at first glance he looks like he is a bystander caught up in something bigger than he could imagine, he wasn’t. The silver medallist-who ran the race of his life, not only supported the two Black men, he also and showed great solidarity by wearing a badge against oppression on the podium, and challenged his own nation in regards to the treatment of Aborigines.
This is their story. The untold story in which their lives would forever be entwined by that one iconic moment. The Salute.
Dr Tommie Smith will attend the London Premiere-with a Q& A after the film- along with sporting superstars past and present. Music, TV and politicians from across the globe will also be in attendance.
The film will have its UK premiere on Wednesday 11 July 2012, 7.00pm at an exclusive London West End venue.
OBV has a limited number of tickets for sale to this premiere. We have VIP tickets at £40 and others at £25.
Buy your tickets online at this link:
Monday, 18 June 2012
|Brighton Town Hall. Bartholomew Square, Brighton BN1 1JA|
Brighton and Hove Racial Harassment Forum
13th Annual General Meeting Agenda
Wednesday 20th June 2012
6.00 - 8:00 pm
Rooms 2 & 3, Brighton Town Hall
5:45 Registration And Voting For The Community Vice-Chair Elections. Refreshments Will Be Available.
6:00 Welcome, Introductions And Apologies –
Linda Beanlands, Statutory Vice-Chair Of The RHF, Commissioner: Community Safety.
6.10 Forum Chair’s Address, Dr. Sobhi Yagoub, Chair Of The RHF.
6.20 Address By Cllr Ben Duncan, Chair Of The Community Safety Forum (To Be Confirmed).
6.30 Keynote Speech: ‘Title To Be Confirmed’
Followed By Q+A Session.
7.15 Community Safety: Casework Team Service Offer,
Linda Beanlands, Commissioner: Community Safety.
7.30 Hate Incidents & Crimes: Policies And Procedures
Chief Inspector Bruce Mathews
Followed By Q+A Session.
7.55 Announcement Of Election Results For Positions Of Community Chair And Community Vice-Chair.
8.00 Thank You & Evaluation
End Of Meeting.
www.racialharassmentforum.org (site currently undergoing development)
Tuesday, 5 June 2012
(Article originally published by the Guardian)
With over 50 complaints made to the MPS in two months, condemnation of police racism is no substitute for action
|Police stop and search black youths at the entrance to the Notting Hill Carnival in 2008. Photograph: Gideon Mendel/Corbis|
The disclosure that as many as 51 allegations of racism were made to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in the two months after 1 April should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the Met's track record of institutional racism. It is difficult for a leopard to change its spots just because a Lord says it should. If the period from April to June is representative of a general trend, this may mean that we'd be looking at an average of over 200 complaints per year, which in itself would only be the tip of the iceberg. As with all aspects of racism, the real figure is certainly a lot higher.
The term "institutional racism" was always a very generous term from the outset. It allowed senior management to claim that there was little or no direct racial discrimination. The reality has always been different. Human beings sadly do differentiate on grounds of race, gender and class in making their everyday decisions. The police are no exception to this general behavioural tendency, but the danger is that given the pressures of their jobs, mere racist prejudice is more likely to result in racist actions than with other members of society.
Police officers have overlooked the development of a culture in which being African Caribbean, and more recently Asian and Muslim, was of itself a cause for suspicion. The disparity in the MPS stop-and-search figures, exceeded only by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) in disciplining rates for black and minority solicitors, suggests a deep cultural psychosis.
The reaction of senior management today is to scramble to deny the problem, and is a widespread one reminiscent of the "few bad apples" comments made famous years ago by former commissioners defending the MPS.
The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who himself paid a less than keen interest in anti-racism while editor of the Spectator magazine, permitting racist articles by the journalist "Taki" not only to be published but also to remain online for several weeks, was himself subject to an investigation by the MPS that was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Johnson recently claimed that "we've moved on" from the term "institutional racism", first defined by the Macpherson report, adding that "I think great progress has been made but there is more to do". This strongly suggests he fails to grasp the seriousness of the issue and warrants some analysis as to who the "we" are.
The mayor may have been referring to white people in power and authority like himself and his former deputy mayor Kit Malthouse, which would explain why so few of the recommendations of the Race and Faith report of 2010 still had not been implemented.
Racism flourishes when permitted to do so. There is clear evidence that the leadership of the MPS, which is still horribly white, these days does not have race central to its core business objectives to eradicate or reduce. Words of condemnation are no substitute for action. The actions against racism are far less vigorous in practice.
In its wider responsibility neither the mayor of London nor the MPS sought to maintain the work of the London Race Hate Crime Forum organised under the former Metropolitan Police Authority. This body, which was able to scrutinise hate crime on a borough basis, was effective in increasing the sanction detection rate of hate crime, doubling up from a low of 19% to 38% in 2008.
Yet it was effectively abandoned and the responsibility returned to the old system, which always lacked effective scrutiny and accountability – despite the fact that in London last year there were over 8,000 racist incidents reported to the MPS as compared to 10,000 reported some three years ago. This is almost certainly an indication that the general public has less confidence to report racist incidents to the MPS than it did some years ago. It almost certainly does not mean that racist incidents have fallen by 20% in the last three years, as some would suggest.
There is inevitably a synergy between the fight against race and religious crime and the internal problem of the MPS. Black and minority communities are less likely to join an organisation seen as soft on race and the same community will think long and hard before reporting racist incidents to a police force with a racist ideology among a significant minority. The real answer lies not in the one officer who utters racist comments but in his colleagues who pretend not to hear. That is the culture that has to change.
By Peter Herbert for the Guardian.