Sunday, November 21, 2004

My first Black man


My parents ran a small grocers shop in the centre of London in the late 1960's. We lived above the shop. One day, when I was a little short of four years old, a West Indian man came in to buy a sandwich. Having spent my life to date growing up above a grocers surrounded by an extended Italian immigrant family I hadn't seen any Black people before.
I ran upstairs, surprised out of my wits.

It wasn't that he was Black as such, he could equally have been green, purple or stripy.

Mum called me back downstairs and the Black man, obligingly, let me check him over, close up.
After a couple of minutes of inspection, including a fair bit of nose-tugging, I established that he wasn't at all scary and, relieved, started laughing.

At which point my family and every one else in the shop joined in laughing, like some kind of cheesy, heart-warming, Brady-bunch style family comedy.

That was in 1968,
about the same time that American marines were fighting Vietnamese insurgents in the city of Hue during the Tet Offensive. My, how times have changed since then.

The Black guy's name was Adolf and, yes, he had a moustache.

For some reason, Adolf, was tickled by the experience and made a point of buying me a small Christmas present each year, even after his work took him away from our area. Every Christmas he would turn up with a wrapped present for me, a snakes and ladder set or similar, and a bottle of rum for my Dad. I think Dad used to give him a bottle of halfway decent brandy and they'd chat about cricket. This carried on well into my teens until one year he didn’t turn up. That made me more than a little sad but he was getting on by then. Presumably, he's passed on. He'd be well into his eighties by now. I'd like to look him or his resting place up but wouldn’t know where to start.

Adolf was part of the generation of Caribbeans who migrated to the UK in the 1950s and 1960s. Like later generation of immigrants they did manual jobs, worked on the buses or the Health Service. Many of them saw themselves as Children of the British Empire and had high expectations of life in the UK. Even though they faced what I would describe as low level, but ever present, racism and were largely restricted to menial work, they largely bought into the system they were living in. My own family also consciously decided to migrate into the UK and embraced their adopted country, for all its faults, whilst still buying Fiats and chomping on pasta behind their front doors.

Even before the rise of the Discrimination Industry, I grew up pretty much aware that you should judge people as individuals even if they make you wet your pants the first time you see them. Admittedly, I was brought up to be scared of curries but this is understandable. Even after 20 years of intense curry consumption I would say that it is common-sense to treat curries with respect, particularly vindaloos and phals. Italians don't do spicy food and, even today, the surest way to crush an Italian's will to live is to feed him a mild madras and four pints of super-cold, fizzy lager over the course of an evening. Whenever I've done that to visiting Italians it has taken them literally days to recover.

Where am I going with this?

The point is that early on, in spite of being a little scared at first, I learned to look past a person's skin colour. Clearly, Adolf was wise to that as well. That was about 35 years ago, before people started making a living out of playing up the race issue. You can't legislate for understanding between races. That comes from working or learning side by side with people, eating their food, watching them play for your national team or listening to their music. Most cultures have something they can offer other cultures. Fortunately for Italians for example, even though their pop music sucks, they're halfway decent cooks.

The knack of successful integration is to adopt as much of you host country's culture as possible, whilst still sticking true to culture of your parents and grandparents. After a couple of generations it doesn’t matter much but it's key for the first 20 or 30 years.

Well, that's how The Game was played in the UK until relatively recently anyway.

I think things are changing.

Unlike previous waves of immigrants, a significant proportion of recent arrivals don't seem to like the UK very much. I'm not guessing here, people have told me.

If you’re moving to a country purely to take advantage of economic opportunities, but largely reject the host culture, that isn’t going to work out very well for anybody in the long run.

There are at least a couple of factors at work here; it's partly a result of political correctness and partly because British culture is turning to sh*t.

Racked by white middle-class guilt for the sins of their forefathers, many of our politicians, civil servants and teachers play up on the negative side of Britain's past; The Empire, The Class System, a history of exploitation. White children are encouraged to be ashamed of their country, ethnic children encouraged to be resentful. Bad things undoubtedly did happen in Britain's past but that's not why people moved here. People came to Britain because of its tradition of fairness, equality for all in the face of the law, toleration, and understanding; all that stuff. No other nation on earth, not even America, has a culture derived from as many influences as ours. That didn't happen because the British were rank and narrow-minded, quite the opposite.

Fear of race is all about culture not people. I am living proof that Italian ancestry does not somehow make you fatally susceptible to the dangers of hot curries. Pretty much every Indian I've ever known is afflicted with a need to barter in every transaction they undertake in their daily life. Yes Raj, I'm talking about you in particular. It's culture, not genetics, that forces Indians to haggle at petrol stations and supermarkets; 'Is that your best deal? OK, what's the cash price? I'd love to give you my business my friend but I'm sure the petrol station across the road would happily give me an introductory discount'. I worry about my girlfriend walking home at night in South London because of the consequences Black urban street culture, not because I believe Black teenagers are any more prone to violence than other teenagers.

The situation is a little murkier these days. Only a few years ago I would have encouraged all migrants to this country to adopt British core values, whilst retaining links with the home culture, as migrants to the UK have been doing for years. Today, I'm not so sure. Trying not to sound too much like a reactionary old pensioner, how can I honestly say to a Muslim migrant, for example, that British core values are worth adopting? OK, against them they have issues like female inequality which isn’t exactly a brilliant thing. But should they ditch that and exchange it for godless materialism? A society populated by dysfunctional families, shagging at 12, consuming brain death media, manipulated by corporations; their role and purpose restricted merely to being consumers of mass produced crap made in 3rd world sweat shops? Come to Britain or the US and take that on board? I for one wouldn’t recommend it. I honestly don’t know what my country stands for anymore and agree less with the way my society is developing with each passing day, and at an accelerating rate.

But, hey, if people don’t decide to migrate to the US and UK we'll shove our bankrupt culture down their throats at the point of a gun anyway; whilst claiming that we're doing them a favour. We haven't played games like that since the 12th century. The much maligned British Empire of the 19th century imposed principles like the basic rule of law and threw in the occasional road. Local cultures and belief systems were pretty much, though admittedly not always, left alone. Nowadays, we declare war on entire religions and cultures without even any compensatory road building (US military bases don't count). Just in case there's any doubt on this one George Bush has makes his aims crystal clear by frequent use of the term 'Crusade', with all the baggage that goes with it. Then we have the cheek to talk about good (US/UK) versus evil (everyone else). Could anyone doubt that if the US aims were achieved in Iraq, for example, that in 30 years time the country would be afflicted with drug dependency, a collapse of family life, social exclusion and a people gulping anti-depressants as morality and purpose seeps out of their lives.
I can just picture new TV shows like 'Ali Springer' featuring puffy, overweight tent trash violently confronting each other over issues like 'My daughter dates an infidel' or 'I covet my neighbour's ass?'. Great, get stuck into those 'free and fair elections' right now.

Suck on it, either as migrants or at rifle point in your own countries; your choice.

Anyway, that's enough of this kind of stuff for now; back to psychic helmets for a few days methinks.



i came to your site by random. I am also an india livin in india and would like to migrate to uk or us or aus.
Saying that there are only economic reasons to go to other country is not true i was always fasicinated by the people in the usa etc. i saw them , and thgt how advanced, how brave (seeing national geographic)were they i was simply awe struck by them their knowledge and thats why i want to go there. i can get money in my country also but thats not everything. ya you don't wanna leave your culture but i am ready to adopt good things of other cultures and yes i don't think jobs are decided by their race

Stef said...


Maybe I didn't write clearly enough.

I rarely use words like 'always' or 'only'. The World is too complex for that kind of approach. For example I would never claim that ALL immigrants are coming into the UK ONLY for economic reasons. However, a lot are.

Also, are you confusing visiting a country with settling in a country? There's an enormous difference. Visiting a country requires no more than respecting its culture whilst you are there. To successfully settle in a country requires adopting much of that country's culture as your own.

The point of my post was that many immigrants have a difficult time because they do not embrace their host country's culture and choose to remain separate. They are therefore seen as alien and may become easy targets. The hysteria surrounding UK muslims and the recent War on Terror is a perfect example. They are viewed suspiciously, not because of their race but because of their cultural differences.

However, I fully understand why UK migrants may have trouble adopting UK culture because it is increasingly morally corrupt.

So, there's a problem isn't there? Migrants need to adopt a host country's culture, at least in part, to sucessfully integrate but what if the host country culture is becoming increasingly undesirable? Look at the way the US and UK are behaving around the World. How could any humane person migrate to the US and UK and support that kind of behaviour?

My biggest concern is that race issues are extensively discussed in the UK as being separate from cultural issues. Consequently, a lot of mistakes are being made and time wasted. In the UK you are less likely to suffer prejudice because of your 'race' than any other country I know of, aside from Canada. The vast majority of people in this country really don't care what colour you are. Cultural differences ARE a problem and whilst we're all wasting our time discussing issues like skin colour we are missing the real cause of tensions between ethnic groups.

Spend a few years living in the UK and you might understand my point a little more.


Stef said...


In case you revisit this page

You mentioned considering moving to UK / US / AUS.

I would also suggest considering Canada. This is probably the most decent society I have personally visited and the country has a lot going for it. Except ...

The Weather!!!

You can have no true understanding of the meaning of cold until you've visited Canada in the winter