Saturday, November 20, 2004

Racist Humming


Mmmmmm ...
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I've just returned home after checking out a rally in the park at the end of the street.
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It wasn't much of a rally.

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Billed as 'The New Britain: Diverse, Multiracial and United - the only road to progress' the intention was apparently to mark a new chapter in the struggle for Civil Rights in the UK. A second objective was to 'Reinstate Alex Owoldae - End the Institutional Racism of Lambeth Borough Council'. They'd spelled his name wrong on the hundreds of posters put up to publicise the event.

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Alex Owolade worked in a Lambeth Council Homeless unit. Lambeth says it sacked him because he was being abusive to other employees who could no longer work with him. Mr Owolade says he was complaining about racism. I don't know what the truth is. I do know that after a riot in Brixton in July 2001, when about 100 kids smashed and looted shop fronts, Owolade said that he was 'proud' of what they did.

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"What happened last night was the youth and the community rebelled against years of racist repression, and years of racist injustice at the hands of the police"
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When a lot of the rest of us thought they were just stealing stereos.
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In fairness, the riot was sparked off by the police shooting a Black man carrying an imitation gun the night before but smashing up a Dixons and nicking a few CD players is a mighty peculiar way to fight for your civil rights. Does Dixons not sell stereos to Black people? Does it refuse to employ Black people?
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It's cold and wet outside today. Not many turned up to the rally, maybe 40-50 people. I intended to stick around and hear what was being said but after a couple of minutes realised that I couldn’t keep myself from scowling and that I was likely to end up with trouble. So I came home.
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In the few seconds I was there I was treated to snippets like:
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'Outlaw Lambeth Council'
'Civil Rights now'
'End racism in UK society today'
'Jail police murderers'
(open to two interpretations that one)
'Black people are being tortured by the police every day'
'Black people must demand their civil rights. The new civil rights movement starts today'
'We demand repatriation!'

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Actually, I think it was supposed to be reparations but the guy just had a little trouble with his pronunciation.
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My head was spinning. Not because the speakers were saying anything new. I was just amazed that they were blasting out the same old rhetoric in the context of what was supposed to be a rally advocating multiculturalism. There was only one culture represented today. That's no surprise to me. This country is home to very significant ethnic communities from all over the World. Their only common cultural meeting point is that of their adopted country. So, when there's a big Latino festival in South London there are a lot of Latinos, a fair few white Brits but virtually no Black or Asians attending. At the Brick Lane festival there are loads of Pakistanis and Bangladeshi's, a fair few white Brits but virtually no Blacks or Latinos. The small march today was Black with a fair few white Brits. There's only ever one common denominator; 'racist' whitey.
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Yet, time after time, we are bombarded with the message that 'Britain is a racist country'. I've lost count of how many times I've been subjected to that phrase. The implication is that other countries are not. I would dearly love to know which countries aren't; Spain? France? India? Rwanda? The Sudan?
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Right now, something like 300,000 - 350,000 people are managing to beg, borrow or steal their way into the UK every year. They lash themselves to the underside of trains. They sail across stormy oceans in orange crates. These kiddies are keen. My history is a little flaky on this subject but I am unaware of similar migration patterns into South Africa in the 1960s or Louisiana in the 1850s. I don't think many people are fighting their way into Darfur right now.
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One of the speakers today was using language of Civil Rights activists in Alabama in the 1960s. What? Are Blacks or any minorities denied the vote? Have blazing crosses been lit in Kennington Park? If so, that's all passed me by. Drawing parallels withn the struggles in the American Deep South is deceitful, as well as pathetic. To my knowledge, the last public lynching to take place in SW9 was an unfortunate German bomber pilot who bailed out over here in 1940. He was white. Generally, we try to pretend that didn't happen, though I like to point out the offending lamp post to any visitors.
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I've visited the Deep South on numerous occasions, witnessed a fair amount of Black despair, poverty, and genuine and horrific exclusion, yet been subject to nothing like the hostility I get from some Blacks on the streets on London every single day. Given the recent history of the Black experience in the Southern States this amazes me. On numerous occasions, we have felt embarrassed in places like Alabama because, accustomed to life in South London, we were suspicious of Black people approaching us. On every single occasion they were just looking to chat, exchange greetings or offer assistance; leaving both Tracy and myself feeling about 2 inches tall. I can't recall the last time I experienced anything similiar in Lambeth.
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It's a different World.
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Back in my World, there's real hate out there on the streets of London and other UK cities. It's not just a Black thing. The same anger is present is run-down White areas, the difference is that Blacks are presented with a ready-made focus for their rage that poor Whites don’t have; except Irish people of course.
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I heard talk of reparations today, presumably for the slave trade. To its significant cost, Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 and used its navy to suppress slavery around the World. That was 197 years ago. I was watching a 'comedy' show last night that included an Irish comedian farting on about the Potato Famine. Apparently the British Government developed potato eating fungus as part of its genocide of the Irish people. That was in 1847, 157 years ago. At the same time in history, the vast bulk of the white British population was living in cramped, disease-infested conditions, their babies dying like flies and the adults dying in their 40s from TB and industrial illnesses. Maybe, the descendants of exploited Victorian mill and factory workers should start claiming reparations. My own family, white as they were, were scratching a subsistence peasant existence in the most godforsaken part of Italy. Why I, or the bulk of the indigenous UK population should assume the guilt or the responsibility for the actions of a bunch of white toffs who died 150 years ago is fucking beyond me. Pee on their graves and tear down their statues by all means but leave me and people like me out of it. Or is our crime the fact that we were born white? It certainly feels like it.
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This reparation thing often verges on farce. The last time I was in New Zealand, a year ago, I picked up on a story that Maoris, quite seriously, were claiming their ancestral rights to radio airwaves and offshore drilling licences.
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It's good business though isn’t it. During a trip to Canada, the only country I've ever visited that is less racist than the UK, a few years ago I got chatting with a group of French Canadians working in a warehouse outside Montreal. The subject of proposed separation of French and English Canada came up. It was a hot topic at the time. The guys all gave the same opinion; that it wasn't a real issue in daily life but a small group of political people were stirring up trouble so that they could benefit from it. I've heard that story before.
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So, anyway, at the rally today. The speakers were complaining about how racist Lambeth Council is. Anyone who has had dealings with London Councils clearly knows that this is nonsense. London Councils are extensively staffed by people from ethnic minorities and Council literature is so multilingual it takes a whole side of A4 just to say 'Good Morning'. Long ago, I worked for a London Council and was once hauled up on a racism charge. My sin? Humming 'Rasputin' by Boney M. Yes, really, no more than that. Dixie I would understand but Ra Ra Rasputin?
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The bizarre thing was that I was a temporary employee and they could have dispensed with my services at the drop of hat. In a way I would have been grateful. As a temporary employee I was not subject to their disciplinary procedures but they went ahead with the process anyway. Partly, because they were pussies and partly because they were afraid that I would make a counter claim. Anyway, at the end we resolved the issue by having me apologise for any unintended offence to the person who was offended. She was a star. One time, I sat next to her for six weeks as she did absolutely no work whatsoever. The day before her report was due, she cried out 'The computer has lost all my data' and got a six week extension. I then made the fatal error of giggling when she claimed her data had been lost and compounded my mistake by going through the motions of trying to recover the non-existent lost data. My card was marked. That was 10 years ago; presumably the working environment is even more demented in Local Government today.
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In fact, the advances that have been made to ensure equality are now arguably becoming counterproductive. There are now powerful disincentives to employing ethnic minorities, derived from a fear of the law rather than any racial prejudice. My last company employed about 190 staff in its London office. Out of the 190 only a couple were Black. This patently isn’t right. I'm not about to defend that firm, Lordie no, but there is a case to be made that if you employ a white person who turns out to be rubbish you can sack them. If you employee a Black person who turns out to be rubbish you cannot. That's not to say a higher proportion of Blacks are rubbish than Whites but if they are Black you are stuck with them; unless your firm has the stomach for a long drawn out legal procedure. Why bother?
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Stef's solution? Per a Warren Beatty quote 'Let's all just **** each other until we're all the same ****ing colour …'. I'll do my bit, starting with Japan.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Stef, for the life of me i can't think why you don't get more comments on this blog; other than that every man and his dog seems to have a blog these days so your audience may be spread a bit thin.
This is really just a note say that over the past week or so since i came across yours i have found it to be by turns witty and eloquently of its own mind. I'd say keep it up, but i know you have a book to write.
~Rahid - N.London.

Geek's Girl said...

First off,just to answer the previous comment, I guess you could call me a loyal Stef fan. I read this blog every day but I don't always leave a comment, mostly because Stef has said all that needs to be said. And I don't want to make a nusiance of myself.

As to this post,well, I'm a white person living in South Africa, so I don't get to say things like "it happened 150 years ago,maybe it's time to move on". That's because it happened not too long ago. But there seems to be a definite pattern evolving, people don't seem to want to forget the past because it provides a good excuse for not getting on with things in the present.

Our black govenrment has been in power for a decade now yet when they don't deliver on their promises, they blame apartheid. Robert Mugabe has been in power for 20+ years, things are definitely not going well in Zimbabwe but apparently after two decades this is still Britian's fault.

What's really sad is that the people who vote for them buy these lame excuses. Even sadder, is the voter apathy that exists in South Africa, especially among white South Africans, who don't bother to vote yet complain when they feel the government ignores their needs.

I'm not too sure how things work in Britian but here city councils are voted into office. Hence if there is not a decent variety of colour then blame the electorate. Perhaps Lambeth doesn't quite have the numbers to change the colour spectrum in the council (assuming that that is the problem), I don't know.

Okay, so the point of my comment. Well, I just think we'll never get past racism until we start to relate each other as individuals. And accept that sometimes people just don't get along personally and the colour of their skin has nothing to do with it.

Okay, I'm done now.

Stef said...

Thanks to both of you for making such positive comments, really. I started writing this blog primarily as writing practice but also to stop the voices in my head. Both objectives are being achieved.

I don’t expect that many people to read and certainly not to comment on my blog. Most postings are far too long for a casual a read and why should my thoughts be any more insightful or attractive than the thousands of others on the web.

Plus, to a certain extent I can’t handle it. Even having two people in this World who've read my Blog, oh yes and you Ian, leaves me with a sense of responsibility that I find almost inhibiting. Some days (not often) I don't feel that inspired, other days I feel drawn towards something trivial, bizarre or local. The chances of somebody reading a series of say five or six of my blog entries and being drawn to the subject matter of all of them is slight. I feel responsible because I don’t like letting people down. Also, at some point, presumably my savings will run out and I'll have to go back to work for the machine or else the voices will stop, though admittedly neither is likely to happen in the immediate future.

On the race issue. Sadly, it will never go away because human nature is what it is; and I'm not talking about a predisposition towards racism. There will always be people who will seek advancement through tapping into other peoples' fears. Where no fears exist they will invent some. There's an incredible amount of that kind of activity taking place in the World today; be it in Zimbabwe or the nonsense War on Terror. Any differences, real or imagined, between two groups of people will be exploited by the wicked and unscrupulous. I've mentioned this example elsewhere but, for example, I'm a photography buff. For years now there's been a state of open warfare between Nikon and Canon enthusiasts. It is not unusual to see postings or comments like 'That's the kind of response I'd expect from a Nikon owner' or 'You Canon types are always making trouble'. And those differences take place over as trivial an issue as choice of Camera brand.