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Thursday 21 February 2013

What happens when a dream is deferred? 50 years on from Dr Martin Luther King’s famous speech Lee Jasper Co Chair of BARAC asks; Equality? Are we there yet?”

What happens when a dream is deferred? 50 years on from Dr Martin Luther King’s famous speech Lee Jasper Co Chair of BARAC asks; Equality? Are we there yet?”


It was 50 years ago this year 2013, that on the steps of the US Lincoln Memorial in Washington, that Dr Martin Luther King delivered his powerful and prophetic vision of describing a world where a person’s colour mattered less than his character.

In the sweltering heat of 1960’s America, torn apart by Jim Crow legislation and brutal racism, Dr King delivered his ‘I have a dream” speech probably the most famous and instantly recognisable speech in modern human history.

In Britain, the legacy of Dr King and the US Civil Rights led directly to the adoption of the successive British Race Relations Act. This special anniversary year provides an opportunity to ask some key questions about the extent of progress made in relation to the current state of racism and racial disadvantage in the UK.

Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts (BARAC) is organising a series of events to asses the extent of progress in tackling racism in the UK and what should be our political priorities going forward as we seek to purse Dr King’s vision of a more equal society.

Such critical questions are made even more important when one examines current levels of racial disadvantage, poverty and disadvantage and the effects of increasing public sector cuts, on already acutely deprived communities. Black, Muslim and poor ethnic communities were already living at the margins of British society stuck at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, prior to the 2008 economic crisis. Now we are being pushed into the abyss.

Austerity magnifies racial disadvantage.

I recently met with an elderly lady who had run a luncheon club for Caribbean pensioners. We met for coffee in the increasingly middle class enclave and eatery of Brixton.

Having run a club that provided lunch and a range of other services to Caribbean elders for neigh on 20 years, the local authority cut her funding and she was forced to close.

“They told us that our elders could attend a largely white luncheon club. The point is that we know they cannot cater for Caribbean elders. They don’t cook our food, they don’t understand our culture or our quite specific health needs.”

She was both upset and angry. She went on to say

“The real tragedy Lee is that our people don’t attend these majority white clubs because they are not made welcome. They sit at home isolated and just vegetate”.

Over the last 2 years, I’ve heard that same story time and time again from Asian and Caribbean elders club from across the country.

On my travels, I met a 50 plus year old black man. Married he has worked all his life for a local authority was offered and took early retirement.

With tears in his eyes he explained that as a result of recent housing benefit changes he has been told by his local Council that he has to either make up the significant shortfall in his housing benefit or leave the home where he has live with his family for 30 years.

“Both my wife and I have worked hard all our lives" he told me,

“We have never claimed benefits and now when we want to enjoy our retirement we are being told to pack up and move”.

His distress was palpable and worse his health was beginning to suffer.

“My small pension is not enough to make up the difference. What am I supposed to do now?”

Right throughout the country there are countless examples for Black, Muslim and poor ethnic communities who are being hit disproportionately hard by the current round of cuts.

Coalition Government adopts French model of forced citizen assimilation.

Mr. Eric Pickles the Minister of the Department of Communities and Local Government along with the Cabinet have decided that all distinct ethnic provision in the public service or voluntary sector is now deemed “‘divisive’.

This is somewhat ironic as separate ethnic public service provision arose a result of the failure of mainstream service providers to meet the needs of a multicultural society.

After the uprisings of the 1980’s, it was a Tory Government under Margret Thatcher who agreed that Black and Muslim communities had distinct need that were not being met and agreed race equality funding streams for projects seeking to respond to those needs.

Today, David Cameron and this Coalition Government have adopted a French style policy of forced assimilation rather than voluntary integration. This constitutes a major policy shift that is having profound and serious consequences.

The experience of the last two years is of Government, increasing numbers of local authorities and statutory agencies, choosing to simply ignore issues of race equality and racial discrimination.

We have seen the ongoing sustained establishment attack on the concept of anti racism, translated into an attack on ‘municipal multiculturalism’ i.e. separate ethnic provision of any kind.

Pickles has sent out formal guidance to local authorities and Government departments that designate any and all separate ethnic funding, as inappropriate and divisive’.

This has resulted in huge numbers of Black and Asian community services being deliberately targeted for cuts and closure as a result of this discriminatory policy.

This deeply right wing ideological attack on the concept of equality has very real effects on people’s lives and communities in general and is already causing rising tensions such as those that led to the uprisings of the 1980’s.

Muslim girls’ only swimming classes, Lupus awareness campaigns, elderly Black and Asian luncheon clubs, Black supplementary schools, youth provision, all swept away in a bout of right wing ideological fervor.

The roots of our problem go far wider and deeper than the Tories. The neo liberal political consensus on race

This dangerous neo liberalism is unfortunately not confined to the Tories. It is now indisputable and absolutely crystal clear that the campaigning rhetoric of all political parties that “championed” the principle of race equality, in the run up to the 2010 general election, has today, completely evaporated like the morning dew.

Right now, there is no discernable Government strategy for achieving race equality in Britain and worse there is no coherent or effective political pressure from our communities for them to do so.

The Tory attack on equality included ensuring that the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the regulatory body charged with policing the 2010, Equality Act was neutered and rendered completely ineffective.

First Government bought off their favorite Head Negro Sir Trevor Phillips (never in the field of race equality have communities paid such a heavy price to facilitate one mans career.)

So although there was substantive evidence of serious breaches of the equalities law in relation to the 2010 budget, Trevor choose not to challenge the Government in the courts.

Secondly, Government slashed funding to the Commission, then summarily dismissed, and publically maligned Commissioners like Simon Woolley and others who were a thorn of the side of both Government and Phillips.

Finally, they propose to dilute the Equality Duty, included in the Act, that requires statutory agencies to asses their policies and services in relation to any potential discriminatory impact on distinct groups.

The end result of two years of the most vicious, ideologically sustained political attack is that the Government has effectively given a green light to unregulated, unrestrained institutional racism.

“We were bamboozled, we were had, hoodwinked” Malcolm X

Prior to the 2010 election, it was all very different, all parties were seemingly passionate in their commitment to race equality.

Back then, Tory George Osborne spoke about how Labour had failed the Black, Muslim and poor ethnic community, and how the Tories would create policies that would unleash the latent potential of Britain’s multicultural communities.

Nick Clegg spoke of much the same thing bearing witness to police harassment of young black people and committing his party to an unremitting assault on racism and inequality.

Labour, however lost the trust of many in Black and Asian communities, as a result of their general Islamophobia and the fact that they had abolished the Commission for Race Equality and replaced it with the train wreck, that is the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Taking a leaf out of the Anti Nazi League, who boldly declared that they had defeated British fascism in the 1980’s and subsequently disbanded, Labour declared racism passé. As far as and Islington New Labour Shiraz Socialist were concerned, racism, was ‘soooo last century.’

This reflects a general disinclination by Labour to get to the root economic cause of racial disadvantage preferring instead a largely cosmetic brand of anti racism.

Britain, they arrogantly declared, had moved on and what racial disadvantage does exist is entirely the fault of individuals. Institutional racism, a cornerstone concept in any effective strategy for tackling racial discrimination was the subject to relentless political attack while later the Tories would go on to extend this attack to include the sister concept of “multiculturalism.”

Of course Labour’s complicit guilt over the on the illegal invasion of Iraq in their manufactured “war against terror” and subsequent support of the criminalisation and marginalisation of the Muslim community and attacks on immigrants constituted a grave political error and a critical and costly capitulation to racism.

Over the last 2 years, the mood music for Black people, Asians and ethnic minority communities in Britain has become increasingly hostile. Politicians, sections of the media, social commentatriat alike deride anti racism and its advocates, as outmoded relics of a bygone age.

People like me are regularly described as race Dinosaurs fighting the old battles of the 70’s and 80’s. The country has moved it is said and so must we.

Whilst in power, Labour initiated much of this waffle to its eternal shame and today Black, Muslim and poor ethnic communities are left to suffer the awful consequences of their catastrophic decisions. Where Labour led the Tories now follow

Politicians of all parties are all too willing to pander to racist sentiment, if they suspect there are some political or electoral advantages to be gained.

Scapegoating Black, Asian and poor ethnic communities, as means of public distraction from the economic crisis.

The economic crisis was caused by the high collusion led by Labour when in power and subsequently the Tories and Lib Dems with the City of London, Bankers and the Murdoch pres. This continues to exist today.

All these parties are now engaged in seeking to preserve and protect their relations with global capital and the city. That requires that the public are provided with other “moral folk devils” to occupy their thoughts in an attempt to deflect attention away from the real criminal conspiracy between these mainstream parties, global capital and the media.

Today the Tories are scapegoating “immigrants” in order to keep poor communities divided and Labour local authorities are implementing cuts that they know are disproportionately affecting black communities but refuse to challenge Government. Labour is silent on racism preferring the adoption of Tory ‘One Nation” politics and colluding with the disingenuous and dangerous fiction that speaking English is the primary barrier to tackling racism and racial disadvantage.

The left response to this is to focus on the extreme violent right wing, at the expense of the much more pervasive institutional racism.

Trade Unions are deeply reluctant to challenge Labour’s collusion with institutional racism at a local authority level despite their members losing jobs and as a result, black workers are being left to fend for themselves facing unprecedented levels of workplace discrimination.

The broad left, has historically focused on fighting fascism in the form of the English Defense League. All resources are sucked into this fight and most Trade Unions will cite this work as proof that of their commitment to tackle racism. This is a mistake, the fight against the much more prevalent, pernicious, and deadly institutional racism impacts many more peoples lives than the EDL ever will.

The left in its youthful exuberance, prefers the drama of street confrontation with a small number of boneheads than the much more intractable struggle against racial inequality.

In recent times, we have seen the degree of social, economic, cultural and political marginalisation of Black and Muslim and poor ethnic communities become almost complete, as racism and it’s deleterious effects are magnified through the brutal lens of austerity.

Prior to the recession, the majority of Black and Muslim communities already suffered the negative effects of racial disadvantage, high levels of poverty and deprivation. Today we can see the narrow pathways of social mobility and economic viability being closed down, as poor communities become sealed into ghettoes of poverty, disadvantage and despair.

Of course, much has changed since the arrival of the Windrush generation and whilst the crude violent colour bar racism has largely disappeared, this has been replaced by much less visible, but nevertheless, highly corrosive covert racism that is articulated in neutral policy terms, but whose overall effect has been to increase rates of racial inequality. We see opportunity for the few and misery for the many.

In the context of increasing rates of poverty, racism and disadvantage, what should our response be?

The future looks bleak for our communities and our children unless we begin to seriously address the lack of a strategic coherent response and unity of purpose. The objective reality is that in many important areas, rates of racial inequality are widening not reducing.

Our research analysis suggests, at the current rate of progress racism will continue to blight the lives of our people for another 300 years. If we are to achieve the goal of equality in our lifetime, we will need much more unity in the community. BARAC is using this year to discuss a series of key questions, such as how do we achieve a greater degree of strategic cooperation between different cultural and faith groups? 

How do we create a political institution powerful enough to affect real change?

How can we achieve equality in our lifetime?

In considering these questions it’s important to have an objective assessment and a clear consensus on the depth and breadth of the challenges we now face.

Sky rocketing levels of unemployment among black women and young people, mass closures of voluntary sector projects, welfare and housing benefit reforms, rises in University fees and cuts to the Education Maintenance Award grant supporting low income families.

Riots and uprisings, increasing rates of stop and search, the harvesting of Black and Muslim men’s DNA on the national criminal database, rises in the Black and Muslim youth prison populations following the disturbances of 2011, increases in the rate of poverty and the cost of living, rising rates of youth and domestic violence, deaths in custody, immigration attacks, erosion of civil liberties, rises in homelessness, racism in sport, more black children in care and the scandal of mental health treatment.

Next Steps: How do we secure equality in our lifetime?

These are just a fraction of the issues that have all combined to create a toxic vortex that has plunged our communities into a nightmare scenario. We are being forced back into an underclass where the doors of opportunity will be sealed for decades.

Each successive generation of Black and Asian communities here in the UK worked hard to ensure their children did not face the racism they endured.

From the Caribbean Pakistan, African, Bangladesh and India they came striving to provide a future for their children. They ensured their legacy to their children was a society indeed a world where the worst excess of racism was pushed back. Such was their soaring ambition.

We may be the first generation since the end of colonialism whose legacy to our children is a society where racism is much worse.

These issues beg the question, how do best can we respond to these challenges? BARAC invites you to an open discussion in the hope of promoting nationwide debate on these issues providing an answer to central question of what is to be done?

BARAC National Coordinating Committee for the MLK50 Campaign is open to any organisation or individual whose share the vision of our campaign.

Extreme right wing groups seek to exploit the economic crisis by scapegoating Black and Muslim communities. As the economy declines we are seeing a rise in racism and its effects.

Government has abandoned the eradication of unfair racial disadvantage as a political priority. Attacks on the principle and concept of multiculturalism by politicians and sections of the media seeking to exploit people’s fears and are fanning the flames of racism.

We support the goal of achieving equality in our lifetime and express our support for BARAC UK’s call for the National March for Jobs and Justice to take place on August 28th 2013 to bring to an end widespread racial discrimination in the UK and achieve race equality in our lifetime

The first meeting will be held at 2pm on the 22nd Feb at Portcullis House Westminster London you can book via email

The National Launch of MLK50 Campaign will take place at the House of Commons 11th March.

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