Is Anti-Racism Working?

Anti-Fascist Action hosted an afternoon of film and discussion at the Lux cinema in East London. Following the films, which included the first public screening of the controversial Routes of Racism, a panel of speakers debated the question ‘Is anti-racism working?’

As part of the annual weekend of events, AFA staged an Anti-Fascist Film Festival in conjunction with the Lux Cinema. The series of events culminated in a film show and debate with speakers invited to question current anti-racist policies. The three films provided a powerful backdrop to the debate highlighting the devastating consequences of fascism, sectarian bigotry, and racism.

It was the last film, Routes of Racism, which provided the most direct spring­board for the debate. Set in Greenwich in South East London, Roger Hewitt’s film, based on his study of the same name, explored the effects of anti-racist policies on people living in a borough, which has seen three racist murders in recent years. Young white working class people, and local youth workers, questioned the traditional, liberal approach to anti-racism. Many interviewed for the film, argued that anti-racism promoted double standards. It was argued that this clumsy application of anti-racist practice created a perception among some, that Black and Asian people are favoured over Whites. The film highlighted how, in this context, young people increasingly expressed their anger and frustration through racism and racist attacks. The second half of this thought provoking film gave a voice to the victims of race attacks who talked movingly about their experience, fear and anger at being terrorised by local race attackers.

The debate was wide-ranging and dynamic. The speakers, Dr Roger Hewitt, Gary Younge from the Guardian, Weyman Bennett from the ANL, and AFA’s Gary O’Shea, debated a range of themes. There was substantial agreement with the film’s content and the broad debate increasingly centered onto issues of class and race. It was noted that in many working class areas, people of all different cultures and backgrounds do successfully live alongside each other. However, genuine problems do exist and it was argued that these should be faced honestly. It was good to hear a debate on race give proper considera­tion to the issue of class. While there was a range of perspectives on this issue, it was agreed in broad terms that race and class are interwoven and as such any response must face up to both issues.

AFA had invited a broad range of speakers to respond to the fundamental question posed by the film: ‘Is anti-racism working?’ importantly, AFA showed its willingness to open up a debate, long suppressed. Sadly, AFA’s willingness to engage in such a public debate was not matched by all. Two confirmed speakers, Kumar Murshid (National Assembly Against Racism) and Lee Jasper (1990 Trust), ducked the debate at the last minute. Whether this reflects a lack of bottle or incompetence (as apparently Jasper in particular is known for failing to attend his speaking engagements), it is clear that their non-atten­dance prevented all voices in the debate from being heard. Gary O’Shea highlighted the impact of liberal immigration policies, which expected deprived communities to accept refugees with no additional financial help. He argued that the arrival of new refugees should be matched by new resources and funding, ‘in order to grease integration’. The alternative was to set the ‘poor’ against each other.

Precisely because he faithfully followed the ANL line that ‘the war is won’ Bennett seemed most at sea in the subsequent two-hour debate. He played down the growth of the Far Right and race attacks, arguing that we have now achieved an anti-racist majority. The key strategy for the ANL as outlined by Bennett was to ‘prevent the Nazis becoming respectable’. In response the AFA speaker stressed that anti-fascism’s real task was the need to deny the Far Right the opportunity of presenting themselves as they have done so successfully in Europe as the ‘radical alternative’. As ever, the ANL demonstrated their capacity to bury their heads in the sand, almost literally in the case of Bennett who on one occasion actually turned down the opportunity to comment’

The AFA statement that ‘multi-culturalism, though a fact was not a strategy, at least not a progressive one Younge felt might be ‘dangerous’.

Overall the debate was interesting, and positively received, both by the speakers and the full house at the Lux Cinema. A member of the Socialist Party, was even heard to say ‘he enjoyed it!’ Again it shows that AFA is taking a key role in constructively challenging current anti-racist practice. AFA continues to champion a debate in an area where many have feared to tread, placing class at the center of the race debate. AFA rightly presents the genuine extent of racism and race attacks, and the potential of the Far Right to capitalise on this situation. This debate was another important and positive step forward for AFA in this area.