Race Attacks

It is now over a decade ago, since a 2,000 strong AFA march to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day first attempted to highlight the issue of race attacks. Under the title 'Remembering victims of fascism yesterday and today' AFA vainly sought to bring both Left and media attention, to the epidemic which back then registered at a mere 70,000 incidents a year. Apart from a negative response from the Daily Mail the initiative was ignored by the rest of the media, and attracted no response from the left. In 1989, in Camden, in 1990 in east London, in 1991 and 1993 in south-east London, militant anti-fascism repeatedly sought to make links at a grass roots level, in order to hammer out an effective counter strategy. On every occasion, those efforts were rebuffed, or in some cases sabotaged by the council appointed 'community representatives'.

With the latest race attacks figures being put at 290,000 many of that same strata, indeed many of the very same individuals, are now crowding in behind the new Civil Rights movement. It would appear that in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence campaign, the race attacks issue, has become sexy. Their overwhelming concern now, of course being that the whole thing is controlled by them. No place for social undesirables like AFA who media darling, Suresh Grover, recently described "as a bunch of skinheads who intimidate people". A point underwritten by fellow steering group member Searchlight who snubbed an AFA approach for a pre meeting to discuss it's concerns.
For the signatories to the Macpherson Report meanwhile racism, is not only society's greatest evil, but it's only one. Consequently everything, civil rights and common sense included, must be sacrificed toward it's eradication. Defending the proposal to outlaw racist behaviour in private, inquiry member Dr Stone asks: "is there really no way we can nail someone for using disgusting racial language." "Is there no way to nail some one for disgusting racial thinking" is the same question put more precisely.
A mindset borne of a belief that the various anti-racist strategies proposed by liberals like him over the last fifteen years are actually working. And therefore, all that is required is one final push. Except, that the evidence strongly suggests the exact opposite is happening. If racial violence, which has been on a steadily rising curve since 1982, is judged an effective barometer, racist thinking is becoming more rather than less entrenched. A reactionary reservoir that will at some stage be tapped politically. But like a blind man dancing on a roof, Dr Stone knows nothing of this. In his 'expert' opinion the far-right were so resoundingly defeated after the war; they "haven't been back since". Having never even heard of the National Front, he will be blissfully unaware that the BNP intend standing in all regions in England in the European elections in June. And of the millions of recruitment leaflets distributed in that campaign, his own furious defence of the Macpherson recommendations, will in probability, feature prominently in every one of them.

It is not of course being suggested that racism must be tolerated for fear of provoking a backlash. But people need also to be made aware that politicising the issue of race; placing race at the top of the national agenda, dovetails nicely with agendas other than their own. Britain is indeed a deeply divided society but not only, or even primarily, on grounds of race.

And so those who point to statistics which show that blacks are five times more likely to be stopped by police than whites, as evidence of blatant police bias, something that can and must as a priority be addressed by quotas or better training, miss the real point by as wide a margin as Dr Stone. 'Stop and search' figures compiled by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki demonstrate, that in places like Hackney and Lambeth, where blacks make up 22 % of the local population, they represent 44 % of those stopped. However, in places like Kensington and Chelsea, and Harrow, areas where black motorists are perceived to be socially 'out of place', the odds of being stopped increase from 2-1 to 7-1. An acknowledgement that the police whatever their personal prejudices accept that their primary duty is not to protect white from black, but rich from poor. Consequently, Richmond upon Thames, where blacks make up only 0.75% of the population has proportionately the highest racially based stop and search figures in the Met, and therefore probably in the country.

Even then the outcome, depends entirely on how the suspect is classified after identification. Of course by the police criteria middle class black professionals are initially just as likely to be stopped as the working class unemployed. But generally for the black professional the inconvenience ends there. Once identified they are treated as respectfully as their status entitles them. They are not, abused, strip searched, denied bail, framed, beaten or killed. On the occasions when the police get it wrong huge sums are paid out in compensation. As a result black lawyers, journalists and doctors are no more likely to figure in police deaths in custody statistics than their white counterparts. For blacks their colour may get them stopped, but it is their class, or from a system perspective, their lack of it, that gets them killed. Class matters. Fatally so. Or put another way, of the 32 deaths at the hands of the police referred to by Ken Livingstone recently, nine were black. Disproportionate certainly, but any guesses on the common denominator with the remaining 23?

In December 1998, an AFA representative took part in a seminar on racism and race attacks on the Isle of Dogs. The majority of the contributions were from academics and youth workers. A consensus that current anti-racist strategies were counter productive, was agreed from the outset. An underlying reason being that in rejecting either the possibility and desirability of a redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, multi-culturalism instead places it's entire emphasis on resources such as they are, being shared on an equitable basis, thereby racialising social issues. In a nut shell, it is a sham. A stratagem to deflect the consequences of increasing social inequality back into the section of society that bears the brunt of it. Fanning the flames of racial and cultural division, while systematically depriving the targeted communities of resources is akin to the mother, invited to explain the anti social nature of her child who commented: "She was born like that. I beat her raw everyday and it didn't do any good".

Similarly, despite platitudes from the organisers prior to the launch meeting of the new National Civil Rights Movement on March 28 about 'not forgetting the white working class', in attempting to block any input from militant anti-fascism the NCRM is effectively ensuring the working class are excluded as well. Without this anchor, the likelihood is that it will be swept into the black nationalist slip stream. And under the motto 'equality before the law and fraternity in exploitation' civil rights will be perceived by the public to be broadly synonymous with the narrow aspirations of a wannabee black elite. An opportunity squandered is on thing. To conspire in a scenario where the BNP, in the eyes of the public, can then quite legitimately 'return the serve' - a boo boo of historic proportions - will require a political response of an altogether different calibre.

Reproduced from RA vol 3, Issue 6, Apr/May '99