Black Lives London

First, my apologies for not many posts in the last few days. May Day gets rather hectic here and I’m still trying to catch up with things. Then I went away for a weekend, had a birthday and more – and managed to forget what I was writing about…

There was a great deal of largely unconscious racism around when I was young, perhaps more xenophobia than racism. We were brought up in an atmosphere where to be British (or perhaps more importantly, English) was to be effortlessly superior to the rest of the world. We had just won the war – with just a little help from the Yanks (who we felt only ever succeeded in anything by sheer mass of numbers and fire-power) and of course ‘Uncle Joe‘ Stalin and his Russian hordes, But we were the proud little nation that had invented almost everything, from the industrial revolution to football, and had taken civilization around the world to create a glorious Empire on which the sun never set.

Of course, the Empire was on its way out. India (and Pakistan) had got independence, and more of those had been or were still a part of that Empire were beginning to take up that promise that they could come and live and work here. And in 1953, an England team were soundly beaten by Hungary at Wembley, rubbing it in the following year with a 7-1 thrashing in Budapest.

Even in my own family, where the views of English superiority were somewhat countered by a strong Christian belief in all men (a word that still then included women) being equal in the eye of God – unless perhaps they were Catholics – there was still a certain air of paternalism – and we were still collecting those halfpennies with a ship on them to send out missionaries to covert the heathen.

Of course there were a few foreigners, and even a few black people around; there had always been some in London and a few made their way to the outer suburbs where we lived. Some even came and stayed with us when we gave hospitality at Christmas to some overseas students whose homes were on the other side of the world, though quite what they made of us I still wonder.

Over the next twenty years or so, things changed fairly dramatically as first West Indians and later immigrants from India, Hindu, Muslim and Sikhs, moved into the area which Wikipedia now describes as having ‘a very high ethnic diversity with a low White British population.’

It was a change that in most respects I found positive. It created a more positive local economy, we got shops that didn’t close at 5.30 (or 1pm on Wednesdays) and even opened on Sundays, a considerably wider range of food etc. There were people to drive the buses (and to ride on them to keep routes open.) There were doctors and nurses and people to run other essential services.

London is a better place to live in than when I was growing up in many ways, and its new citizens who have come here from around the world have made a great contribution to that. But there are those who resent their presence, and still attitudes in some organisations including the police, much of the press and some political parties which discriminate against immigrants in general and ethnic minorities including those who are our citizens. We see it clearly in our immigration policies and immigration raids, in the imprisonment in immigration detention centres, in the still frequent ‘stops and searches’ of young Black men, in deaths in custody and in some court cases.

Of course it isn’t just Black people who suffer discrimination. Class is always important, and at the basis of how our society works. Islamophobia is rife – and behind most of the ‘fight against terrorism’, there is still antisemitism around (though exaggerated by deliberate attempts to paint any opposition to the actions of the Israeli state as anti-semitic), still extreme prejudice against Roma and other travelers, as well as other xenophobic attitudes.

This event remembered the many UK victims of state violence, including Mark Duggan, Sarah Reed, Mzee Mohammed, Jermaine Baker, Sean Rigg, Leon Patterson, Kingsley Burrell and over 1500 others, disproportionately black, since 1990 and was held five years and a day after the killing of Mark Duggan. The park in which it took place in Whitechapel was renamed a year after the murder there of Altab Ali, an 25 yea-old Bangladeshi textile worker, on May 8th 1978 by three teenage racists.

More pictures at Black Lives Matter London.


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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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