Issue 206 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 1997 Copyright Socialist Review

Stack on the back

Pat Stack

'I want to start by making it clear that all my sympathies lie with the family of Stephen Lawrence,' said the man from the right wing Freedom Association on a radio phone in.

However, he spent the rest of the programme praising British 'tolerance' and denouncing anti-racist legislation. Indeed the only example of racism he gave was an advert he'd brought with him where a black community centre had advertised for black staff.

It is this sort of smug complacency on the question of racism which is typical of much of the establishment's attitude to the question. Of course, they say, there may be a few deranged skinheads in the East End of London, a few disgruntled elderly bigots in Wolverhampton. At a push it is even possible that there are one or two rotten racist apples in the police force, but by and large 'we are a tolerant people'.

It is not possible, such people will argue, to legislate for such prejudice. A recent poll even showed that Asians don't like Afro-Caribbeans, so what can you do? What matters is that this bit of intolerance doesn't get in the way of anything that such prejudice doesn't spill over into official society.

Therefore the system of law and order is colour blind, rules and regulations are colour blind, and as we all know the market is most definitely colour blind. Well, apart from fashion, where Subterranean Homesick Blue is definitely this year's colour, darling!

Funny, then, that most black and Asian people don't see it like that. They know that walking into a job interview they have every chance of walking out again without that job because of the colour of their skin.

They know that when driving their car they are three times more likely to be stopped by police than a white driver, that walking the pavements they are more likely to be stopped and searched than whites, and that should they appear in court they are more likely to end up in prison than whites. Their children are more likely to be excluded from schools than whites.

Indeed, should they flee a despotic government at home, they are more likely to end up in a detention centre or be deported than whites. They know that at airports they are more likely to be harassed and terrorised by immigration officials than whites.

The skinhead, the bigot, the rotten apple may be unacceptable to polite society, but in reality they are following a logic that runs deep through the system. If Michael Howard waffles endless slime about 'phoney' asylum seekers really being economic migrants, then the logic is that economic migrants (ie the overwhelming majority of first generation immigrants) are in and of themselves a problem, and if they are a problem then why not their British born offspring?

If Sir Paul Condon wishes to warn that a disproportionate amount of crime is committed by black youth, then aren't black youth a problem to be 'sorted out'? If Norman Tebbitt wants to set up silly jingoistic tests of nationality which he knows a majority are bound to fail, then why not treat 'Pakis' as foreigners who don't belong here?

Yet so much of this is dismissed as paranoia on the part of blacks. Well, they may have noticed a few things. For instance, if you are black in the United States you can't have failed to contrast the huge fuss over the OJ Simpson acquittal compared to the number of times all-white juries have acquitted white racist murderers, with hardly a murmur in the media.

Nor is it easy if you are black or Asian in Britain to make much sense of the different police and judicial response to the equally tragic murders of Stephen Lawrence and Richard Everitt. In the latter case police were searching house to house within hours of the death, people were charged, and the defendants were found guilty.

In the Lawrence case, no house to house search took place for days, and even though there have been named suspects, charges have been dropped, cases thrown out and not a single conviction obtained.

Stephen Lawrence was an innocent young black killed by a gang of whites. Richard Everitt was an innocent young white killed by an Asian gang, both tragic and horrible yet the legal system's response to one seems to have been totally different to the other.

If that was tragedy, then let me finish this piece with an example of farce. The City of London has a police ring of steel around it to guard against an IRA attack. A few months ago I had occasion to take a minicab into the area. The car in front of us had three young blacks in it. It was stopped and searched. We, on the other hand, were waved through.

Both the cab driver and myself were as Irish as anything, but through we went. There are of course people who are both Irish and black, but they make up a tiny minority, and to my knowledge no black IRA man has ever been found.

It would appear old habits die hard. I had a feeling that the cabby and myself could have had 'The Boys of the Old Brigade' blaring out of the window and half a ton of semtex on our laps, and still have got through as long as there was the distraction of black faces in a car.

Perhaps that's what they mean by British tolerance.

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