Giving the white working class what they want


by Sunny
23rd September, 2008 at 5:23 pm    

I was asked to speak this week at the Fabian Society fringe, with the title of this blog post as the headline. It was packed out completely, especially for an early afternoon Saturday when the conference had barely started. This is what I said – I was only given two minutes at the beginning.

The stereotype of the mildly racist white working class white-van driving man has become a common story in our national media. If it isn’t journalists of ethnic minority origins using them as examples of why racism persists, then its white journalists in the Daily Mail or Express interviewing them to tell us why immigration should be completely stopped into the country.

And yet I find this picture rather bizarre because from my experience working class communities in London are more racially diverse than middle class ones.

There are real concerns in working class families. But its obvious that in trying to answer whether we can give white working class families what they want, we have to know what they want first.

Doing such a survey would be as fruitful as asking what white middle classes want, because both are diverse groups with different interests that depend on various factors. So I’m going to tell you what I think is going on and how we could grapple with this conundrum.

I think there are two simultaneous wars going on. One is a war over resources, especially in deprived areas, that leads to social housing and welfare benefits being a flashpoint over which people express their anger.

The second is a culture war, a fight over social and emotional issues that define us. This is a war about the identity of our country, as it is now and where it is going. It is a fight over symbols, a sense of community and what is the social glue that defines us as a nation.

Two questions then arise – who is fighting which war, and is there any overlap? The second question is easier than the first – of course there is overlap. If there is concern among poorer white families that their localities are changing and they can’t even communicate with the new arrivals, or that there is no longer a sense of ‘local community’ then I would not dismiss that as illegitimate.

But, as is the case in the United States, the culture wars are fought primarily amongst the middle classes. They are the ones less concerned about poverty and economic issues and more about the localities they live in. And I think middle class journalists, for example Rod Liddle, use white working class people as vessels for their own wars – because its easy for all sides to paint white working class people as mildly xenophobic.

So here’s my point.

If the progressive liberal-left is serious about tackling this issue, then we have to fight both the wars.

One the one hand we have to address deprivation, lack of social housing, public transport and local investment – and not just because it affects white working classes but because it affects brown and black working class families too.

Simultaneously, we have to take on the right in the culture war. When Gordon Brown launched his Britishness project a few years ago, I was excited for this exact reason. That project had the capacity, if done right, to address these very concerns that could have neutralised the culture war.

Britishness, to me, was about forging a new British identity. An identity that encompassed the desire of minorities here to be accepted as part of the furniture and provide an affirmation of their bond to the United Kingdom.

It could also have been developed into a social glue that dealt with many of the exaggerated fears of white Britons that they had nothing in common with older and newer immigrants.

In other words, we need to develop a narrative that, like in other multi-cultural and multi-racial democracies, points to a better vision of the future and offers a language that binds us together as citizens.
I don’t think this government did it right – there were far too many ad hoc announcements and proposals without any over-arching idea of where it was leading to.

I will leave you with a thought. One of the great Achilles Heel of the left in Britain and the United States is that we have run away from fighting cultural battles because we are too afraid of them. Across the United States this is taking place now, as a black candidate has tried to straddle the racial divide by trying to appear neither too black nor too white.

Here, if we continue to run away from the culture issues at a time when the make-up of Britain has changed significantly in the last ten years alone, then we run the risk of letting the right define them.

If that happens then Labour could lose vast swathes of the electorate in the same way the Democrats did for a generation.


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  1. Pickled Politics » Working class prejudice at the BBC

    [...] BBC’s coverage is an issue too. As I said last year at the Fabian event at the Labour Party conference, there’s a whole bunch of right-wing commentators who keep seeing “working class [...]




  1. Shamit — on 23rd September, 2008 at 6:40 pm  

    Sunny

    I agree with your points on Britishness and having a common narrative that binds us all together.

    America with its Constitution, Pledge of Allegiance and overt patriotism do have a common narrative and vast majority of Americans irrespective of their class, creed, religion think the US to be the greatest country in the world. And, they are almost all very very proud to be Americans. But it still has not stopped them from having their culture wars and their race problems. Which in my opinion is actually far greater than ours. And I think the recent poll among Democrates highlight my point.

    My point is even a common narrative that successfully binds us do not necessarily address the key question you have posed. We could all be very proud to be British yet hate and misunderstand each other.

    Why is it after almost 12 years of a labour government that we find many young people in the so called working class think University is not for them? And also who is working class.

    My experiences tell me that many actually make around 40-50K or more a year and they are electricians, plumbers etc and stay in their own homes and they consider themselves working class. So what is the key differential?

    Could it be the aspiration that one imbibes from their home environment? On that front, I find huge differences among white, black and brown families. More often than not, the brown families would ensure that their children go to school and do well and go to University. And that is not always the case among the other groups.

    So the challenge is creating the sense of aspiration and achievement. On that front, the new Black role model programme launched recently is doing some good in some of our worst estates. But no one is thinking about the white working class in the same way — maybe thats where the problem lies.

    I think our culture war in Britain is vastly different from that of the US. We need to define the Centre – left ground for the culture and fight it on the basis on opportunity and education and aspiration.

    If we get caught up in the right wing definition, we would be fighting the wrong war in the wrong place and create more walls rather than breaking them down.

  2. Don — on 23rd September, 2008 at 7:50 pm  

    Good piece, Sunny. Nice to see you getting back to basics.

  3. Desi Italiana — on 23rd September, 2008 at 9:47 pm  

    Sunny:

    “One of the great Achilles Heel of the left in Britain and the United States is that we have run away from fighting cultural battles because we are too afraid of them.”

    I don’t agree with that. I think the weakness of the American ‘left’ is that the various factions are way too fractured and disconnected. There are several competing narratives of ‘culture wars’ and positions whereas the right-wingers and conservatives do not generally have.

    Shamit:

    “America with its Constitution, Pledge of Allegiance and overt patriotism do have a common narrative and vast majority of Americans irrespective of their class, creed, religion think the US to be the greatest country in the world. And, they are almost all very very proud to be Americans.”

    Based on my personal experiences, I disagree with this. But it is also true that I do not hang out that much with super-patriotic people who think the US is the ‘greatest country in the world.”

  4. Desi Italiana — on 23rd September, 2008 at 9:59 pm  

    “vast majority of Americans irrespective of their class, creed, religion think the US to be the greatest country in the world.”

    No way, man. Irrespective of class, religion, and creed? I think how one views America depends on their experiences in America. There are plenty of people here who get treated like shit, harassed by the police, work on very little wages, and so on, and America is not always so ‘great’ to them.

    In my opinion, there are many different movements happening in the US that most people (Americans included) do not know of, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is diversity of thought in the US, which includes not thinking that the US is the greatest nation on earth.

  5. Gege — on 23rd September, 2008 at 10:49 pm  

    I thought you were supposed to be in india!!!!!

  6. Desi Italiana — on 23rd September, 2008 at 11:02 pm  

    I also have another question: how come the comparison between the UK and the US? Is it because the latter is very dominant in the headlines and in the world?

    Because I was thinking that you could also compare the UK with, say, Australia, Canada, etc. I’m just not sure why the discussion is relegated to the UK and US, or why the US was brought into it in the first place…

  7. Roger — on 23rd September, 2008 at 11:16 pm  

    “from my experience working class communities in London are more racially diverse than middle class ones”

    Perhaps that is why the white middle class appear to be more tolerant.

  8. Shamit — on 24th September, 2008 at 12:44 am  

    Desi -

    The reason it would be difficult to compare UK with Canada and/or Australia is that there has never been an open door policy.

    Immigration has always been controlled and US has moved to a controlled immigration policy in early 70′s and Britain in the late 70′s.

    Critics have suggested that Canada and Australia had immigration policies which would ensure Anglo-Saxon majority and bring in others who are very qualified.

    Also, UK and the US have a history of opening doors to asylum seekers which is not the case with Canada and/or Australia. And also the size of the population compared to the land mass makes a difference too. Canada has a total of 35 odd million people and in the UK we are reaching almost the 70 million mark.

    On your other point, Americans who have been born in America and grew up there do tend to be far more patriotic and have a genuine love for their country than almost all other nations on earth. Their primary identity is American which is not the case in Britain definitely.

    But we digress again. What makes America more relevant is the white working class which is quite similar to the British one.

    In America, as a student and while working I have heard similar comments about how the worst thing to be is a white male — something I hear in Britain too.

    Also, the affirmative action (which I believe still stands as an Executive Order) is a case in point — which many white working class Americans perceived and still do to be a quota system.

  9. Desi Italiana — on 24th September, 2008 at 1:10 am  

    Shamit:

    “On your other point, Americans who have been born in America and grew up there do tend to be far more patriotic and have a genuine love for their country than almost all other nations on earth. Their primary identity is American which is not the case in Britain definitely.”

    I have definitely come across folks like that, but I have to also stress that this is not entirely true and in fact, they are in the minority (I’m talking hardcore love). I myself was born and raised in the US, and many of my friends come from other ethnic backgrounds (including white), and for a lot of them, they don’t primarily identify as Americans. There’s a lot of racial politics that go on, and much of that has to do with the fact that people do not feel that they fit the ‘mainstream’ or are simply ‘American”. For better or for worse, lots of people identify themselves with hyphenated identities.

    And it is not true that America is ‘by far’ the most patriotic country. I have been to countries where love and patriotism of the nation-state is just as much as the US– except they don’t own global mass media, export their mainstream culture and broadcast it for the whole world to see (plus, weapons and the most powerful military).

  10. Desi Italiana — on 24th September, 2008 at 1:12 am  

    “Also, the affirmative action (which I believe still stands as an Executive Order) is a case in point — which many white working class Americans perceived and still do to be a quota system.”

    Depends on state and whether you are a public or private school. In California, public schools cannot enact affirmative action, but Harvard can because it is a private university, and therefore has the freedom to do so.

  11. Desi Italiana — on 24th September, 2008 at 1:13 am  

    Australia has a higher percentage of foreign born citizens than the US, doesn’t it?

  12. Desi Italiana — on 24th September, 2008 at 1:15 am  

    “Canada has a total of 35 odd million people and in the UK we are reaching almost the 70 million mark.”

    So you think that comparing a 70 million strong population to a 350 million plus nation (the US) is a more apt comparison?

    Not that I think population count matters in comparing the US and UK, but you brought it up as an argument, so I am just saying…

  13. Desi Italiana — on 24th September, 2008 at 1:23 am  

    Wait, let me check facts in #10 to make sure I’m correct on this–

  14. Desi Italiana — on 24th September, 2008 at 1:25 am  

    Yeah, I’m right. California’s Prop 209 passed, which was anti-affirmative action, which is why public school systems like the University of California cannot enact it (but private schools can, like Stanford). I vaguely remember protesting the passage of prop 209 while I was a student (but I wanted to see affirmative action revised, focusing more on socio-economic status rather than solely race).

  15. Sid — on 24th September, 2008 at 8:53 am  

    Perhaps that is why the white middle class appear to be more tolerant.

    Where are your metrics? In my experience, as an immigrant to the UK, I’ve found WWCs to always be more tolerant than WMCs.

  16. Jai — on 24th September, 2008 at 11:39 am  

    Perhaps that is why the white middle class appear to be more tolerant.

    Where are your metrics? In my experience, as an immigrant to the UK, I’ve found WWCs to always be more tolerant than WMCs.

    As a disclaimer I should mention that I have no scientific facts whatsoever to back this up apart from subjective personal experiences and anecdotes/experiences amongst other people I know, but I think this varies considerably depending on the location in the UK. “Romford/Dagenham” Essex white working class types (especially men, and most of all the middle-aged variety, if you happen to be an Asian male yourself) seem to frequently be more racist than their counterparts in other parts of southern half of the country. Or at least more open about it and/or willing to act on their bigotry.

    Regarding white middle classes, the question is whether they’re genuinely more tolerant or just less overt about their intolerance.

    One thing I have found, however, is that arrogant and egotistical types from both working class and middle class backgrounds are more racist than their more down-to-earth counterparts, or at least are more easily prone to slipping into racist mindsets & reactions upon a suitable pretext/trigger. So perhaps a combination of bravado and insecurity is also a factor in how threatened white people from all classes feel when confronted with Asians/non-whites who may trigger some kind of neurosis in their minds.

    *********************************

    It would be interesting to hear what our white friends here on PP can say on the matter; people from all backgrounds (including Asians) frequently express disparaging — indeed, sometimes extremely offensive — attitudes towards those from other backgrounds “behind the latter’s backs”, so it would be enlightening to hear what is “really” said about Asians/non-whites in privacy or behind closed doors. (If applicable, of course — bigotted types won’t make any prejudiced remarks in the presence of people from the same background if they know that it’ll be met with a forceful counter-response, unless they’re deliberately doing it to “get a reaction”, knowing that it’ll irritate them).

  17. Sid — on 24th September, 2008 at 11:42 am  

    Jai, I think Rogers’ is a nonsensical statement to begin with and doesn’t deserve any further analysis or rumination.

  18. El Cid — on 24th September, 2008 at 11:47 am  

    I must say as a white man I am uncomfortable with the term “white working class”. I REALLY DO.
    I think this is part of the problem. In my experience, people of all races are “mildly racist” (although we would need to agree on definitions). ALL RACES.
    And in my experience, white van men are just as likely to be black as white (and sometiems also brown OR FEMALE).
    Don’t have a pop at the Daily Mail et al when your analysis is riddled with stereotypes.
    I know you mean well, but it gives me the right HUMP, because it is bleeding typical of the middle class liberal left (and by that I mean people on the liberal left who have mostly lived apart from working class communities, going to different schools, grown up in a bubble, etc).
    I have had a bee in my bonnet about this ever since I left scaryschool London N17 and entered uni.
    The bit about a “culture war” on this occasion is well made but this betrays a patronising do-gooder tendency that you need to supress: “a war over resources, especially in deprived areas, that leads to social housing and welfare benefits being a flashpoint over which people express their anger.”
    The working classes also own their homes or rent from private landlords. The working class are also not welfare dependent.
    They also have similar key worries across the races: law & order, the quality of schools, the economy.
    This is something New Labour, to their credit, has always understood, but something the more namby pamby ends of the political spectrum has not.
    Get to grips with this and we can move forward towards a post-racist world.

  19. Jai — on 24th September, 2008 at 11:55 am  

    Jai, I think Rogers’ is a nonsensical statement to begin with and doesn’t deserve any further analysis or rumination.

    Not necessarily, Sid. Unless I’m mistaken, I think that Roger is suggesting that white middle class people may often appear to be more tolerant because they may not have to deal with large numbers of non-whites in their midst, and so they feel less threatened/intimidated. (Except for those who feel threatened by anyone “different”, of course; there are plenty of white people from all classes who are like that too).

    At least, that’s how I interpreted it. If this is the case, I would agree with it to some extent (and as with many things, such a reaction isn’t necessarily specific to white people), although it’s certainly not always applicable. Some people are going to be more open-minded and “welcoming” than others when it comes to dealing with folk from different backgrounds. Just human nature.

  20. Sid — on 24th September, 2008 at 12:03 pm  

    yeah I know what he’s saying, but its very subjective isn’t it, not to mention quite an unsupportable supposition. Anyway, have you or Roger ever heard of White Flight? Middle class people may or may not be as racist as WWCs but social mobility means they don’t have to stick around when neighbourhoods start turning non-white.

  21. Jai — on 24th September, 2008 at 12:23 pm  

    You’re correct on all points, Sid.

    And yes you’re also right about matters being very subjective — in fact I think that applies to all of us and a lot of the opinions we’ve been expressing here. We’ve all had different experiences in life regarding this matter, so (unless a large, rigorous, formal survey is undertaken, and participants are truthful in their responses) I guess a great deal of the remarks people would make and the conclusions they would reach would be personal, subjective and anecdotal.

    Which is fair enough, I think, as long as everyone is aware of it and makes appropriate allowances for each other.

  22. MaidMarian — on 24th September, 2008 at 12:34 pm  

    First thing to say Sunny it is that it is a great article.

    One issue I do take though is this –

    ‘One the one hand we have to address deprivation, lack of social housing, public transport and local investment – and not just because it affects white working classes but because it affects brown and black working class families too.’

    Please define and give examples of, ‘a white working class issue.’ I have no idea what that means or what it may cover. It is like ‘underclass.’ I know what it SUGGESTS, but I don’t know what it actually means. Like ‘underclass’ the term ‘WWC’ is effectively what the person saying it means by it. I have no doubt at all Sunny that when you ues the term you are using it in good faith. If, say, a BNP member were to use it, I rather suspect that the underlying sentiment and hence real meaning would be rather different.

    I particularly don’t like it when hacks at the Mail and similar use it because then the term is essentially code for, ‘every political gripe,’ as though the WWC (whatever that means) are all a single political entity.

    I don’t like terms I can’t define and in political terms I worry that the left could be onto a de facto loser here. Every time the left tries to claim the WWC, all the BNP have to do is find any reactionary vox pop with a white person who defines themself as working class (whatever class they actually are) and the left argument is shot. A class war in a classless society is a loser.

    I do not doubt the sentence, ‘One is a war over resources, especially in deprived areas, that leads to social housing and welfare benefits being a flashpoint over which people express their anger.’ But then I still struggle to see those as a WWC issue per se.

    Perhaps think of it another way. I am white, my parents think I am working class, I do not. My parents refer to themselves both as middle class and working class and our politics and priorities are all very different. My grandparents believed firmly in working so they and their children would NOT be working class. If there is a culture war, is it class based? I suspect there is a red herring here.

    Whilst I really like the sentiment of the article, I fear that you are getting dragged into a language of debate that is guaranteed lose. In media parlance, WWC effectively means, ‘any gripe you want.’ It is a rod for the left’s own back on current terms.

    Put simply, regarding one’s self as a member of the white working class does not somehow mean that one is a downtrodden, forgotten member of society – however much the media may try to sell you as such.

    That is where we need to start – what are the issues. Whether people who define themselves as WWC are per se in support of those issues comes much later.

  23. halima — on 24th September, 2008 at 5:25 pm  

    Good start and discussion … but slightly odd at the same time in the way we approach the discussion of white ethnicity and class.

    “I must say as a white man I am uncomfortable with the term “white working class”. I REALLY DO.”

    I had a that reacion, but not because I am a white man.

    Because the tone of the article assumes only the white people are workingclass.

    They are not.

    Plus I am waiting to see an article in the media, here, or anywhere, one day on other working classes. It’s as though only white people have class but Asians only have culture. When we discuss British South Asians we never discuss class in relaton to it.

    It’s divisive.

    An article about the working class should even nominally talk about the unions – even though not much of it remains. Collective orgnising, minimum labour standards and all .

    If we aren’t talking about the unions, then er… we’re slightly off topic..

  24. halima — on 24th September, 2008 at 5:36 pm  

    Cutlure….

    Is it more that there is a battle over belonging …

    It’s dangerous to talk about a common culture, as the average culture pundit at school will tell you culture is the most complicated concept to define in the English dictionary. So very tricky to explain as a common policy.

    Culture is never static anywhere, it’s fluid and changing, and any concept of Britishness that tries to fix itself through such a slippery concept is bound to fail. I would hate to define it – very dangerous.

    I like this definition of multi(culture).

    “people have competing attachments to nation, group, subculture, region, city, town neighbourhood and the wider world. They belong to a range of different but overlapping communities, real and symbolic, divided on cultural issues of the day. Identities, in consequence, are more situational. This makes Britain, contrary to stereotype, more open (The Parekh Report, 2000:25).”

    Sadly this is why I never understood why multiculturlism is suffering so much in the UK.. Sure, we can argue it undermines structural reform ( that’s another word to be looking at when we discuss class isses) and social justice which is why the Left has issues with it, but is the above definition such a bad thing..

    I also liked the old concept of Britishness – even though it came under pressure from devolution, so much that Englishness, Scottishness and Irishness was then unpacked. But the Britishness I had in mind was about respect and values for fair play, decency, reciprocity, helping each other..

    The battle over Britishness is also about defining Britishness more inclusively in terms of political devolution. It ain’t just about class and the belonging of new and old ethnicities. In other words, it’s also fuelled politically because the concept of Englishness was always priviledged over other British identities.

  25. halima — on 24th September, 2008 at 5:43 pm  

    “Put simply, regarding one’s self as a member of the white working class does not somehow mean that one is a downtrodden, forgotten member of society – however much the media may try to sell you as such.”

    Very good point. Being working class to me was much more about hard work and the work ethic.

    Somewhere along the way this got hijacked …

  26. halima — on 24th September, 2008 at 5:53 pm  

    Historically the working classes were never given anything …

    they’ve had to fight for workers’ rights.

    a lot of it through the union movement.

    with the union movement eclipsed, it’s worth asking how it fights its corner ? Perhaps that’s the more relevant question.

    I sort understand where the white of the ‘white working class’ bit fits in, but for me , it’s more about the latter.

  27. halima — on 24th September, 2008 at 6:11 pm  

    “and by that I mean people on the liberal left who have mostly lived apart from working class communities, going to different schools, grown up in a bubble, etc). I have had a bee in my bonnet about this ever since I left scaryschool London N17 and entered uni.”

    Yup, yup. I meant to say agree with almost everything on your post on this topic.

    Some might say the bee is a chip ( that’s another description people use for working class or black people when they express attitudes that er.. don’t fit in with the views of others.).

    These days I walk with TWO GREAT BIG CHIPS on each shoulder. It compensates for the arrogance I find in my slightly male posh colleagues.

  28. billericaydicky — on 24th September, 2008 at 6:14 pm  

    Halima,

    I thought you went to school just off Brick Lane.

  29. halima — on 24th September, 2008 at 6:18 pm  

    Damn, been trying to hide this from my posh colleagues for yrs!

  30. MaidMarian — on 24th September, 2008 at 6:24 pm  

    Halima (25) – Yes. White Working Class has become something like the politicians’ favourite, ‘hard working families.’

    To refer to ‘WWC issues’ is really holding out a hostage to fortune. Scratch the surface and I suspect that the whole ‘WWC’ idea is not much more than a perception.

    Where I think it might have some substance is in the idea that it is part of a wider backlash against diversity and the (perception?) that diversity has been oversold. I’m sure we can go on all day about how far that is real and how far it is perception.

    Sunny has written a good article, but I think he needs to take a step back and think about whether ‘WWC’ is real or a phantom like so many other laden terms beloved of all sides of political debate.

    Perhaps the wider question is how far have New Labour’s quiet redistributions helped the ‘real working class.’

  31. halima — on 24th September, 2008 at 6:27 pm  

    “Perhaps the wider question is how far have New Labour’s quiet redistributions helped the ‘real working class.”

    Yes, and totally agree diversity is used as a scapegoat for lack of the former. Shame.

  32. sonia — on 24th September, 2008 at 10:09 pm  

    what’s so bizarre about the media stereotyping? that’s what they do all the time! every ‘group’ is more diverse in real life, humans are not like the clones the media will have us think ‘they’ are. and thank god for that. if the world were as the newspapers painted it, it wouldn’t be worth living.

  33. Roger — on 24th September, 2008 at 10:10 pm  

    My apologies for not being here earlier to reply to remarks about my comment.
    “Middle class people may or may not be as racist as WWCs but social mobility means they don’t have to stick around when neighbourhoods start turning non-white.”…which means they are able to avoid considering whether they are racist, Sid. It also means that they can retain their often unacknowledged and unrecognised prejudices.
    I don’t think the term working-class has much validity any more. One of the main effects, conscious or unconscious, of the cultural changes of the last half-century has been to destroy self-identity as part of the working-class. Where it has not been made bourgeouis the working-class has been lumpenised.

  34. sonia — on 24th September, 2008 at 10:12 pm  

    “Scratch the surface and I suspect that the whole ‘WWC’ idea is not much more than a perception.”

    good point.

    it seems a lot of people when they talk about the so-called working classes they are really referring to people on state benefits. i.e. usually not working.

  35. sonia — on 24th September, 2008 at 10:14 pm  

    and then its a fight about well who gets to not work more, those of us who were here first, or those who got here later.

    the wwc thing comes in when people who normally wouldn’t be thinking about anyone’s right to welfare, suddenly pretend they do, because they want to say something about ‘incomers’ people who they still perceive as having some rights to welfare. they’re behind times, the right of recourse to public funds isn’t something handed to new incomers. so they should just relax

  36. damon — on 27th September, 2008 at 3:28 pm  

    This was an article in The Voice newspaper by Dotun Adebayo this week.
    I like Adebayo on his radio programmes on the BBC, but found this somewhat perplexing.
    What would one say of whites who mourned ”the loss” of neighbourhoods?
    I couldn’t find it on a link, so have typed it all out direct from the newspaper.

    WAVE BRIXTON GOODBYE.

    There used to be a time when everyone knew that Brixton belonged to us.
    We fought for it, and made love for it.
    Some of us even died in that corner of the landscape that would ever be black

    It didn’t mean that white folks weren’t welcome, all that it meant is that they KNEW it was ours, the same way as when I go to Norfolk or Suffolk, or any of the shires, I know that it’s NOT ours.
    I’m on my ‘p’s and ‘q’s when I go up country, because I don’t have the backative to claim it as mine. And all the youts know this, so they’ve got the bottle to shout out ”N*igga!” from across the road when they see you walking down one of their village streets or quiet country lanes.

    I don’t have a problem with that because I KNOW when I venture out there I’m in a white mans country and the white man makes the rules.
    Brixton was different though. Babylon THOUGHT he made the rules until Brixton made a stand against the so-called Operation ‘Swamp 81′. As the late Bernie Grant MP would say, the police got ”bloody good hiding” that time.

    There were of course casualties on both sides. But at least the message was clear all around the country that Brixton brlonged to us. And so did Tottenham. And so did Hackney and Stonebridge and Peckham and Handsworth and Moss Side and Cheetham hill and St Paul’s, so on and so forth.

    ROOTS

    Where ever you had an inner city, you had a corner of England that would be forever Jamaican or Nigerian or Bajan or St Kittian. We didn’t just put down roots, we put down down-payments on those areas, or at least our parents did. And like the law states, if you own a piece of this green and pleasant land, it’s yours.
    Nobody can take it away from you (unless you divert the mortgage payments to buy a Ferrari).
    But 27 years on, Brixton no longer belongs to us. I went down there the other day and discovered another country. Oh, we were still evident. It wasn’t like ”spot the black man” but we no longer own it.
    The bars, the clubs, the resturants and shops no longer belong to us. With the exception of a pattie shop or two, Brixton belongs to everybody but us. It’s the same in Tottenham and Hackney. We spend most of the money, but virtually the only things we own are barbershops and hairdressers.
    We’ve got ourselves to blame. Look at the Asian community. They came here at more or less the same time we did. They didn’t just put downpayments on the areas they claimed, they bought them outright.
    Often jointly, communally, together as one family. So when you go to Southall, Alperton, Ealing, Whitechapel, and the other london areas they own, it’s all about Indiashire, Londonistan and Bangla-Brick Lane. They own the houses, the businesses AND the councils.
    So who do you think makes the rules in those areas? It’s not the Women’s Institute and the Rotary Club and the Freemasons, I can tell you. Forget the local parish church and the sound of Bow Bells, it’s the Hindu temples and the mosques that call the shots, and if the Imam wants to call the belivers to worship at five in the morning, that’s up to him.

    Like I said, we’ve got ourselves to blame. We had it all in the palm of our hands and we threw it away. We could have been contenders. We could have controlled entire neighbourhoods, businesswise and otherwise.
    We should be in control of our local councils in those areas where we are/were the majority.

    VICTORIES

    But after the street battles that won us our victories of the past (and not just us, because let’s face it – Asian communities benifited from the blood we shed in the eighties) we rested on our laurels. Like ex-slaves, we indulged our new found freedoms far too long and partied until it was 1999. By then of course it was too late.

    During the eighties and nineties more drugs were pumped into the black communities of Britain than ever before. I lived in and worked in Brixton at the time. Previously it had been all about the good sensi (or collie or lamb’s bread, as it used to be known). After the riots of 1981 and 1985, we began to see the emergence of hard drugs – heroin, speed, then cocaine, and then, of course, crack.

    The drugs did their job, They subdued our people into submission. Those very same crack addicts that you see in ‘black’ neighbourhoods are the same guys who used to live on the frontline ready to protest at the injustices we suffered. Those injustices are still here, but if you ask the warriors of old to come out and demonstrate, they’ll fall prostrate, begging for one more hit.

    You see, in winning the streets we really didn’t win anything. the streets belong to everybody, whatever your local gang might think. Real power and real wealth is all about who controls the means of production, the judiciary and executive.

    The Nigerians of Peckham know this. They are the new Jamaicans. It remains to be seen whether they will be seduced into not buying the freehold of that corner of south east London that will forever be ‘Lagos’.

  37. halima — on 27th September, 2008 at 3:51 pm  

    I don’t know if anyone saw this – but it says so many things about Britain today …..

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/an-unusual-story-of-country-folk-940321.html

  38. MaidMarian — on 27th September, 2008 at 4:03 pm  

    damon – there is life outside Zone 2 of the London Underground map you know!

  39. damon — on 3rd October, 2008 at 1:13 pm  

    ”damon – there is life outside Zone 2 of the London Underground map you know!”

    But he also said this:
    ”But at least the message was clear all around the country that Brixton brlonged to us. And so did Tottenham. And so did Hackney and Stonebridge and Peckham and Handsworth and Moss Side and Cheetham hill and St Paul’s, so on and so forth.”

    That’s about Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol too.

    I have heard of similar talk about change in Harlem, where market forces have been putting the squeeze on poorer people.
    And how in LA, Hispanics have been moving into formally black neighbourhoods.

    I read some years ago about some resentment in Oakland California, because a rundown commercial area in a black neighbourhood had been ‘revitalised’ by people from south east Asia opening up businesses in it.

    That’s why I typed out that long article. It seems all kinds of people can feel this ”loss of hegemony”.
    When it’s articulated by the white working class (in places like East London) it’s usually called racism.

  40. Sunny — on 4th October, 2008 at 2:43 pm  

    damon – thanks for writing that out. Its a very interesting, and somewhat bizarre article. I guess its similar to the way people lament about Asian disunity…

    I’ll write more on this when I get back.

  41. El Cid — on 4th October, 2008 at 6:28 pm  

    Damon, I know exactly what you are saying.
    This is nostalgic clap-trap, slightly sinister, and apologist to boot.
    Are you black? Or white?
    Most black people I know, which is a lot, would also consider the article ridiculous.

    I’d be interested to hear what Ramiie thinks though.

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