There’s a good article by Salil Tripathi in the New Statesman about how the 1979 fights in Southall, which led to the death of Blair Peach (below), radicalised a generation of British Asians who felt they had to fight for their right rather than take abuse from the National Front lying down.
The artist and film-maker Shakila Taranum Maan, who grew up in Northolt, Middlesex, near Southall, recalls the late 1970s vividly. She remembers the terrifying experience of seeing her mother encircled by hate-filled white teenagers. â€œOur days were spent dodging Paki-bashers. The [Southall] riot came as no surprise, as people were very angry, and keen to shed their passive skins. I wanted to be in Southall the next day, but my dad didnâ€™t want me to go. I had a huge argument with him, and I welcomed the uprising, and saw the strength in a group of people which had for too long been reduced to mere shadows.â€
The Southall Monitoring Group emerged in the aftermath of 1979, initially to monitor racial abuse of Asians, but soon expanding its remit. (The group was at the forefront in supporting the families of the Chinese cockle-pickers swept away by the tide at Morecambe Bay in 2004.) Another organisation to emerge was Southall Black Sisters, campaigning against gender- and race-based discrimination. Its campaigns against religious fundamentalism in the Asian community, where patriarchs have a disproportionate role in determining how their sisters, daughters and wives should dress or behave, and its unstinting care for the victims of domestic violence, have helped build British opinion against forced marriages and honour killings.
There’s a point to be made here about identity politics – that in some contexts it works and it’s necessary. If people are attacking you because you’re brown or black, the natural reaction amongst people of those origins is to bunch together with those in the same predicament and then fight back. It’s not just natural but actually required if the law does not protect you adequately.
So this is the dilemma for liberals who hate identity politics – how do you ensure a society whereby one group of people aren’t picked upon? Or at least how do you stop even a powerful group asserting its identity? I pointed out the example last week of various Christian groups lobbying through the national newspapers to stop a Muslim becoming the head of religion at the BBC purely because of his religion. There are Christian lobby groups in the UK and they are powerful because newspapers like the Daily Telegraph act as their mouthpieces. Do you ignore that? Deny them the opportunity to push their interests (especially if private companies are aligned with those interests), and how?
I don’t think there is an adequate answer to that.
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Filed in: British Identity,Civil liberties,Culture