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  • How 1979 radicalised a generation

    by Sunny
    26th April, 2009 at 11:24 pm    

    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. “Our 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 didn’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.”

    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

    5 Comments below   |  

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    1. pickles

      New blog post: How 1979 radicalised a generation

    1. Kismet Hardy — on 27th April, 2009 at 12:42 pm  

      When I see Asian gangs these days I pity the fools for their love of flash motors, shit music and sexist attitudes. Our cousins, violent as they were, took to the streets for all the right reasons. I used to quake in fear and admiration of mine who ran Brick Lane and Luton. Their vicious acts can’t exactly be condoned, but they bloody won. Same I’m sure applies to Southall and Birmingham etc. Racism ain’t what it used to be as a direct result. Cautious hats off to them

    2. Raven — on 27th April, 2009 at 10:41 pm  

      Yes, identity politics cannot be wished away by its detractors, liberal or otherwise. As one set of interests wane (e.g. class) for whatever reasons (welcome or unwelcome), others will inevitably replace them, often for complex socio-political reasons. Currently, identity politics has been useful in articulating concerns. It is paradoxical that in a more ‘globalised world village’, ethnic and religious differences have sharpened. But the situation is so varied from country to country, and community to community.

      It was interesting reading Tripthi’s piece, and others, which brought back a lot of memories about Southall from the late 1970s/early 1980s, especially as, in my high school days, I was on the march at which Blair Peach sadly died.

    3. fugstar — on 28th April, 2009 at 11:45 am  

      i dont think it radicalised many british asians. they are probably the least radical and most professionalised group here.

    4. The Dude — on 28th April, 2009 at 12:42 pm  

      In Wolverhampton, asians (Sikh, Hindu and Muslim) were seen and rarely heard. That changed with the murder of Blair Peach and a generational shift from the first to the second and third. But it still took some time for the black and asian communities to settle their differences. Lucky for us that the West Midlands Police treated us all the same, bless them.

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