Tackling racism is important but we can’t just see minorities as eternal victims

by Dan McCurry

When I was a child, a lad in our street threw a stone through the window of the first Bangladeshi family to move into our street. We were rounded up by the local vicar and taken around to the family, and they gave us biscuits and lemonade, and made friends with us. Other Bangladeshi families arrived over the next few years, but they didn’t get their windows smashed.

More recently, I did some community work on the Boundary estate, near Brick Lane. One of the issues was the relations between the new middle-class white residents and the existing Bangladeshi community.  Leila’s cafe and shop, which sold organic food, had her windows smashed by the local Bangladeshi teenagers. Her response was to make friends with them, and these days they treat Leila with great respect, because they all want jobs in the cafe.

As one wave of migration gives way to another, similar tensions occur. Today is a different world to the 80s, bananas are no longer thrown at black players on the football pitch, but as socialists, we still hold some of the views that were developed in different times. These views are outdated.

It would be difficult to imagine the socialist movement mobilising to defend the Shoreditch web designers in Leila’s organic cafe. The Labour party are not going to arrive en masse to chant “fascists out!” at the Bangladeshi teenagers, even though the many issues are the same, just a different time and place.  Why is that?

There’s an experience I had as a teenager that is worth recounting here. It was rather like when Huckleberry Finn asked the question, “What’s a feud?” In my case, I asked “What’s Paki bashing?” I was told, “Aw, it’s brilliant. You get tooled up, then go about with your mates till you see one, and everyone shouts out “Paki!” He runs, and you all leg it down the street after him, and you catch up and….”

My response was, “But don’t you feel sorry for him?“ His was, “Nah. See their community tells them to just roll up in a ball and just take it. Cos they know they’re over here taking our jobs, and taking the piss, and that…”

Soon after this, the Bangladeshi community told their young to fight back, and this violent period came to a very abrupt end. But compare it to these days, when a couple of premiership footballers exchange abuse about each others mothers, then one of them uses the word “black”. Enter the law and a great big trial at public expense. When looked at with perspective, are we overreacting by using the law over such a minor business? Are we producing justice, or acting as custodians of a memory long since passed?

At a recent public discussion on crime, in Tower Hamlets, I found myself at a table with a group of 20-something Bangladeshis. They believed it was vitally important to prioritise race crime, but when I asked each one of them for their experiences, not one of them had ever been a victim of racism. Yet, when I suggested that there should no longer be a police priority given to racist allegations, they passionately objected. Has our consensus has become their dogma?

The idea of “empowerment” was to give extra power and resources to minorities in order to create equality. Once that aim had been achieved there would no longer be a need of extra power. If empowerment continued eternally it would cause resentment, that one community should have more power due to the colour of their skin, and under the pretext of equality?

When I was a teenager, I got run over by a car. My sister tidied my room for me and nursed me as I recovered from my injuries. When I’d got better she stopped the caring and started treating me normally again. I didn’t like this change in attitude. I’d got accustomed to being spoiled, and saw no reason why it should stop. The problem was that I didn’t know how to continue my victimhood following the physical healing.

Being a victim does provide privileges, but ensuring that you can continue to be the victim is probably not such a good idea. It is in the interests of us all that we have equal privileges, equal respect, and equal status in the eyes of the law.

Dan McCurry is a Labour activist who blogs here


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6 Responses to “Tackling racism is important but we can’t just see minorities as eternal victims”

  1. Miranda says:

    I am really sad to read your article. It’s at times like this I wish Ken Livingstone was around to disseminate the wonderful anti-racism training materials that went into schools when I was growing up. You have an extremely simplistic view of ‘racism’. It is not just about bananas being thrown at footballers or bricks through windows. Racism is about power and resources and whether different ethnic groups share those resources and all have a chance to be the power makers in society. Young Bangladeshi men (and black and minority ethnic men as a whole) are still ‘victims’ while their unemployment record remains disproportionately higher than other ethnic groups, where they are arrested and stopped and searched more than any other group and when they cannot get bank loans to start businesses so they can feed their families. I agree with you that the ‘race industry’ bandwagon is boring but that does not mean racism has gone away. It is now just displayed in far subtler ways. Please think about that the next time you write about race issues.

  2. McCurry says:

    Miranda,

    You prove my point about being custodians of memories long since passed.

  3. e says:

    As an older member of an ethnically diverse, but solidly working class area of London I can appreciate both what the author recounts, and comments indicating: yes but the reality is resources are not fairly shared. It was ever thus in my world, hence the need to work collectively to improve things. I take the view that as a consequence of the work of the likes of Ken Livingston and his many helpers, generally speaking, working people are no longer unthinkingly raciest and a legal framework securing rights and redress now exists. It is time to find an elegant step change of emphasis; indeed this is long overdue. White working people are marginalised; if not equally so is a moot point given current economic realities.

  4. bob says:

    Dan, totally agree with you, is not, if certain groups deem an area in a city to belong to their religion or minority and harass those who do not belong to their group, is that just as discriminatory as anything else. Miranda please grow up, everyone should be equal, with no one having any form of special privileges, is that not a tenant of socialism, open your eyes and ears, do not have a narrow blinkered vision of life. Do you believe that anyone who is termed a ‘minority’ is exempted from being bigoted racist or homophobic in your world.

  5. swatantra says:

    No we are not over reacting. Racism never goes away and if you have been the recieving end and a victim of any crime you will know that it does affect how you look on life and how you view other people. Talk to anyone who as been burgled for example, you feel invaded and defiled and a bit of that confidence you once had has gone, Racism is ten times worse.
    Even if it is on the football field and youre earning thousands a day, you still feel that sense of loss; even if you are a Jew and not visably black and part of the crowd you still feel defiled by verbal linsults and and discrimination.
    But Dan has a point and should be stressing more integration and not isolation and bringing communities together. So it worries me when for example Leicester or Tower Hamlets was greeted by some as having reached a majority of one ethnic community over another. Thats storing up trouble for the future, noy just in Leicester. I don’t wish to a moncultural Town or City anywhere. Thats the debate we should be having.

  6. Ex-Labour says:

    Good post Dan. I’ve been critical of your efforts but the last two posts have been excellent.

    @ Miranda

    Is this the same Ken Livingston who made anti-semitic comments ?

    ” Victims ” you say. Mmmm just ask those young girls around the country pushed into prostitution and trafficing by Asian Muslim “victims”.

    Oh I’ve gone and said it now. Let the rath of the liberal left decend on me.

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