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The Reality of being Black and British
RAPH PARKINSON is a Socialist Party member and a Black member of the national executive of UNISON, the public-sector union. He is also chair of the North-West Black Members' Committee.
Raph is speaking at Socialism 2000 on "Is Britain becoming a more racist society?" He spoke to The Socialist about the recent controversy over 'Britishness'.
"MOST BLACKS, Asians and other ethnic minority groups don't see this debate about Britishness as relevant to their day-to-day experience or as their first priority. Most black people face a day-to-day struggle just to survive.
"The current government's actions over asylum and the level of racism in the police don't give confidence to the Black community, who feel let down by a Labour government and don't identify with the Union Jack concept of 'Britishness'. Ordinary Black working-class people don't see the flag as being relevant to them, especially not when it's being used by fascist groups like the BNP and NF and it reflects the oppression of Black people that has taken place throughout the British empire's oppression in the former colonies.
"Due to the role racism still plays in society, most Black people are unemployed or in low-paid jobs.Those who have got jobs, often find discrimination in the workplace through low pay or being denied the opportunity of training or experience and getting qualifications to climb up the ladder.
"But racism in the workplace is now often more subtle than overt. Obviously, it's important that trade unions combat racism. One of the keys to this is to have more black trade union reps.
"If you compare Britain now to what it was two or three decades ago, I would say we are a more multicultural society. But at a more extreme level there has been racial murders and the State has carried out gross miscarriages of justice and we also see a rise in Black deaths in custody. Also there is the racism stirred up around asylum seekers.
"The majority of Black and Asian people live in poor housing conditions. A good example of what could be done to combat this was shown in Liverpool in the mid-1980s where the Militant-led city council built houses with front and back gardens in areas like Toxteth.
"In education there's a need for more teaching about Black issues, that will allow Black people to be confident in their own history. There are far too many exclusions and suspensions of Black children in schools. That has a long-term effect and makes it more difficult for them to gain employment in the future.
"I don't think most Black people would find being described as British as insulting because many were born in this country and put it down as their place of birth. But at the same time they have a dual approach or identity.
"Black people who are born in this country also see the fact that their roots are in Africa, the Caribbean or Asia, depending on where their parents or grandparents were born.
"In my workplace the Runnymede Report hasn't provoked much discussion. But there has been a lot more discussion of issues following on from the Macpherson Report.
"UNISON have produced a number of action plans and recommendations, to tackle racism in the workplace and give more support to Black members, encouraging them to get more active in the union. Sadly, it's taken the death of a Black teenager to bring forward these recommendations.
"Peter Hain, a government minister has said the reason Black people in Britain are alienated is because there's no Black middle class, my reaction to that is quite simple. In America following the 1960s' revolts there has been attempts to create a Black middle class but there is still a high level of racism. In South Africa, since the fall of Apartheid, there has also been an attempt to create a Black and Asian middle class but you still have shanty towns.
"So I don't believe that simply by creating another layer of middle-class Blacks that you are going to halt racism in society."
In The Socialist 20 October 2000: