Race is the most difficult subject to write about; there is just too much emotion flying around. When writing Barack Obama: the movement for change, the sections on race (and there is a whole chapter on it) were the ones I agonised over the most. Following a sparky meeting I had in Lewisham Library last week, I have revisited the discussion in the context of the UK in my column on LabourList.
The piece looks at particular issues concerning race and alienation. Just to be clear about my overall position:
- As a nation we have made huge strides in eliminating overt racism but in a sense that is the easy bit. If someone describes a black tennis player as a 'froggy golliwog guy' then that is clearly unacceptable and it wasn't four decades ago.
- Like the United States, there is a burgeoning ethnic minority middle class and minorities proliferate our media, culture, and sport. That is progress.
- However, just as in the United States, there is a large proportion of minorities who have been left behind- and that is distinct from immigration. In a sense, this is tied in with wider socio-economic change and the growth of inequality. Thirty years ago the ship of opportunity left the port and those who were left behind were disproportionately minorities.
- That is why when you listen to alienated white, working class communities and the same alienated voices in minority communities you often hear similar voices. Class is a major part of this (see the piece for some observations.)
- However, there are alienating experiences that are significantly down to race. The 'stop and search' resentment, job discrimination, etc. There are other types of discrimination too- social class, sexuality, gender- but this does not invalidate the claim that there is a great deal of hidden racial discrimination in the UK.
- Finally, we do not have an honest public discussion about these issues. What do we teach at our schools? Why would we need a Black History Month if history properly reflected the diversity of the British people? Why does so much discrimination persist? Why do our public institutions- particularly the criminal justice system- operate in a way that alienates and condemns so many minority groups?
I'm afraid all these issues are not answered adequately by the retort 'the white/ working class have it bad too.' We must seek a more equal, more mobile, less discriminatory society. We must talk more openly about these issues (in a way that the BNP does not.) We have an enormous distance to travel. If we start to talk about these issues in a more open way then many people who are suspicious of each other might find themselves with rather more in common than they think.
Anyway, I discuss my reasons for objecting to the BNP appearing on Question Time in the piece. Mainly, it is because they are a party that seeks to deny human rights to millions so beyond what is the legal requisite, their voice should not be amplified or legitimised. That is what the appearance on Question Time and the precedent it sets will achieve, whatever happens on Thursday night.