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By Lee Jasper

Thursday, November 10, 2011.


Is Britain now a post-racial society and as a consequence are we now seeing the emergence of a “ new black politics”? That was the question posed by David Goodheart on a recent BBC Radio 4 programme Analysis.

David Goodheart is former editor of British current affairs Prospect Magazine and now the Director of the London based think tank ‘Demos’

Goodheart of course is no stranger to debates about race. In recent times, he made it his mission to prove that Britain is a ‘post racist society” He has sought to make his name by constantly and controversially revisiting the issues of race, culture and immigration.

His main assertion in this programme in brief is that as a consequence of the British lefts shift in the 1980s to “cultural politics” and attempts to develop a “rainbow coalition” of the disenfranchised and discontented Blacks voted Labour en masse. Then racism was crude and violent. Political anti-racist alliances were easier to make and black solidarity was high given the demographic makeup of the time.

Racism has been defeated

Today that 1980/90’s crude racism has all but been defeated and with much progress being made in terms of elected black politicians and other black faces in high places “old style racism” has been consigned to the dustbin of history leaving just the remnants of discrimination in a few remaining areas of British life.

Goodheart fails to recognise that what little progress against racism has been made has come about because of the dedicated campaigns against racism led by black radicals.

Offering “proof” of his distorted view of British society he cites the views of people like the Conservatives’ rising star Shaun Bailey,  Tory MP Kwesi Kwartang, Sir Trevor Phillips ( my new name for his Lordship ) and others as providing evidence that when it comes to the issue of race Britain has “moved on”. Look at the response to the riots in August he argues and contrasts Bernie Grants MP’s refusal to condemn rioters in the 1980s with that of the MP for Tottenham David Lammy’ condemnation of recent rioters .

Goodheart speaks to Stafford Scott form the Tottenham Defence Campaign who rejects his “ post racial “ analysis and calls for the return to the tradition of “ radical black politics” illustrating his frustration by speaking about “politicians who happen to be black” as opposed to “black politicians “like Grant

Goodheart’s conclusion is that the simple elevation of a few black people into the middle and upper echelons of public life is evidence of a ‘post racist politics”. He argues the rise of a new and influential black politics that is free for the deterministic chains of history and the liberated from the race identity politics of the past. He argues that this new generation of black leaders are politicians who just happen to be black and in a post racist Britain that is as it should be. He reminds me of the man who saw a swallow and thought it was summer. His evidence was largely impressionistic and anecdotal.

I found the programme to be in part charmingly romantic, funny in part but nevertheless dangerously naive. One could almost hear the polite but never the less keen desperation of those who took part, who at times demonstrated an almost embarrassing eagerness in seeking to confirm Goodheart’s flawed thesis. What was interesting was they did so without offering a shred of real evidence. They all offered impressionistic views with the exception of Sir Trevor Phillips who views were in stark contradiction to the hard evidence that demonstrates the huge scale and depth of racism detailed in his Equality and Human Right Commission Triennial Review.

Apologists for racism

What was clear from most of those who took part in the programme was that they were engaged in a determined political project that seeks to downplay and dismiss racism. I have great respect for David Lammy for example, but he is increasingly out of step with the views of the black community in Tottenham and London.

Lammy and others like him seek to argue that their own personal successes and experiences provide objective evidence to prove that the obstacles of race are in fact more imagined than real. The danger for them is that they have allowed Goodheart to portray them as apologists for real racism and the fact is that most black people would say completely the opposite.

I contend that the majority view of black people in Britain would agree that whilst the crude violent racism of the recent past has been vastly reduced as a result of strong anti-racist campaigning, the structural socioeconomic effects of structural racism have in fact become much worse.

Conceding to racism is the favourite pass time of centre left and centre right liberals, strange bedfellows herded together terrified in the aftermath of 9/11and 7/7. Together they have conspired to declare that multiculturalism leads to extremism and is inimical to core “British values.

Immigration is seen as a threat not an opportunity and diversity is viewed as undermining social cohesion. Old style racism” of the past is dead.

Black people are the “architects of their own misfortune”

Goodheart cites “black street culture particularly Grime music as fostering a pervasive culture of victimhood. This of course follows David Starkey’s attempt to portray British urban culture as black culture per se. A gross and disgusting caricature if ever there was one. Both Strakey and Goodheart opinions share startling similarities with the views of the racist parliamentarian Enoch Powell. The idea that difference is a weakness and not a strength is central to their political understanding of race.

In short, both Starkey and Goodheart , like Powell before them seek to pathologies black people and our culture. For them only the full assimilation of black people into a common British culture can hope to create a new sense of “progressive British nationalism”.

Internationalism and a sense of shared citizenship

The fact that black people in the UK are intrinsically international in their outlook and concerns and are usually having responsibilities for family members in desperate circumstances in many countries around the world is totally lost on them. We are forced to acknowledge and confront geo political realities. These are life and death issues faced by our families and loved ones and cannot be ignored.

Goodhearts sense of citizenship and nationhood is imbued with the formal history of Britain a history that is conservative, narrowly conceived and racist. Their view of British Empire is that by and large British colonialism was a benign and benevolent force for good. Sometimes when reading or listening to British history in relation to transatlantic slavery one get the impression that Britain only joined the iniquitous and barbaric slave trade so they could then go onto abolish it.

A shared sense of citizenship cannot be based on such a partisan view of history and as such an inclusive and progressive notion British citizenship remains elusive.

Britain’s historical amnesia on slavery and colonialism

The reality is that the canon of formal British history refuses to acknowledge the scale of racism, oppression and exploitation that helped build modern Britain preferring to explain Britain’s economic ascendency in term of British ingenuity and entrepreneurship.

Developing an inclusive sense of British citizenship requires a proper acknowledgement of the historical crimes committed in the name of England and Empire.

This programme represents a new form of historical revisionism, one that seeks to airbrush racism from the face of British history. Not only do they deny the historical importance of racism and colonialism in the building of Empire, but also by extension they deny contemporary racism and its effects.

Stripped of their historical understanding they misunderstand the reality of racism today in terms of both its causes and effects. As such, black disadvantage is seen as resulting from the personal moral and political failure of black people themselves. If you misunderstand the past you can’t understand the present.

Another routine neoconservative political con-trick central to Goodheart’s approach is the ‘blame the victim’ approach adopted as a favourite hobby by the right wing. This nonsense has a long and inglorious history within black politics and denial of racism generally

In Goodheart’s analysis, supported by an assorted collection of the Victorian ‘pull yourself by your bootsraps ” brigade, black people suffer huge psychological hardwired “victim chips” on their shoulders.

This means that they are the “authors of their own misfortune”. This “ culture of victimhood” explains black disadvantage not racism.

It’s the reason they can’t get jobs. Black kids are from dysfunctional families explains why they can’t get a decent education.

The police stop and search black youth incessantly because they are more involved in criminality.

To add insult to injury during the course of the programme Goodheart attacks young black radicals whose primary form of articulation is music. Following in a progressive black tradition that started with enslaved Africans who sang songs of redemption in the sweltering heat of British plantations through to the civil right movements up to Bob Marley and Tupac Shakur including UK artists such as MC Lowkey all have made huge contributions to politicising and raising awareness of the reality of racism on a global scale.

What strikes me listening to some of the participants in this curiously one sided and detached programme is their almost palpable sense of embarrassment at being black.

One gets a sense listening to them that they feel ashamed of their own communities. It’s as if having climbed the ladder of success, they have now pulled up that ladder behind them. They then reinterpret their personal success as down to their own genius. And through this, they are reinforcing the false notion that black disadvantage in 21st Century Britain is primarily self- inflicted and in the process they confirm their own exceptional genius. Liberals reinforce that idea by pointing out their exceptionality and the things that make them “different” from those other blacks. It’s a cunning trap whose principle lure is the flattery of inflated egos.

Goodheart and this merry band wilfully confuse inner city social integration and a handful of black successes with real equality and justice for black British citizens.

The scale and long term legacy of historical racism and its consequences are summarily dismissed and rearticulated as being a consequence of cultural or personal failure. The reality that blacks have been economically excluded and deeply marginalised for the last 30 years as a result of discrimination is of no consequence.

Yes of course , I agree things have improved in terms of black representation in public life in no small part thanks to the work of Operation Black Vote.

Unfortunately whilst this is true, this does not equate to full equality and protection form discrimination for British black citizens who in large numbers remain third class citizens in a supposedly first class democracy.

The reality is that the British society still remains more of a pigmentocracy than the idealistic meritocracy envisaged by these post racist romantics.

Evidence of long term poverty and racism and its contemporary effects are conveniently dismissed and in repeat of the classic neoliberal political con trick where he consequences of long term racism and poverty, crime, family breakdown, drugs, youth violence are all now cited as evidence of the personal and cultural failures of a dysfunctional black community rather than systemic and persistent race discrimination

Stafford Scott points out that racism on almost every level has either remained fairly constant and has in most cases actually got worse was factually correct and Scott’s statement was unchallenged by Goodheart. Sir Trevor Phillips retorted that on every indicator its clear things have improved. The reality is Scott is right and Phillips is wrong.

Racism in the UK has got worse and if one were to do a large attitudinal survey among black communities tomorrow I have no doubt that the results would confirm that the vast majority of black people would agree with the assertion that racism is in fact worse today than it was in the 1950’s. Then we had violent racism but we had the opportunity to work today we have very little violent racism and no work. The violence of long term poverty and unemployment is much more corrosive. Social mobility is at a standstill for poor communities.

The disjuncture between the mass lived experience of the mass of black people and their experience of racism and the elite advocates of the so called “new black politics as cited by Goodheart is huge.

These advocates site the fact that black crime was never dealt with by the left despite the overwhelming victims of crime being black people. That’s a lie and as one of the founders and architects of Metropolitan Police Services Operation Trident the fact is it was the black left not the black right that first raised these issues. In fact, the black left on the issue of crime and black communities were the first to articulate the need for black individual, familial and personal responsibility. The black left argued for the reduction of stop and search not its abolishment recognising its importance. The recent huge increases in stop and search have led including me to fundamentally doubt its efficacy and question if the police can ever be trusted to get it right.

Of course the simple fact is the Goodheart project is doomed.

The economic reality is that whatever the small signs of successes for the few what we seen over the last 30 years is an increasing level structural racism that enforces economic segregation, poverty and breeds with it an insidious culture of poverty of aspiration and ambition for the many. That black reality of institutional is becoming seriously aggravated by the current economic climate.

All history teaches that when the economy is in crisis racism increases as politicians engage in the politics of mass distraction by blaming poor people for their poverty, black people for racism, black youths for crime, women in hijabs are a threat to national security, travellers are a threat to law and order and the green belt, East Europeans for unemployment.

This is another example of such a distraction. Goodheart cant be entirely blamed he is a white liberal whose exotic forays into this field are reminiscent of the ignoble tradition of the academic and media pimping of black communities. Those who give him comfort and cover who in his delusion should be held to account. At time when racism is set to get worse by virtue of our current economic crisis we need an honest debate about race and a new sense of British history that provides the foundations for a new and inclusive sense of citizenship.

Lee Jasper is a political and community activist. He is a former director of policing and equalities for the previous Mayor of London. He blogs regular at http://leejasper.com



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