To mark National Black History Month, Bradford Student¹s Union invited veteran campaigner, Lee Jasper to deliver the keynote address. Below are excerpts from his speech.
Marcus Garvey the 20th century world famous Jamaican activist said that Œa people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.¹ So if you want to see change, your history must inform your political views, your analysis and your activism or you are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past over and over again.
I was a young activist over 30 years ago and I was sent to jail for resisting the police in my local area at the time of the sus laws. It was enough for the police to say to a judge this Black person was about to commit a crime to people or property unknown and thousands of Black young men like me were sent to prison under that charge. When I was in jail I read Malcolm X¹s autobiography and when I came out I took a degree and used it for social activism. The reality is all over the world it is young people that lead the revolution for equality and justice and have a history of leading the most radical movements in Britain
I am a progressive Black nationalist and I draw on the tradition of the Black Panther Party in the US and Malcolm X in his later life. The Black Panther movement was internationalist, progressive, open and it more importantly, they made alliances, with others who face injustice and discrimination. I have used this philosophy to help poor and oppressed communities organize themselves against the racism and oppression
I was present at the birth of the NUS Black Students¹ Campaign at a time when the Executive of the National Union of Students ignored issues that Black students wanted to raise: racial attacks Œwe haven¹t got time¹; racial equality Œwe don¹t want to know¹; the Immigration act Œwe are not dealing with it¹; the appointment of a Black students¹ officer at a time when there were already women¹s, disabled and LGBT officers Œit is divisive¹.
So in 1991 the South Bank Student Union union mobilised black students to attend the NUS annual conference and demand the appointment of a Black student officer. Prior to the conference I had negotiated with the Union of Jewish Students to propose the motion and on the day both Jewish and Black students voted side by side and carried the motion for the creation of the role of Black student officer.
That is what alliance politics is about it is not the stupid ideological ditch where you stand on the fringes in glorious isolation, saying I am so ideologically pure that no one can stand with me. This is the foolishness of idiots here in the UK there are many communities who are of diverse heritage – society gets changed when people have enough foresight to make alliances that is when you get real strength.
We need to make alliances – despite the racism my generation experienced we had more socio-economic life chances and social mobility in 1970 than you do in 2014. We had free education you will be putting yourself in a hellish amount of debt. We had a real National Health Service you have a privatized health service where kids cant even get an appointment to see a dentist. We had solidarity as a Black man if I was walking in the town and I saw another Black person I would feel safe not threatened. Today because of the ingrained structural poverty we have drugs, crimes, social ills these are all the running dogs of poverty. Over the last 50 years, for low income Black and Asian communities, things have got worse.
At 1999 at the time of the publication of the Stephen Lawrence Report, the London stop and search figure was 100,000 a year. Read the Report and you will find out about our real history and our relationship with the Police and criminal justice system. The stop and search figure now it is 1.2 million per year. The Black youth prison population in Britain has doubled since August 2011 when Mark Duggan was killed. We have seen a 100% increase in African-Caribbean youth going to jail; a 28% increase for Bangladeshi and Pakistani youth; the ethnic minority prison population has risen over the last 10 years and it is larger now than in the 70s and 80s. The figures in the Ministry of Justice’s own website for race equality monitoring shows that the average sentence for a White man in a British court is 11 months; the average sentence for an African-Caribbean is 24 months; for an Asian person it is 17 months. The State gives the appearance of progress but if you look at economics and criminal justice outcomes, there can be no doubt things have got worse.
Austerity economics has had an amplifying effect on racial inequality and discrimination since the Tories come into power scapegoating minorities has become a national pastime depending which minority is the particular scapegoat of of the day. As the politicians seek to blame migrants, black and Asian people for economic failure, crime and terrorism, the rise of UKIP gives testimony to that. The whiote liberal left needs to understand that for anti-austerity campaigns, it has at its centre the commitment to challenge racism, xenophobia and scapegoating. That means that all ant austerity platforms should feature racism and scapegoating as a major theme and more essentially ensure black and Asian people are featured in their leadership and key note speaker at mobilising meetings, The left need to do more to challenge the implicit racism and ideological nature of Tory economics and resist the attempt to divide the poor, by any means necssary.
An IPPR study in January 2012 found that Black youth unemployment is at 60% and for White people it is 22%. We have a situation where 30 years ago I could get a job I might not like the job I could walk out of a job and find another. These days you are lucky to get an interview let alone be employed.
Where we are employed, Black people don¹t often get promoted that is why our institutions resemble a pint of Guinness all creamy and white on the top and Black at the bottom. If you really want to understand structural racism look at the statistics not whether you share your chappati or jerk chicken with your white neighbor. The thing about racism in the UK is that is largely its covert, obscure and hidden. And any time you say that you are being treated discriminatory way they say ŒI can’t be racist! I¹m married to a Black woman¹ or my budgie is Black that is what you will get. Black people have been in this country for over 2000 years. When the African Roman Emperor, Septimius Severus, came to Hadrians Wall in 208 AD, there were black soldiers already stationed there. Despite this we still see real economic and structural racism flourishing and opportunity and hope decline.
Unfortunately, we haven¹t got strong enough race equality legislation to tackle racism in the workplace. We used to be able to go to the Commission for Racial Equality if you wanted to take your employer to an employment tribunal for race discrimination. Now we don¹t have a CRE and what instead the government charges £1500 to lodge a racial discrimination claim at the Employment Tribunal. Imagine if you were a cleaner and you had a racist boss how can a poor person find £1500? It is hardly surprising that we have seen a 70% drop in race employment tribunal claims and the government uses this to claim racism is reducing.
European history teaches us that when there is an economic crisis racism flourishes that is why we¹ve got UKIP¹s Nigel Farage and the likes of Gerard Batten MEP who have produced a Charter of Muslim Understanding that reads like it is written by Hitler himself. The facts are 56% of all African Caribbean children born into child poverty, the figure for Bangladeshi and Pakistani children is 75% and the gap between the rich and poor has never been more profound.
You need to realise that we are all on the perpetual carousel of racism and it always comes back full circle. Imagine your on that carousel with a steady powerful beam of racism shining on a fixed point, the carousel moves and minorities move in and out of a spotlight. Today we have Islamaphobia of McCarthyite proportion and the incarceration of Moazzam Begg and the ‘ Trojan Horse’ letter is evidence of this. Racism in the UK started with the abuse of the Jews in, then the Irish next it was the African-Carribeans then it was the Muslims then the Travellers then the students, then the Romanian benefit cheats, then the Africans Pastors and their voodoo practices we are all on the same spinning carousel all discriminated against, with the establishment choosing to target particular minorities for political purposes.
Fortunately the next few months are going to be crucial and we can make a difference as the Black community – Operation Black vote research has demonstrated that in the 2015 general election. 168 constituencies the BME vote can swing balance of power. We have to stop pretending Black and Asian communities don’t need each other, we do and unless we can do more to overcome differences between us we will not be able to secure the future for our children For young people like you, its important to learn that if you want to build a better world, it has to start with building progressive alliances and as Marcus Garvey remind us knowing your history.