Shouting Fascist!

When I was a kid growing up in the east-end on London, there was only one Bangladeshi boy in my class in the first year at school, but by the time I was in the sixth form there was only one white boy in the whole first year. The east-enders feared this immigration and some residents on the Exmouth estate signed a petition calling for no Asian families to be housed in their block. The GLC accused them of racism and threatened to have them evicted, even though some of the petitioners were black.
Shortly after this scandal, I was around my mate’s house on the Loxley estate when I overheard a conversation between his parents and the residents of the block, who had gathered to discuss what to do about the Asian family that the council were bringing around to view a flat. I’d never known my mate’s parents to be racist before or since, but what they were saying seemed pretty nasty to me. They wanted to put the Asian family off by giving the impression that the block was filled with racists, but they were frightened of getting evicted by Ken Livingstone. So they decided to have people on the landings shouting “Smelly Paki” and throwing things at the family then ducking before the council officer could identify them. It was a nasty idea and one of the residents dissented saying it was wrong to treat a family this way, but his someone else shouted, “We have to do this. If we don’t we could lose everything!” They feared their community and identity was being swept away from under them. I thought at the time that they were like the Red Indians.

During this time, me and my mate ran into a couple of schoolmates who were gathering in Mile End with a whole bunch of other lads from outside the area. They were comparing their various weapons, and invited us to go “Paki bashing” with them. I had to ask what happens and was told that they’d find an Asian lad and they’d chase him down the street and then they catch him and beat him up. I asked, “But don’t you feel sorry for him?” The reply surprised me, “Nah, it’s alright. They just roll up in a ball and take the beating. Their community tells ‘em to do so, cos they know they’re over here taking our jobs and taking the piss. They expect it, so it’s alright.” It wasn’t till later that the film Ghandi came out and I realised what passive resistance was. As if it would work on these thugs.
A while later my mate’s mum told us we should, “Be careful out there. The Bangladeshi community is telling their lads to fight back against the racists. About bloody time, but keep away from anything.” True to her word, one of those schoolmates got put in hospital. I always wondered if my mate’s mum was racist after this, as it was her that organised the tenants against the Asian family, but at the same time she seems pleased that the Bangladeshis were defending themselves.
Hazel Blears recently said that we can’t solve society’s problem by shouting “Fascist!” My memory of the battle against racism while growing-up in the 80s was the uncompromising stance; any hint of racism was cracked down on, without discussion. Even though the race issue was far more complex than that, it was right that no excuses were accepted. Hazel Blears today seems to be saying that we should be less confrontational. I don’t think that one way is correct and the other not, I think that times are just different. Being uncompromising then defeated the racists, whereas being uncompromising today will antagonise ordinary people whose thoughts are more to do with community insecurity than colour hate.
These days, on the doorstep when out campaigning, you are likely to come across people who are resentful towards other communities. Some are nasty, others less so. If you want the advice of a former slumdog myself then my way of handling them is to simply nod acknowledgment of what they’re saying, but not to respond other than that. I find they immediately calm down. You see, they are testing you. They want you to either take their side, or prove that you don’t understand them by your condemnation. They don’t expect you to empathise while remaining silent; the silence communicates that the Labour party does not take part in division. This, they find disarming, and they calm down and speak to you with respect. Most times I come away satisfied that we have a Labour vote. I think that Hazel Blears is right to say that the days of confrontation are past, and I think that my actions are the right way of handling such a situation.

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