When I was a child, a lad in our street threw a stone through the window of the first Bangladeshi family to move into our street. We were rounded up by the local vicar and taken around to the family, and they gave us biscuits and lemonade, and made friends with us. Other Bangladeshi families arrived over the next few years, but they didn’t get their windows smashed.
More recently, I did some community work on the Boundary estate, near Brick Lane. One of the issues was the relations between the new middle-class white residents and the existing Bangladeshi community. Leila’s cafe and shop, which sold organic food, had her windows smashed by the local Bangladeshi teenagers. Her response was to make friends with them, and these days they treat Leila with great respect, because they all want jobs in the cafe.
As one wave of migration gives way to another, similar tensions occur. Today is a different world to the 80s, bananas are no longer thrown at black players on the football pitch, but as socialists, we still hold some of the views that were developed in different times. These views are outdated.
It would be difficult to imagine the socialist movement mobilising to defend the Shoreditch web designers in Leila’s organic cafe. The Labour party are not going to arrive en masse to chant “fascists out!” at the Bangladeshi teenagers, even though the many issues are the same, just a different time and place. Why is that?
There’s an experience I had as a teenager that is worth recounting here. It was rather like when Huckleberry Finn asked the question, “What’s a feud?” In my case, I asked “What’s Paki bashing?” I was told, “Aw, it’s brilliant. You get tooled up, then go about with your mates till you see one, and everyone shouts out “Paki!” He runs, and you all leg it down the street after him, and you catch up and….”
My response was, “But don’t you feel sorry for him?“ His was, “Nah. See their community tells them to just roll up in a ball and just take it. Cos they know they’re over here taking our jobs, and taking the piss, and that…”
Soon after this, the Bangladeshi community told their young to fight back, and this violent period came to a very abrupt end. But compare it to these days, when a couple of premiership footballers exchange abuse about each others mothers, then one of them uses the word “black”. Enter the law and a great big trial at public expense. When looked at with perspective, are we overreacting by using the law over such a minor business? Are we producing justice, or acting as custodians of a memory long since passed?
At a recent public discussion on crime, in Tower Hamlets, I found myself at a table with a group of 20-something Bangladeshis. They believed it was vitally important to prioritise race crime, but when I asked each one of them for their experiences, not one of them had ever been a victim of racism. Yet, when I suggested that there should no longer be a police priority given to racist allegations, they passionately objected. Has our consensus has become their dogma?
The idea of “empowerment” was to give extra power and resources to minorities in order to create equality. Once that aim had been achieved there would no longer be a need of extra power. If empowerment continued eternally it would cause resentment, that one community should have more power due to the colour of their skin, and under the pretext of equality?
When I was a teenager, I got run over by a car. My sister tidied my room for me and nursed me as I recovered from my injuries. When I’d got better she stopped the caring and started treating me normally again. I didn’t like this change in attitude. I’d got accustomed to being spoiled, and saw no reason why it should stop. The problem was that I didn’t know how to continue my victimhood following the physical healing.
Being a victim does provide privileges, but ensuring that you can continue to be the victim is probably not such a good idea. It is in the interests of us all that we have equal privileges, equal respect, and equal status in the eyes of the law.