In the aftermath of last week’s headline-dominating court case, Vikram Dodd braves the mean streets of Eltham to see if racism still exists (not realising he could find plenty without ever leaving the ‘Guardian’ head office):
Barber Kwabena Boateng, 35, came to Britain in 2000 from Ghana, a year after the Macpherson report. Boateng said he had not experienced any direct racism, but said: “You can’t see it, but sometimes you can feel it.”
It is a common theme when people talk about the “Lawrence legacy”, the reforms recommended by the 1999 Macpherson report, which the then Labour government hoped would lessen racial discrimination in Britain.
Overt racism such as name calling, some do say, has lessened. But racism has become different in the way it survives, in how it is propagated and manifests itself.
In other words, it’s still there, because if it wasn’t (and let’s face it, unless we replace people with pre-programmed robots, it’ll never go away entirely) none of these race ‘experts’ would have jobs, would they?
Being on the other side of London from Eltham, where Stephen Lawrence was murdered, people in Seven Sisters are not used to having their opinions asked for. But some of the most challenging cases to do with race and the power of the state have been played out in this area. In January 1999, as Sir William Macpherson was honing his damning report on the police, officers detained an African-Caribbean man, Roger Sylvester. He later died, amid allegations of police brutality, which were denied.
Then in the summer, the area was the scene of the shooting by police of Mark Duggan, which led to community anger and to Tottenham being the starting point of the riots.
What is striking in this area is how incidents will become wrapped up into a narrative of racism.
It’s not ‘striking’ at all. It’s inevitable, when you have people whose very job it is to convince people that the reason they didn’t get that job/house/loan is not because they are too poor or high risk, but because they are a particular shade and so society’s agin’ ‘em from the start…
Student Gloria Mpanga, 18, believes racism has lessened in recent years. She is hoping to set up her own business and vows that any attempt to hold her back because of her skin colour will spur her on to do better. But just below the surface there is unease.
She draws a comparison between the 18 years it took to convict Lawrence’s killers, and the time it took the police to catch and convict people for the riots: “In the riots they took the decision quicker than in Stephen Lawrence, it’s not fair.” Mpanga also believes that the police errors which left the Lawrence killers free, and the police killing of Duggan, are evidence of racism: “It is racism. Why shoot someone, even if he is a criminal?”
I dunno, love, why indeed? Or doesn’t he count, somehow?
And as for the riots, well, maybe it didn’t take so long to catch them because most of them did so utterly brazenly and heedless of all the CCTV?
Just a thought…
Community activist Stafford Scott, who is part of the Met’s independent advisory group, says there is little evidence that he can see of real change among officers.
The Met’s own statistics show that in the first six months of 2011, in the runup to the disturbances, there were more than 6,000 stops and searches in the borough of Haringey, which contains Seven Sisters, with fewer than one in 10 leading on to an arrest. If stop and account is included, there were more than 12,000 recorded instances when an officer stopped a member of the public.
“They keep stopping innocent people for no reason at all. They still can’t tell the difference between one black person and another,” Scott said.
What, you mean between one black person concealing drugs and/or weapons on their person and one who isn’t? Well, no, that’s because they don’t have X-ray bloody vision!
That is, in fact, the very point of stop and search, isn’t it?
National figures show stop and search is still used disproportionately against black people.
Who else is stabbing young black teenagers these days? Wait, could it possibly be…other young black teenagers? It’s not middle-aged Chinese women or young Finns, is it? Therefore, there’s little point in stopping them just to even out the numbers…
In one business, a Caribbean food shop, Donovan Smart, 57, wears a Santa hat as he mixes a banana smoothie: “There is not as much racial violence as before, it’s better. I think people are more aware of different cultures and the need to get on.”
Law clerk James Cameron, 47, disagrees: “It hasn’t changed Britain at all. People outwardly are more tolerant, but there is so much latent racism. People feel it every day.”
As to the convictions of two of Lawrence’s killers, Cameron is not impressed: “It’s 18 years too late. It gives the impression they can commit racist murderers and they may be caught.”
Well, that can happen anywhere, can’t it?
But no, it’s all a big plot to keep the ethnic minority community down, innit? As law clerks and private business owners, as well as paid-up members of the race grievance industry, tell you with a straight face, apparently…
Liverpool better watch out – it’s tag of ‘Self Pity City’ is under threat…