Is Britain as racist as 50 years ago? I say: surely not!

Readers of this column know that I chaired a public debate on Channel 4 following a Dispatches programme which reported gang rapes perpetrated by black juveniles on their female contemporaries of the same race. There were those who took serious objection to the programme and to my generally favourable attitude to it, revealed in an article in one of the broadsheet newspapers and in the programme itself.

Anti-racist groups called a picket outside Channel 4's offices to demonstrate the extent of their support for the banning of the programme. At its peak, there was a crowd of 15 (four of them journalists) . This was a considerably lower number than those arrested for the rapes. (Though imprisoned, the men are now free.)

Some of my other opponents resorted to base abuse and threats.

A couple of anonymous callers to my home threatened to blow my legs away with a shotgun, to gang-rape my 13-year-old daughter, to castrate my son and to rape my wife. They went further. An ad was placed in a phone box purporting to seek clients who were interested in bestiality and sex with black boys, and gave my phone number as a contact. A caller apologised once I explained that the ad was conceived in malice.

I did not wish to bother the Brixton police with such trivia, but a couple of emergency drills and dummy runs within the family left me confident that I could defend home and castle effectively.

Thereafter, a reporter from the ethnic press kept pestering me until I dug deeply into my mixed bag of Nixonian expletives. These were reproduced in a front-page article. The conversation was taped without my permission. A copy was sent to the editor of the NS, no doubt in the hope that he would sack me.

The charge laid against me by my detractors - not only on the gang rape issue but also on a host of other matters on which I have commented in this column - is that I am being paid by white liberals to undermine the black community, with Michael Jackson, chief executive of Channel 4, in the forefront, presumably along with the editor of the NS.

The line that I am fighting against says that Britain is an overwhelmingly racist country. I say it is not. The line adds that nothing has changed in this area over the past 50 years. Again, I say: not so. The fight for more of this or less of that, for qualitatively better this or better that, is inextricably tied to a concern and responsibility for the development of this island state. My detractors say no. I say yes.

Let me give an example. I was travelling down the motorway with a leading anti-racist and I asked him quietly, "Where will you be in the next five years?" He answered, "Home." "Where is home?" I asked. "Jamaica," came the reply. But he was born in Manchester. I swore silently that, thereafter, I would never to listen to another word from him on race or any other issue.

Following the Channel 4 programme, a couple of black magistrates got in touch with me. They were glad that the issue was out in the open; one had had five cases of gang rape in the preceding week. A friend newly arrived from Trinidad tells of a veritable epidemic of gang rapes on the island. There it is called "a parry", here it is called "a battery". The activity is so prevalent that it has its own lexicon. Yet our activists fly into a rage, paroxysms of hate once it is placed on the agenda. They know less of the black community than whites who work alongside blacks, who teach them in schools, who live alongside them, and so on.

There is a caste of blacks who purport to hold strong views on these matters. But their information is third-hand. They have long moved out and they live in exclusively white communities.

Racism corrupts and it spares no soul, not even those whom it was originally used to oppress.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 11 December 1998 issue of the New Statesman, Plato rules, OK?