A majority of blacks say: racism is on its last legs

Here in these pages, I have bitterly criticised those who insist that there has been little or no progress in British race relations. My detractors have pointed to a series of emotionally charged incidents to illustrate their argument that racism is on the increase. I received a personal letter from one who could not sign his name for "security reasons" but who referred to me as a "turbulent intellectual". He challenged me for an abuse of factual detail in making the generalisation that "racism is on its last legs".

It seems to me that those who live by race are determined not to recognise the devastating blows that we have wielded against this dangerous social phenomenon. We blacks seem trapped in the vicious circle of being the perpetual victims.

Here are some facts about London, carefully researched in an ICM poll for the Evening Standard and London Weekend Television. Most black and Asian Londoners believe that race relations have improved over the past 10 years and will continue to improve. And, in the words of that esteemed commentator Peter Kellner, "the figures show that where discrimination is seen to persist it is an aberration, not a blight that afflicts life in London as a whole". I will return to these figures in a while.

But let me now recall how, at the age of 17, I arrived at Southampton on a cold spring day to be abused racially within hours at Waterloo Station. For years thereafter I accepted that 75 per cent of the inner city was out of bounds for blacks during the day, 95 per cent at night. Nobody then talked of a racial attack. It was just a plain good kicking and I received my first, at the Swiss Cottage Odeon, for failing to stand for the national anthem. A good kicking was had by very many, if not by all; we on the receiving end thought that it was a routine hazard. It was also par for the course in Notting Hill and Harrow Road police stations that questioning of the suspect began only after one's head was flushed face down in a urine-filled toilet. No one kept statistics or lodged complaints because it was not seen as anything out of the ordinary. The term police brutality had not yet been coined. There were no ICM polls, nor records to be had from a Police Complaints Authority.

London Underground, the Post Office and other places where blacks were employed in large numbers boasted the most highly educated sections of the British working classes. Indians with medical degrees, West Indians and Nigerians with chains and chains of O- and A-levels were then the norm.

All this changed when we changed, inspired by the strong wind of revolt that was blowing across the Atlantic. We weren't guided out of those base forms of existence by a generously disposed liberal establishment. We formed our own organisations to campaign and force out of the government the Race Relations Act, from which the Commission for Racial Equality draws sustenance. I was a Panther. We paid weekly dues, held social functions, published a weekly newspaper which I edited. Not a single council grant, not a CRE subsidy (it was the CRC then) was available. Now, the most vocal of anti-racist organisations is financed by a white philanthropist.

Back to the figures. Even though ICM found that 53 per cent of blacks think that the police discriminate against their racial group, only 17 per cent said they had personally suffered such discrimination during the past two or three years. Less than one black Londoner in five thinks local white people are generally racist.

We haven't created a paradise, but we have swept away so much trash, assisted by whites in such organisations as the trade unions and the Anti-Nazi League. Racism is not yet dead and it may recover in unpredictable ways; but if we keep crying wolf then Red Riding Hoods we shall all become.

I offered the following advice to my 33-year-old daughter as part of her birthday gift. Use the term "racism" very sparingly, I said, and never without accompanying the charge with action of the most drastic kind. Never whinge, I warned her.

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 13 November 1998 issue of the New Statesman, Why gays become politicians

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No, IDS, welfare isn't a path to wealth. Quite the opposite, in fact

Far from being a lifestyle choice, welfare is all too often a struggle for survival.

Iain Duncan Smith really is the gift that keeps on giving. You get one bile-filled giftbag of small-minded, hypocritical nastiness and, just when you think it has no more pain to inflict, off comes another ghastly layer of wrapping paper and out oozes some more. He is a game of Pass the Parcel for people who hate humanity.
For reasons beyond current understanding, the Conservative party not only let him have his own department but set him loose on a stage at their conference, despite the fact that there was both a microphone and an audience and that people might hear and report on what he was going to say. It’s almost like they don’t care that the man in charge of the benefits system displays a fundamental - and, dare I say, deliberate - misunderstanding of what that system is for.
IDS took to the stage to tell the disabled people of Britain - or as he likes to think of us, the not “normal” people of Britain -  “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.” It really is fascinating that he was allowed to make such an important speech on Opposite Day.
Iain Duncan Smith is a man possessed by the concept of work. That’s why he put in so many hours and Universal Credit was such a roaring success. Work, when available and suitable and accessible, is a wonderful thing, but for those unable to access it, the welfare system is a crucial safety net that keeps them from becoming totally impoverished.
Benefits absolutely should be the route out of poverty. They are the essential buffer between people and penury. Iain Duncan Smith speaks as though there is a weekly rollover on them, building and building until claimants can skip into the kind of mansion he lives in. They are not that. They are a small stipend to keep body and soul together.
Benefits shouldn’t be a route to wealth and DWP cuts have ensured that, but the notion that we should leave people in poverty astounds me. The people who rely on benefits don’t see it as a quick buck, an easy income. We cannot be the kind of society who is content to leave people destitute because they are unable to work, through long-term illness or short-term job-seeking. Without benefits, people are literally starving. People don’t go to food banks because Waitrose are out of asparagus. They go because the government has snipped away at their benefits until they have become too poor to feed themselves.
The utter hypocrisy of telling disabled people to work themselves out of poverty while cutting Access to Work is so audacious as to be almost impressive. IDS suggests that suitable jobs for disabled workers are constantly popping out of the ground like daisies, despite the fact that his own government closed 36 Remploy factories. If he wants people to work their way out of poverty, he has make it very easy to find that work.
His speech was riddled with odious little snippets digging at those who rely on his department. No one is “simply transferring taxpayers’ money” to claimants, as though every Friday he sits down with his card reader to do some online banking, sneaking into people’s accounts and spiriting their cash away to the scrounging masses. Anyone who has come within ten feet of claiming benefits knows it is far from a simple process.
He is incredulous that if a doctor says you are too sick to work, you get signed off work, as though doctors are untrained apes that somehow gained access to a pen. This is only the latest absurd episode in DWP’s ongoing deep mistrust of the medical profession, whose knowledge of their own patients is often ignored in favour of a brief assessment by an outside agency. IDS implies it is yes-no question that GPs ask; you’re either well enough to work or signed off indefinitely to leech from the state. This is simply not true. GPs can recommend their patients for differing approaches for remaining in work, be it a phased return or adapted circumstances and they do tend to have the advantage over the DWP’s agency of having actually met their patient before.
I have read enough stories of the callous ineptitude of sanctions and cuts starving the people we are meant to be protecting. A robust welfare system is the sign of a society that cares for those in need. We need to provide accessible, suitable jobs for those who can work and accessible, suitable benefits for those who can’t. That truly would be a gift that keeps giving.