Once, my children, a black did not dare to walk alone
Brixton has been transformed, since last month's nail bomb explosion, into a political circus. The vanguard of every political hue appeared suddenly, banners at the ready, petitions to be signed, offering salvation from the avalanche of Nazism which, they warned, was about to descend on Brixton. This impending invasion had to be fought every inch of the way. The police were quasi-Nazis themselves, not to be trusted to protect us from Hitler's children.
All this I received in one mouthful from an eager teenager who had never been to Brixton before. The Anti-Nazi League was in full flow; so, too, were Rastas claiming the bombing was "prophesy". Then, as if to prove them right, a bomb threat forced the police to clear the centre of Brixton. Now the police have arrested a Hampshire man, allegedly acting alone but, since he has still to be tried, we can draw no conclusions from that.
I refused the many requests for interviews from radio and television, except for two with stations in Jamaica. I preferred to talk to my children,who were confused no end by all this rumour and gossip.
I told them about my arrival in this country nearly 40 years ago. I would hardly dare walk into a pub on my own, or even with friends. I told the story of going into a pub in Clapham to celebrate the New Year with Doogie and Bam. Doogie always walked with a white-handled razor. An Irishman, apropos of nothing, edged close to me and whispered in my ear, "You black bastard" and crashed his right fist into my jaw. I collapsed and smelt his boot. Doogie got hold of his tie and was poised with the razor. I begged Doogie to cut his throat. Doogie cut the tie instead and the Irishman bolted.
There was little freedom of movement then. You never walked late at night without being in company, two at least. If you had a white girlfriend she walked a couple of paces in front. My children listened in complete disbelief.
I described the politics of the past, the Monday Club of Enoch Powell and Harvey Proctor (whatever became of him, by the way?), MPs who commanded platforms and were an integral part of the Tory party. I recalled the working conditions of Punjabis in the Black Country who thought that, "a foreman was somebody big who could do a lot of things to people". I described the fight for freedom of movement, the right to enter a pub without let or hindrance, to hold your lover's hand on an evening stroll without the threat of a good hiding. And how things began to change when Martin Luther King visited St Paul's Cathedral and inspired the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination.
With the support of whites we rolled back the frontiers of repression. I explained our victories as I sat like an African griot telling stories of times past, speaking slowly and thoroughly to the bairns about their inheritance. And I explained how the bombers - or, rather, those who claimed to be the bombers, such as the White Wolves - are acting in desperation because they have lost the fight. They, not we, can find no home in England, because they are the victims of a dying ideology.
I told the Jamaican people on Radio Gem that not one single voice in a nation of 50 million was raised in approbation of the bombs in Brixton and Brick Lane. The police intervention was swift and thorough. These are achievements that we have won; we have emerged from darker and grimmer times. Gay people may feel the same way, after the Soho bomb, but they will speak for themselves.
In the week following the bomb in Brixton I was walking along the street and suddenly discovered the road strewn with nails, some 50 or so of them. I gathered a handful and called the police. They came at once. A tiny woman sergeant took notes eagerly in my sitting room. Then I felt safe and I knew a serious hunt was on. All those who stated the opposite were bent on mischief, even treachery.
I would rather spend my time talking to my children, picking up nails, than in some studio pontificating uselessly.