My kids were called piccaninnies - by their granny

On 26 March, the Observer, in the wake of the racist attack on the British athlete Ashia Hansen and her partner, published an article written by Richard Ellis, a white English journalist. Ellis has been married to a black woman for the past 15 years. They used to live in South Africa, but Britain, he declared, apart from some small pockets, "is foul, racist and deeply prejudiced".

These words hit me like a bomb blast. Had I read his article on a plane to London from Trinidad, I would have decamped immediately at Heathrow and caught a connecting flight to Soweto, where Ellis tells us life is much more amenable than in Britain.

One of his relatives, he said, saw absolutely nothing wrong in telling a joke that involved "a black man with big rubbery lips". Ellis hasn't spoken to him since. Rather militant, you may think. In a queue at Marks & Spencer, his 18-month-old son reached out to touch the shiny rings worn by a middle-aged woman standing behind. "Starting young, isn't he?" she said. Ellis heaps example upon example of such racist experiences. Any mixed race couple about to set upon a course of marriage would bolt from each other once they had read this article.

Even when people don't notice his wife's skin colour, Ellis goes bating. They are "almost as dangerous as the openly racist themselves". Nobody, black or white, is spared his vitriol. He reminds me of a rabid black nationalist, but one dressed in lion's skin.

I part company with Ellis on all counts. Follow me closely. I know no white person, none, who is free from the centuries of propaganda aimed at whites to justify the horrible institution of African slavery. That includes Ellis; it also includes some of the most wonderfully civilised whites I know, marvellous friends of mine whom I would not exchange for a million nuggets of gold.

I arrived here in 1961 and married a Cornish girl, Una Martin, about four years later. In those days, children and even some adults were of the view that a white man existed under the black skin and would rub excitedly to see if the top colour came off. My in-laws were worried about our two daughters. Half-caste they were called then; people said they were neither fish nor fowl. Their granny would fondly refer to them as her "piccaninnies". I suppose she could be described as racist in Ellis's terms, but her love for her grandchildren was limitless; and if, while she was alive, anyone had abused her as a racist, I would have challenged them to a duel in Falmouth Harbour.

In short, there is much more to the British than racism, and much more to blacks than anti-racism. Ellis believes that nothing has changed over the past 50 years, that the constant resistance of blacks and our allies has won no space, no rights, no victories. We blacks, therefore, are overwhelmed, beaten down, defeated by the forces of reaction in this foul and horrible place.

Ellis is monumentally wrong. Forty-six years ago, a young black Antiguan called Kelso Cochrane lay stone-cold dead on a pavement on the Harrow Road in west London. He had been stabbed. Nobody was ever charged with his murder, but not a drum was heard, hardly a funeral note. It was a non-event. That could not, and did not, happen with Stephen Lawrence, for two reasons. First, death by the blade was tolerable 40 years ago, but not today. Second, the black community has changed enough to alter the balance of power.

I know, because I have been politically active on this terrain. The passage of time trained me to escape from the blindness that comes with moral indignation.

The dark and grim days are receding. At such moments, precisely because we are winning, we may experience violence and bitterness from our true enemies that is far in excess of anything that happened in the old days. There is so much to play for in this deeply flawed diamond that is England.

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