Darcus Howe on Peter Hain's idea of integration

After 40 years here, Tom and his wife have no white friends. Should they integrate?

The term "asylum-seeker" is now easily interchangeable with "black" and "Asian". A friend of mine here in Brixton developed prostate cancer and had to visit a local hospital. He overheard the white receptionists referring to him as "one of those asylum-seekers overloading the NHS".

Tom Strokes, as I have nicknamed him, came here in 1961 and within a month was employed at British Rail, then left for Ford, where he worked until he retired. He was a shop steward and a Labour Party activist. His five children are all employed. His wife, also now retired, worked in the NHS from 1962.

I met Strokes and his wife at my local pub, which is almost exclusively black, as is the Pentecostal church they attend. They have no white friends, just as so many British whites have no black friends. They go to the Caribbean every other year for holidays among friends and family. But they got on reasonably well with the white people they worked with.

In every inner city, you will find similar people, who eat, entertain, dance, sing and dress in a distinctly Caribbean way. But ask them what is British culture and they will describe their own lives. They mesh well with the new asylum-seekers from Africa. Unless one wears a T-shirt saying "I am an asylum-seeker" or another saying "I was born here", nobody can tell the difference.

One teacher tells me that the children of asylum-seekers show a devotion to learning and a sparkling intelligence that amounts to a renaissance in the British classroom. Young, British-born blacks are overheard speaking a few words of an African dialect, a bit of Chinese and so on. During my own childhood in Trinidad, where half the population is of Indian origin, I acquired a fistful of Hindi words and expressions. What I am describing is the simple process of acculturation.

Yet politicians have plunged our entire existence into racial doubt. According to Peter Hain, the minister for Europe, himself an immigrant, Strokes hasn't integrated because, after 40 years, he has not imbibed British culture. But Hain means white culture. If we all behave like whites, he seems to be saying, then the BNP will have no place in UK politics. So why don't whites behave like blacks in Zimbabwe? Then, presumably, there would be no need for Mugabe. Or why didn't Hain, who opposed apartheid, adopt black culture in his native South Africa? He is no African, he is no Briton, he is a white man.