Where the Asians and Caribbeans now wage bloody war

Last week, I mentioned that relations between Asians and blacks in Bradford were at a rather low ebb. In fact, it is much worse than that. There is much blood on the carpet. A group of Asians executed a black man: shot him and slung his body in a river, I hear.

Then another group of men shot up a restaurant from a passing car. No one seems to want to admit that the conflict is racial - murderously so. The fear is that this kind of thing may spread to other communities. Heaven help us if it does.

I spent a great deal of time in the Bradford area during my editorship of the journal Race Today. In 1978, a young factory worker, George Lindo, was framed by Bradford police for robbing a betting shop, and was given a prison sentence. We freed Lindo, then sued the police and won.

Bradford was then, as it is now, a major Asian community, mostly Muslim, greatly outnumbering the local West Indians. But it was also, at the time, organised around the textile and other traditional industries (Lindo himself worked as a bin spreader at Tyersall Combing works).

The Labour Party was working class oriented, the trade unions were powerful. The university was full of active left-wing organisations, all bringing about the social revolution. The city boasted an MP with origins on the far left. Thus class divisions were fundamental; race was secondary. The campaign to free Lindo, which brought the issue of race and policing to Bradford as never before, received much Asian support, particularly from young men.

Even then, however, I got the impression that young West Indians, with their broad Yorkshire accents, their taste for the local cuisine, their religion and their facility with the English language, were culturally closer to whites than to Asians. First-generation Asians were slowly emerging from the cocoon of a religious community. Yet the power of class loyalties, so central to northern English culture, held these disparate groups together.

The constant picketing of The Tyrls (the police station) by crowds of 100 or more West Indians during the Lindo case drew Asian attention to the issues, and the traditional Labour Party familiarised both Asians and West Indians with the politics of the north.

Lindo is dead now, from the cancer which he picked up in some factory or other in his short working life. But, in July 1981, we were back in Bradford. This time, 12 young Asian men were charged with making explosive substances with intent to endanger property, with a second charge of conspiracy.

At the time, Britain was in the throes of rioting, which had begun in Brixton in April 1981. There were no riots in Bradford, but a group of Asians had stocked up when rumours spread that skinheads were on their way to invade the Asian community in the Manningham area.

The subsequent campaign to free the Bradford Twelve drew the Asian community for the first time, as I remember it, into the cauldron of political activity, of community activity, that was so fundamental to Bradford's social traditions.

Conflict between Asians and West Indians would have been unthinkable then. The changes since have been immense. The textile industry, which welded the Asian community into the British working class, is no more, having disappeared to the Far East.

Isolation became the order of the day. Fierce competition for the meagre public funds available has separated the previously unified.

I have heard friends from both the Asian and West Indian communities utter the most unspeakable racial abuse against each other in the past few weeks. The traditional lumpen proletariat has expanded in both communities. At present, they are at each other's throat with pistols drawn. A tragedy.

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 04 September 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Cheated of their vodka and cake