Gang rape is too prevalent in the Caribbean community

Three Christmases ago, I got myself in quite a stew in a sharp confrontation with the black leaders of anti-racism, who were backed by the entire editorial team of the recently launched black weekly the New Nation. I was on my way to South Africa to do some travel-writing when a call came from Channel 4. They were handling a rather hot potato, they said. Channel 4 had commissioned a report detailing incidents of gang rape, committed by young black men in Brixton and surrounding areas, which bordered on the barbaric. One young woman had spent more than a couple of hours with her back raked against a concrete step while up to a dozen schoolboys screwed her.

Channel 4, aware of the ambulance-chasers in the anti-racist brigade, felt they could not broadcast this huge truth without some counterbalance. They wanted me to chair a studio discussion, to go out immediately after the report, in which the issues would be aired.

I cancelled my trip to South Africa. I knew the terrain well. Gang rape was part of the urban culture in which I grew up. I entered my teens in a working-class ghetto in Port of Spain, peopled by gangs based on the Diggers and Stompers of America. I was a Style-Cramper and a Law-Breaker. Other gangs were Spike Jones and the Fallen Angels, the Apple Jackers and Sun Valley. We fought each other over teenage loves and territory. Gang rape initiated male virgins into sex. And if you didn't share, the others would take your girlfriend away.

My girlfriend was called Betty. There was no place to be private except a disused building. I took her there one night and the gang moved in. I went with her to the police station and gave a list of names. I was determined to put my mates to the sword. There was no anti-racist movement through which I interpreted this social behaviour, nor any feminist movement. As far as I was concerned, it was the culture of the brute.

It was clear to Channel 4 viewers that I came to the studio with attitude. Nothing had changed in 40 years. The argument that white working-class boys (notably the Hell's Angels) did it, too, was not for me. In my view, it was too prevalent in the Caribbean community. I had a young daughter who was the same age as the rapists and the raped, and I was not having it. For this, the anti-racists deemed me a sell-out and said they would wipe me off the map with their imperious power. Led by Lee Jasper (now Ken Livingstone's adviser on race relations) and the Southall Black Sisters, they called a picket of the Channel 4 offices. I would not relent; for me it was, to borrow a phrase from a Black Panther of the 1960s, "war to the horse's brow".

The New Nation intervened. A white news editor led the charge. I barked at him. He worked for a newspaper that focused on the Caribbean, yet he did not know whether Montego Bay was on the north or south coast of Jamaica. Nor did he know the name of the industrial capital of Trinidad and Tobago. I went ballistic and threatened to stick a shotgun up his arse. He taped it all and printed it on the front page of the paper. He sent copies to Michael Jackson, the chief executive of Channel 4, and Peter Wilby at the New Statesman, certain, he told his friends in the Caribbean media and in the anti-racist brigade, that I would be kicked out of both for my expletives. He obviously thought that both institutions were Catholic seminaries.

In the past few days, statistics have been published revealing that black men outnumber any other ethnic group in the brutal game of rape. And their victims are black women. Off to Lee Jasper went a journalist for a quote, and this is what he said: "We will have to discuss this in the black community." Discuss what, I ask, and with whom and for what purpose?

Three years ago, Jasper fought against me tooth and nail for placing the responsibility where it lay. He continues to jib and jive, and, as we say in the local lingo, prips around the issue. My line is lean, mean and clear: I take a side in this war, the side of black women. I have four daughters whom I join in the bunker; there is nothing to discuss.

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 25 June 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The slow death of Tory England