Darcus Howe asks what Greg Dyke knows about racism

What does Greg Dyke know about police racism? Leave it to darkies like me

While perusing the Mail on Sunday, a short item flew off the page and almost blew my brain away. It was headlined: "Dyke lands racism role". Alongside it was a photograph of Greg Dyke, until recently director general of the BBC. "Mr Dyke," I was informed, "will be working with the Commission for Racial Equality to combat discrimination in the police." The Mail interprets his appointment mischievously. "It is his first job since he quit the BBC and marks a move towards his rehabilitation with Labour. He will work for CRE chairman Trevor Phillips, a darling of the party."

Dyke is quoted as saying: "My job will be to show how to motivate people and change the way a big organisation operates for the better. That's what I tried to do at the BBC." He goes on: "I am a huge admirer of the police. But they have problems in dealing with ethnic minority issues."

I do not know what Dyke admires about the police. Perhaps their funny hats and the crisp uniform. But he should know that it is not they who have difficulties working with the ethnic minorities, but we, mainly of Caribbean origin, who have difficulties with the police.

And what is this comparison with the BBC? For heaven's sake, the police have the power to arrest and to detain citizens. No such power accrues to BBC staff.

Three generations of Caribbeans have brought the issue of police racism before the general public. Had servility been in our nature, the jackboot would still be resting comfortably on our necks. We highlighted our "difficulties", to use Dyke's word, for the first time in the summer of 1970, when a demonstration of young blacks (now old) fought the police on the streets of Notting Hill. I was there. Reginald Maudling, then home secretary, dismissed it as a conspiracy of left-wing agitators.

For years thereafter, the issue bubbled away in every single Caribbean community from Leeds to Southampton. Then came the Brixton riots, which spread throughout the country. We have had reports from Scarman and Macpherson, and the situation remains the same.

I have campaigned on this terrain for 40 years. I never encountered Greg Dyke for a single half-moment along the way, though there were good men on the police side, such as Brian Paddick. Dyke can give his advice. But he will eventually have to leave the thing to the police and darkies such as myself.

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 29 March 2004 issue of the New Statesman, The power of martyrdom