How blacks make Asians suffer

Observations on racism

My aunt and uncle are Asian shopkeepers in north London and suffer daily abuse, physical and verbal, from their customers. My friend Amit, one of the few Asians in the area where he grew up, had to listen to racist gibes from neighbours every day on his way to school. And I have been called a "coolie" many times myself.

More examples of white racism? They could be, but they are not. My aunt and uncle's customers are Afro-Caribbeans. Amit was brought up in predominantly black Tottenham. And "coolie" is an insult used far more often by Afro-Caribbeans than by whites.

In Britain, Asians are the new blacks - replacing them as the scapegoats for society's discontents. I am outraged therefore that Darcus Howe, both in recent New Statesman columns and in his Channel 4 programme Who You Callin' a Nigger? (shown on 9 August), should add to this demonisation. According to him, British Asians are "flexing their muscles" and are now as racist and aggressive as the BNP in their attitudes to West Indians.

West Indian racism - towards the Somali community, for example - was touched on in Howe's programme, but he excused it by highlighting cases of West Indian teenagers and old ladies being attacked by Somali gangs. We can both play that game. Many British Asians are originally from East Africa, driven out by black governments that stripped them overnight of their businesses. Perhaps that explains why they are now so hostile towards their black neighbours.

Howe interviewed a Sikh business-man who asked: "Why are grown [African Caribbean] men walking around at 2pm? Why are all the businesses here owned by Asians?" Yes, it is true that many Asian people think blacks are lazy. But it is also true that blacks accuse Asians of getting ahead by sucking up to white people. Howe puts forward the bizarre theory that Asians, instead of calling themselves "blacks", now call themselves Asian, Indian or Pakistani in order to seem closer to whites. The true explanation is that they describe themselves according to their country or continent of origin. They also think that Afro-Caribbeans, mostly part of longer-established communities than the Asians, would get ahead better themselves if they didn't blame white racism for everything.

Anyone familiar with the Asian community, as Howe clearly is not, would know that most Asians are more racist towards each other than they are towards blacks or whites. Has Howe ever been to an India-Pakistan cricket match?

I agree that inter-ethnic tension in Britain needs to be addressed. But I am afraid that the work of Darcus Howe, who has devoted most of his 21 years in journalism to tackling sensitive race issues, now shows about as much impartiality and insight as a Robert Kilroy-Silk article on Arabs.

Sejal Mandalia is working on a historical memoir about East African Asians

This article first appeared in the 23 August 2004 issue of the New Statesman, The warlords of America