Nothing is simply black and white — save in the minds of bigots
This weekend — New Cross Fire: Artwork to commemorate 14 young people who died — https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-60084529
Last week, 2022, a further commemoration unveiled https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-60084529 ; it will not bring back lives — but it must contribute to changing attitudes and actions.
Watching Steve McQueen’s three part piece Uprising, listening to the profound words bringing forward sentiments I have become blasé about, I felt the need to dig back as to why I chose to change my life. Why I chose to change and how changing caused change far more profound than I ever thought would be possible.
These words resonate:-
‘The only genuine, long-range solution for what has happened lies in an attack — mounted at every level — upon the conditions that breed despair and violence. All of us know what those conditions are: ignorance, discrimination, slums, poverty, disease, not enough jobs. We should attack these conditions-not because we are frightened by conflict, but because we are fired by conscience. We should attack them because there is simply no other way to achieve a decent and orderly society’ 
Looking back (some cultures say the past is behind you, this is why you cannot see it) I sense in so many respects, we have not moved forward. Watching McQueen’s work brings fresh thinking. With age. I did not ‘see’ some of the issues as I walked from Lewisham’s Blackheath edge down on to New Cross Road and to Goldsmiths. I was aware of tensions having been stopped, searched with attempted intimidation, I was still privileged by not being an immediate target simply because of my complexion.
Before I had come to university at Goldsmiths in South-East London, October 1978, I had come to know something of inner-city systemic racism. In the company of 4 other guys, we toured the blues clubs of Brixton, Peckham and Stoke Newington where I had an education of inner London living and we realised that a white sassy guy was maybe an undercover police officer and the lore was different given the conflict created by policing methods in using law to suppress rather than engage and build as per the sentiments in Lyndon B Johnson’s 1967 address. Sentiments echoed again and again in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
‘I cannot stress too strongly that my conclusions and proposals are not based on my fear of further riots. They are based on my beliefs that the conditions and prospects in the cities are not compatible with the traditions of social justice and national even-handedness’
Having been raised polite, I led us into one such house, windows shuttered to keep the disturbance to a minimum for others, I walked in first. To be met by a smartly dressed gentleman reaching inside his left side jacket to start drawing a knife with his right hand. One of our party pushed past and calmed him — Cool man, he is with me and he ain’t the police’.
Our party included a middleweight boxer who was a renowned prize fighter in these neighbourhoods with a knockout punch and a personality to soothe when he wasn’t being paid to throw punches.
I said to Ben, the gent, he had paid for us to enter all the other pop-up clubs, and only fair for us to share. He laughed, and replied — ‘Paul, I make people forget how to count so we get in for a low price or free when I lead.’
Needless to say, I did not attempt to lead again as we visited a couple more establishments. I was in awe of drinking Red Stripe lager at 50 pence a (small) can, trying not to let my eyes stream too much from all the dope being smoked and listening to great music being pumped out by home built sound systems.
We finished our tour early morning and parked up here Hyde Park Corner waiting for the Rock Against Racism, Guardian RAR, march and concert later that day. 5 of us in a small Ford Anglia is cosy. Already there was a police presence, and not long before we had a knock on the windows. Our driver was sober having not touched a drop of drink — he swore on his Mother’s life and I knew his Mother’s life was in no danger. He may have smoked his share of skunk, ganja, or whatever other term the weed was rolled under, but touch beer? Nope. Made to walk a straight line as we were, fairly politely questioned as to what we were doing and why we smelt the way we did, how we knew each other and why were we together. Looks of derision as two of our number explained they were brothers-in-law, black and white mixing? Did not fit with the already subtle aggression coming from not rocking against racism. We were released and allowed to start thinking about the RAR day ahead.
MPS rebuke police for systemic failure to improve record on race reading this 30 July 2021, realise, all we seem to have changed is the technology to say ‘Sorry’ and do nothing. This piece comes atop of this — FT East London boroughs pummelled by covid highlighting how socio-economics of 3 boroughs particularly made people far more vulnerable to the impact of SARS-CoV-2 in all its variants. Different aspects of race come through, as economic deprivation highlighted the inequity we have in our society.
Back to the future. I never thought I would end up working in East Africa for nearly half my life. Stayed away from studying Africa, despite a degree in Geography I certainly did not know a tenth of the places I have lived and worked in since 1990. My experiences in South-East London seeing racism, classism, the smack of privilege meeting the hard realities for the majority, stayed with me. Maybe not consciously. Yet, deep within, along with the upbringing I had benefited from as my Father and Mother work all hours to make sure we could make the best of what the United Kingdom had set up in terms of social capitalism. Set up for us as the post war generations to build on the phrase ‘never again’ and let us build for a better tomorrow for all.
The covid pandemic has been used by different people who could wield power, to wield power. Be this a police baton in a number of countries during the early part of the pandemic or, thinking further on 1981, the start of the real ‘them and us’ approach the police force took under Thatcher. First, with the systematic aggressive policing following the New Cross Fire, the policing of Brixton which appears to have been a run-through for the intimidation and violence of the Miners’ Strike_(1984–85).
This is not to lower the considerations regarding the level of state violence that took place in Bristol, on the Lewisham March and subsequent rioting sweeping British cities in the subsequent months. Police and endemic racism was, is, apparent. As one of the survivors of the New Cross Fire puts it, the facts are such people made the link between arson and racial attacks because it had become the norm. The same as we are now, seemingly, accepting cronyism and overt corruption in procurement process leading to outright theft. If institutions and people in institutions are not held accountable to their peers, then we are lost.
Perhaps this is the last point to reinforce presently.
Are we back to the point where the voice, the facts let alone opinions, of certain individuals and groups count for less than others?
Is social media noise being used to hide the systemic collapse of accountability?
Or universal rule of law based on fundamental Rights for each, and every, person of a state? Are we seeing further law by colour of skin rather than colour of passport?
Size of bank balance over the rights determined by respect for each and every individual who is contributing to the public good?
In 1981, as I graduated and wondered what the hell I was going to do for work (I went and load a concrete mixer and create rock art for the next few years)
I never truly thought about how the future would look back to front — seeing 1978, 1981 in the light of having been caught in riots as Sudanese military cracked down on people looking for work having migrated from southern Sudan. Being bombed during the Angolan civil war. Feeling for people during the Rwanda Genocide. Seeing worse of abuses of man on fellow men and, more prominently women, across a number of fragile places. Experiences are the major way we learn.
Theory and learning are essential.
But never be afraid to say — You are talking bullshit, empty rhetoric with no real desire or intent to take the actions, make the changes, required to deliver peace and justice.
The International Labour Organization Declaration of Philadelphia, 1944:-
‘Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere.’
‘All human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity’
 Lyndon B Johnson https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/the-presidents-address-the-nation-civil-disorders — the sentence finishes ….in America. But surely we can apply now and globally as President Johnson spoke about the 1967 upwelling of protests across the United States of America.
 Michael Hesltine ‘It took a riot’ — quoted in https://link.springer.com/article/10.1057/s41293-018-00094-0
This is the basis for further development — input warmly welcomed as we build a media library of history in the present to impact the future for all of us. All of us — we have to make it happen