Annie O'Keefe reviews 'Who you callin' a n.....?'
Darcus Howe (Channel 4, Monday 9 August,2004) explored the growing hostilities in Britain between Pakistanis and West Indians and between Somalis and West Indians, between groups of 'black' people, towards all of whom white racists have an identical attitude of hostility.
White racism against black people, noted Howe, now brings pariah status to its proponents, but racism against each other is on the increase among Britain's racial minorities. "Black is turning on black".
Howe brought examples of what he had in mind to the screen. The naked contempt and hostility which he himself aroused in a group of Pakistani young men whom he tried to interview was chilling to see and hear. He told them that he was from 'Channel Four', and that he wrote for the Guardian, New Statesman, Observer, etc. It had no effect. They weren't having any of that from an uppity Afro.
When Howe gave up and retreated to his car, they followed, threatening him through the window.
For Howe it was all in sad contrast to the old days, when Asians and Afros regarded each other as brothers and sisters in a common fight against the white racism which affected all of them. He talked to a prosperous Sikh whose hardened, and undisguised, opinion it was that Afros are simply inferior.
He found Pakistani youth who shouted "Jews smell". And others who said, "Think ahead 20 years. We will own this country", giving voice to the white racist nightmare from a new angle.
One young Afro asked Howe: "How you goin' to have unity when some say 'Allah' and some of us say 'Halleluja'?"
Obviously distressed by what he was encountering, Howe seemed like the ghost of the 1960s left wandering around in the ruins of his shattered delusions.
Howe's candid discussion of this taboo subject was a blast of clean air through a smoke-clogged room. But what struck me most was his naivety - real or faux. How has he managed to remain so innocent up to now?
In east London schools - and I suppose in others with a similar ethnic mix - the gang line-up groups whites and Afros on one side against Asians on the other. I have seen Asian shopkeepers in Peckham express disdain and contempt for Afros, once they'd paid for what they were buying from them. Attacks in the streets on whites as whites by groups of Asian youths have, to my knowledge, occurred in east London at points of high tension.
White racism remains the most pressing problem, but it long ago ceased to be possible - if it ever was possible - to understand more or less all conflicts involving dark-skinned people in the simple terms of racism and anti-racism.
The attempt by the SWP and Respect to sink the specific problems raised by militant political Islam into simple racism and anti-racism has led them into an Alice in Political Wonderland world in which they justify a close alliance with the clerical fascists of the Muslim Brotherhood in terms of virtuous 'anti-racism'.
More or less candidly, they argue that Marxist hostility to the barbarous nonsense of Islam has to be abandoned in the name of 'solidarity with the victims of racism'. That it is the anti-racist and anti-imperialist duty of socialists to explain away and rationalise a thing like the Afghan Taliban regime's treatment of women (Socialist Worker, 6 October 2001).
It is only in the oversimplified imaginary world of anti-racism reduced to a simple middle-class morality that all dark people - groups of people of vastly different origins and cultures, and occupying different positions in British society - are expected to be virtuously 'anti-racist'. The unstated assumption is that what such dark-skinned anti-racists are naturally against - an indifferent or hostile 'white' society - is enough to unite them and educate them in a 'black' solidarity in which there will be nothing of racism.
But class is also a big part of it. Howe's film showed quite plainly that much of the difference between Pakistanis and West Indians he caught on camera was a difference of class, in which the Afro-Caribbeans are working-class and the contempt for them of those Pakistanis he showed is, or also is, a question of class distinction, class attitudes, and class feeling, expressed in racist generalities about the Afro-Caribbean.
In the broad world outside Britain 'black' people slaughter black people - in Rwanda and Sudan, for example, The large group of Asian shopkeepers in Britain are here because they were driven out of Kenya and Uganda 30 years ago by racist black governments.
Why should anyone think that such divisions and hostilities between distinct groups will just evaporate once people are in Britain, or that new antagonisms will not develop among groups which retain a strong sense of their own identity and play different social roles? It is simply not possible for intensely religious people - in the most relevant case, fervent Muslims - not to feel superior to non-believers and thus contempt and animosity towards them.
The idea of all-black anti-racist solidarity itself implies group conflict between black and white groups - albeit one in which all group-to-group disputes can be subsumed in a, so to speak, a black and white morality play.
The 'discovery' by sections of the left that 'Islamophobia' is the same thing as racism, and that therefore anti-racist socialists must line up politically with Islam, even with Islamic clerical-fascists, and 'defend' Islam, is the suicidal reductio ad absurdum of white, guilt-saturated, middle-class, liberal 'anti-racism'.
Here too it is not enough to define ourselves in terms of what we are against. What are we for?
Socialists are above all interested in working-class unity across all divides created by racial , religious, cultural and other distinctions. We are concerned to foster and develop the working class's consciousness of itself, of its place in society, of the nature of capitalist society, and of the necessity and possibility of replacing capitalism by democratic International socialism.
Within that framework we are for equal citizenship for all people, without regard to race, religion or origin. We are in favour of religious freedom for everyone in relation to the state - though there are religious practices which the state should suppress, genital mutilation of young girls, for example - while we ourselves are against all religion and work to free religious-minded workers from their superstitions.
The unity we seek is not the unity of black peoples against the others, but the working class unity expressed long ago in the slogan, 'Black and white, unite and fight!'