A new report on racism in Stoke is worth reading. Written by the Institute of race Relations it’s short, simple to read and makes its key points succinctly.
Now Stoke has never been my favourite place. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had bother – sometimes, major, very violent, bother – when going to see Sunderland play there. As such it’s now the only place I won’t go for a pre-match drink.
So it didn’t surprise me to read there’s plenty of racial violence meted out to local black, Asian and migrant people in a City that has been left devastated by the closure of much of its once thriving manufacturing base – pottery, coal, steel and their supply chain industries.
As a result many inhabitants and/or the grand\children have been forced to follow Norman Tebbitt and get ‘on their bikes’ to find work. Not doing so has often meant being long-term unemployed or having to get by on part-time, irregular, poorly paid work.
As people move out then the overall numbers living in Stoke has dropped considerably. Meanwhile the arrival of a smallish number of family relatives from the Indian sub-continent and higher birth rates have increased numbers in the Asian community. Which combined with new Labour having introduced, at the start of the millennium, a dispersal programme away from the South East for asylum seekers has meant that the numbers in the black and ethnic minority communities has risen both in real terms and % wise. Up from 3% to 7% in the twenty years up to 2009.
Reading the report it’s clear that far too many of Stoke’s white working class population have been conned into believing that their current woes are somehow connected/caused by a pretty small increase in the numbers of black people living locally.
No surprise then that the fascist British National Party have done their worst to convince them that’s so, and until relatively recently receiving in return for all their campaigning a healthy electoral reward in terms of a high number of elected councillors.
But as the report shows the BNP’s success was only in part a result of their own poisonous politics. Just as importantly was ‘new’ Labour’s willingness to placate its media allies by constantly attacking the rights of asylum seekers and refugees arriving from holiday ‘hotspots’ such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Congo, Zimbabwe…
Failing to explain – never mind defend – why people are being forced to travel thousands of miles for the ‘chance’ to live in a previously disused house in a run-down part of Stoke - or Sunderland where I lived in 2002 and witnessed the despair after an Iranian refugee, Payman Behmani, was stabbed to death less than 300 yards from where we lived in Hendon – could only help create the impression that new arrivals were up to no good and should be viewed with alarm…….or even attacked?
Then there was Blair’s need to support US President George Bush in his ‘crusades’ to Afghanistan and Iraq. And even though close to 1.5 million marched in London in March 2003 to oppose the latter adventure that didn’t stop the Government pushing forward on its plans to put the Muslim community - the vast majority rightly angered by the invasions, but playing no part in the terrorist outrages that have followed in Britain –under surveillance whilst also having their residency questioned in the papers, and by politicians, for failing to ‘support our troops.’
Is it any surprise therefore that attacks multiplied? And whilst the BNP have now had their presence on the local council wiped out that doesn’t appear to have lessened the numbers. The statistics presented in the report are worrying. Not least because they’re taken only from official sources and so are likely to be an underestimate – especially as there are a good number of quotes indicating people who are or might be attacked view the police not as friends but as “part of the problem.”
And, sadly, there’s not much indication that things are going to get significantly better. Having won control of the council there are indications that Labour want to create an impression that with the BNP gone then the problems will go away themselves – so youth workers have been told not to distribute anti-racist leaflets or attend rallies.
Meanwhile cuts in local services and planned redundancies in the public sector are going to further economically damage the City, and with the Tories intent on using the world economic crisis to attack/finish off the welfare gains made at the end of the Second World War there is no chance of an economic revival that could create work for the thousands that desperately need it.
All of which means that in some localities black people are becoming better organised to resist the attacks. That’s good and very welcome – especially as the English Defence League recently marched through Stoke – but what’s also needed is a society in which everybody has a future with a well paid job, proper well-funded public services and a decent place to live……it doesn’t look too likely at the moment…….
To view the report New Geographies of Racism visit http://www.irr.org.uk/2011/november/bj000021.html