Facing up to racism in Britain

By , Mowahid H. Shah, a Pakistani, is a member of the bar in Washington, D.C., and a writer of international affairs.

Despite considerable US progress in the area of civil rights, talk of racism in the West invariably centers on the United States. Yet, a non-Caucasian who stays in Britain for an extended period of time will have no difficulty in concluding that racial tensions there are more serious.

Unlike America, Britain has yet to accept that it is now a multiracial society. Remarkably, there is still a genteel pretense in Britain that racism does not exist to any significant extent.

Bereft of the riches of their colonies, Britons are finding it difficult to reconcile themselves to the fact of their nation's decline. At the same time they do not find it difficult to attach blame for their existing woes on the "colored intruders." Hence, race prejudice is not viewed as the major problem. More accurately, it is the "dark-skinned ones" who are believed to be the problem.

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Unsurprisingly, therefore, for some the British solution to the problem calls for the repatriation (a euphemism for forcible deportation) of all the "niggers, " "wogs", and others unlucky enough to have a complexion darker than that of the majority whites.

The spearheads behind the move to exploit the hidden racism of Britons are neo-Nazi groups, whose tactics against the immigrants are strongly reminiscent of the ruses employed by their Nazi forerunners in Germany who perfected scapegoating of Jews in order to pave their path to power (British Nazis attribute all of British woes to blacks in Britain). This has had a spillover effect, in that JEwish cemeteries and synagogues have been desecrated by crudely painted swastikas.

It is particularly galling to many that Asians of the Indian subcontinent fought and died in Britain's war against fascism in World War II, and yet now the lives and security of Asian children are threatened by contemporary British fascists in a hostile atmosphere maintained and abetted by what is commonly perceived to be institutional state racism.

During the period of British colonial domination in the third world, nonwhites were looked down upon as an inferior race with interests secondary to those of the whites. Hence they were ruled with the underlying purpose of maintaining the primacy of the whites. This attitude persists to a large extent to this day: the senior immigrants -- even the professionals like doctors -- have accepted the fact that they are and will remain second- class citizens. In fact, white Britons insist on referring even to second- and third-generation nonwhites as "immigrants."

But there are signs the younger Asians will not take this situation lying down. In an interview with this writer, Tariq Ali, a prominent Asian who is a spokesman for the Pakistan Workers Association, gave this view:

"The combination of the growing economic crisis, coupled with the social policies and the political orientation of the Tory government, spells disaster for the whole working class but especially its most underprivileged sections. Of these, the blacks are in the foreground and will increasingly be used as scapegoats by the white establishment. Their only hope lies in organizing themselves and fighting back as their black brothers and sisters have been doing in the USA for many decades."

But Britain has to do a lot of catching up. In the US, blacks have organized into national organizations to combat racism, such as the NAACP. Leaders have emerged, such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Large anti- discrimination marches have been organized, sit-ins, rallies, and other devices liberally utilized. Civil rights legislation in general has been enforced by the courts and, while racism by no means has been eliminated, it has been recognized as a national problem, a moral issue lying heavy on the national conscience to be dealt with and solved.

In Britain, nonwhites are as yet unorganized into any effective movement, and have not fought back in any tactical fashion against racial incidents or attitudes. Civil rights legislation, although on the books, is often not adequately enforced and is being gutted by increasingly racial and unfair immigration policies.

Worst of all, the British have deluded themselves into thinking that racism is a local not a national problem, that it is not serious and is merely today's product of unemployment and other economic woes which will disappear on its own when Britain begins to climb out of its economic doldrums. This refusal to face the possibility of a permanent polarization in Britain's population frustrates peaceful attempts to confront and solve Britain's racial problems, and encourages the growth of fascist movements directed not only against nonwhites but also against other ethnic minorities, such as Jews.

Sooner or later, Britain will have to face what is fundamentally a human rights question, at the heart of which lies the uncontestable fact that nonwhite immigrants are being treated as second-class citizens stripped of their right to pursue an existence with basic human dignity values.

Thus far, the traditional adeptness of British diplomacy, conditioned historically by centuries of deft maneuvering, has managed to keep the issue of Britain's racial problems away from the focus of international censure. But it will take more than that to avert what many foresee may be a bloody racial showdown.

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