Blacks see parallels in US, Britain
Civil-rights leaders in the United States are thundering now, as they have since the Reagan administration came into office, that stringent economic measures plant the seeds for future unrest.Skip to next paragraph
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They contend that the pressures now bubbling over in Britain are fast building here as a result of President Reagan's budget policies.
Some observers point to the recent demonstration in New York by hundreds of unemployed black and Hispanic construction workers as symptomatic of a possible larger protest to come.
Black leaders claim that the economic factors plaguing Britain -- one of the worst recessions in Europe, and unemployment that approaches 3 million -- are directly linked to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's anti-inflation policies. The recent social upheavals, they maintain, are largely a product of her austerity program and should serve as a warning to the US. At the same time, they discount attempts by some observers to compare Britain's recent disturbances and the riots that plagued some US cities in the 1960s.
"To compare the situation in Britain today to that of the United States in the '60s is misreading the situation," says Richard Hatcher, mayor of Gary, Ind. , and outgoing president of the National League of Cities. It is more comparable, he says, "to the US of today and in the future."
The "stringent economies" practiced by both the Thatcher and Reagan administrations have "disproportionately" affected the working classes and poor minorities, he adds. "Thoroughly obvious parallels" between the two countries -- high minority unemployment and limited opportunity for advancement -- should alert Americans to the results that may occur here, he says.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Chicago- based Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) argued in a recent article that the "trickle-down theories" of the Thatcher and Reagan administrations don't work, and that the economic consequences "must soon be felt." Adds M. Carl Holman, president of the National Urban Coalition, "We would do well to be concerned with snatching away certain supports [federal social programs] without putting anything in their place."
But black leaders are reluctant to draw too many parallels between the two countries. "Britain's riots are not a simple cause-and- effect relationship," notes Mr. Holman, adding that "high unemployment does not necessarily cause rioting."
Some see as a positive sign the fact that for the first time Britain is confronting itself as a multiracial nation.
Only recently has there been any widespread recognition that England is no longer a refuge for displaced West Indians and Pakistanis, says Willard Johnson, a foreign policy professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Nearly half of the minorities now at home in Britain's inner cities are born-and- bred Englishmen and, like American blacks in the '60s, Mr. Johnson says they are "taking it for granted they have a right to be there."
From that standpoint, he says, the riots can be seen not as sign of defeat for Britain, but rather as an expression that "victory," or integration by minorities into the economic and social mainstream, is possible.
What many observers claim is necessary for that "victory" is a reordering of priorities. The perception that "they [the British government] don't care about us [minorities]" is a crucial as the actual unemployment figures, says Holman.
Many leaders see an overwhelming need for minorities to have entry into Britain's capitalistic system.They need the opportunity to "take their money and turn it over and over within their own community," says Kenneth Guscott, former president of the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Others cite a need to avoid using race as a scapegoat, saying that in times of economic austerity and social unrest, race becomes the most immediate flashpoint. In times of stress, "The public doesn't see welfare mothers; they see blacks," says Joh nson. "Food stamp rolls are seen only in terms of color."