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Learning to love thy new neighbour

Deep down, I’ve always been a bit of a bigot.

That’s not an easy thing for a ranting lefty to admit, but I can only change what I accept exists so it’s time for my ego to face the music and do the dance of contrition.

Gentrify This billboard at the Cans Festival, Leake Street, London

Gentrify This billboard at the Cans Festival, Leake Street, London

If we are being truly open minded, our beliefs evolve, nurtured by experiences – both ours and those of other people, throughout our lives. Over the years, I’ve faced down my sexism, become comfortable with diverse religious doctrines and got over my homophobia.

There is a minority group, though, that I regularly let myself socially discriminate against, either with snide remarks on social media or just casual everyday bigotry. I’ve been pulled up for mocking the way they speak and dress.

I’ve caught myself tutting loudly when stuck behind them at the local supermarket as they squeal with delight because it now stocks some exotic produce or other.

I guess on some level I just doubted their intentions.

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By a jury of my peers

12 people in a carriage.

Two Galatasaray fans, dripping in red and yellow, on their way to watch their team in the Champions League.  Clearly on TV in a Turkish bar, since Gala are playing in Istanbul tonight.

An Asian Brit, knowledgeably talking to them about violence in Turkish football – apparently, it’s all Trabzonspor’s fault.

A very smartly dressed, middle-aged Indian couple. He, in a shiny suit with a hankie poking out of his top pocket. Her, in a white sari and glasses that would have suited Gina Lollobrigida. Take in the scenes on the tube as if observing Dalits during the Raj.

A Canadian sounding young same-sex couple poorly pretends to be just friends. Holding hands, whispering and furtively looking around to gauge the reactions of the rest of the carriage.

A white architect in his 50s. Dressed in the scruffy way that says ‘I’m an intellectual’, buries his head in his impressive looking plans.

A couple of work colleagues, who ‘have been around as long as they have’, gossip about their mutual office hate figure who really doesn’t deserve the easy ride she gets.

And me, looking quite ghetto but wishing the too-cute-to-approach, corporate woman reading this over my shoulder knew that I was a writer.

The ugly underbelly of private renting

When my mum first came to Britain from Jamaica in the 60s, overt racism was just a normal part of her day-to-day experience.

She never tires of telling me about the famous ‘no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ signs that landlords put up on properties.

pic by Paul Joseph

pic by Paul Joseph

In those pre-equality regulation days, bigotry didn’t need to hide behind plastic smiles, it was allowed to roam free and unashamed.

The  Race Relations Act 1976 was supposed to put an end to all that and the Equalities Act 2010 seemed to reinforce the message that discriminating against someone because of the amount of melanin in their skin was simply not acceptable.

Among other measures, the Act made it:

“unlawful for a person who has the authority to dispose of premises to discriminate against or victimise someone else …by not letting or selling the premises to them.”

An undercover investigation by the BBC’s Inside Out London programme into discrimination in London’s private lettings industry aired last night. It showed that, for some letting agents, these laws are just obstacles to be navigated….

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Drugs and the aggravating circumstance of being black

Following the release of figures showing huge disparities in the way drug laws impact black and white people, I wrote an article for Independent Voices thanks to Writers of Colour. I argued that not only is the war on drugs a flawed concept, it’s not even working well. Although black communities are the collateral damage in this war, the shrapnel hits everyone.

Drugs and the aggravating circumstance of being black

Indydrugs

Despite taking fewer illegal drugs than their white peers, black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs in the UK, according to a report by Release and the London School for Economics (LSE) this month.

This is just a national average though and in some areas the discrepancy is much higher. If you live in Dorset, for example, you are 17 times more likely to stopped in the street and searched for drugs if you happen to be black.

The inequality doesn’t stop there, because if found with drugs, black people are then twice as likely to be charged as white offenders.

You might hope that once you are in court, justice will be blind and treat you equally, but black people are jailed at six times the rate of white offenders.

While it might be over-egging the pudding to say being black in the UK is a criminal offence, it seems it is at least an aggravating circumstance…

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I am proud to be part of Writers of Colour, – a collective of black and Asian writers challenging the lack of diversity in Britain’s mainstream media.

Oprah Winfrey and travelling while black

Oprah Winfrey is one of the world’s richest women but it didn’t stop a Zurich shop assistant from assuming she couldn’t afford the bag she wanted to buy. I talk about the real risks of travelling when black and sadly, they are more troublesome than having trouble buying a £24,000 bag.

Oprah Guardian

Oprah Guardian

 

There was a depressing familiarity to Oprah Winfrey’s tale of racism in an upmarket Swiss boutique.

Billionaire TV presenter Oprah is a household name around the world but this didn’t stop the staff in an Zurich handbag shop from assuming she couldn’t afford the expensive bag she wanted to buy.

In Oprah’s case, she decided not to make a scene or to play the ‘do you know who I am?’ card, instead choosing to leave the shop and spend her money elsewhere.

Oprah knew just mentioning her experience would be pay back enough and already the owner of the boutique has apologised and tried to explain away the incident as a ‘misunderstanding’.

While £25k handbags are not normally on my shopping list, being made acutely aware of your race when you leave the safety of home is all too familiar…

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This article was originally published in the Guardian with thanks to Writers of Colour

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Trayvon Martin and the Fear of a Black Man

theblakwatch

“ ‘Not Guilty?’ the filthy devils tried to kill me/  When the news gets to the hood the niggas will be/ Hotter than cayenne pepper/  Cuss, buss, kicking up dust is a must.”
Ice Cube – ‘We Had to Tear This MF Up’

The’ Not Guilty’ verdict for George Zimmerman, the killer of  Black teenager Trayvon Martin,  confirms a fact that all Black men know, but hoped had changed.  The fact that many white people view us as a threat.

It doesn’t matter if the Black man in question is well educated and softly spoken. It doesn’t matter if he has not even finished puberty. We are seen as a threat that must be contained. Trayvon was an unarmed teenager, and George Zimmerman was an heavily set 29 year old with an obvious weight advantage, who also happened to be packing a gun.  But still Zimmerman felt that he was the…

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Osborne and my Right-to-Buy

Giveaway George has me left in a quandary.

Despite the constant calls for him to let Britain grow its way out of this never ending downturn, he decided, in this week’s Budget, to put all of his economic eggs into the housing basket.

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“Owning your own home is the most basic human aspiration” said Gorgeous Gideon as he explained that, despite saying the cupboards were bare, he had managed to come up with £12bn for his mortgage guarantee scheme, £3.5bn for his Help-to-Buy scheme and £130bn to underwrite mortgages.

He also increased the maximum Right-to-Buy discount for council tenants who want to become home owners from £75k to £100k.

I’ve lived in one council flat or other for almost my entire life.

The flat I live in now, on a slightly grimy Tooting council estate, has been my home for over 20 years. (more…)

When the underbelly roars

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I grew up on south London council estates in the 70s and 80s and vividly remember the riots that tore through my city, along with Leeds, Liverpool, Birmingham and several other parts of Britain with large black communities.

When the first riots hit Brixton in 198, I was 12 years old.

My mates and I came from council estates in Wandsworth, Battersea and Earlsfield and while we were no angels, we certainly couldn’t be described as bad kids. (more…)