Cohen on racism in Handsworth

Another civil disturbance, another Nick Cohen comment (duplicated on his blog), and you can bet he’ll use it to drum for his pet causes - among them his opposition to sectional politics of any sort and to religious schools. This time it is of course the recent riots in Birmingham, which he blames on a common phenomenon of the resentment against a prosperous ethnic group, in this case Asians, although the point of Amy Chua’s book World on Fire, which Cohen cites, is that the groups are minorities resented by the rest of the population: rich Jews in Russia, Chinese in Indonesia, whites in southern Africa and so on. In this case, both groups were minorities, one of which had stuck together and done well while the other had fallen behind.

In this case, the riot was started by a rumour circulated on websites and pirate radio stations, one of them run not by a gangster but by a religious DJ, that an Asian gang had raped a 14-year-old Jamaican in one of their shops. The problem was escalated because of an email circulated by “representatives” of the black community blaming the Asian business community for their own community’s failure to thrive:

It’s a known fact that black hair companies in the usa sold out the uk black people by making asians (indians) the main and sole distributors of hair products. it’s also a well known fact that this distributor, called dooa which are indian owned sell their fellow indians warehouse products at discounted prices so that the black business buckle under there unreasonable warehouse prices. So now you know why black shops don’t last long. Anyway this is not the real reason behind this email, read what happened in Birmingham’s Afro Carribean district a few days ago and supprisingly it was’nt even worth a mention in the local news paper. Black people need to realise that they are been shitted on by Indians who now supply them with the very food they eat, their cosmetics and health care. the asian businesses will buy whatever they can from a black person but unfortunately struggle when they try to buy a black mans soul because still they do not have one.

Pickled Politics, from which I copied this quote, implicated Ligali, the self-styled “African British Equality Authority”, in this. I’m not sure if he meant that they circulated the email - it isn’t in anything like the language you’d expect in a formal release from an organisation. Ligali is an Afrocentric organisation with an unusual set of policies for a black British organisation. They advocate that “the N word” be treated the same way as the F-word or C-word, bleeped or starred out, without regard to the fact that some newspapers do in fact not star out these words, and that “the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) instruct all record labels not to produce products containing the N Word”. They also object to the word “black” being used to describe “African” people, regardless of whether they have ever even been to Africa; in response to the spat on Radio 4 between Joan Rivers and Darcus Howe, they referred to him as “Donkey Howe”, a joker and an idiot and commented:

Rivers doesn’t want to be seen as a racist after being accused of finding the label ‘black’ offensive. Howe not understanding that the word is actually offensive when used in a racial context. But the real joke is on Howe for exposing his shameful and frankly pitiful excuses whilst attempting to explain and justify why we should believe he is a good father. Thankfully he simultaneously establishes all the reason why he is no longer respected as a man in our community despite having the legacy of being a positive activist in his youth. It’s a pity the broadcasters continue to use him as an authoritative voice to represent our ‘black’ concerns when his rancid mouth needs to be put permanently to rest.

Still, if people are saying that the Asian business community is clubbing together to do down outsiders, they need to be told, “bring your proof”, rather than being shouted down. If Asian warehouses are charging unreasonable rates, it’s unlikely the Asian shops would last long either; if they are charging different rates to blacks in order to keep their “brothers” in business while driving out competition from outsiders, that’s surely illegal and they need to be investigated. “Jobs for the boys” isn’t actually the preserve of the government, “quangos” and other elites; it goes on in smaller concerns as well. How often does one see blacks, or indeed whites, working in Indian corner shops? I recall a few years ago when the manager of an Islamic shop in my area passed away, I indicated to the organisation which ran it that I would be willing and able to take over. I was not contacted, and eventually found that an elderly Asian man had been appointed.

And if people are saying Asians are racist, again they need to be told to bring their proof if they are truthful. I think there is some truth to it. I have personally been rebuffed for marriage on explicitly ethnic grounds twice by Asians (Bengalis); I have seen numerous marriage adverts which specify that their spouses must be from a given race or caste, and effectively I need not apply. Plain old fashioned colour racism still exists in both black and Asian communities - even where darker skins are normal, people (particularly women) want to lighten their skins, sometimes resorting to harmful and illegal whitening creams. When at sixth-form college, a fellow student told me that her mother had told her to cross the road when they saw a group of black men approaching. I’ve heard many stories of mixed marriages running into “family problems”, especially when the non-Asian partner is black. I have seen religious websites explicitly telling their Asian audiences not to marry blacks, in one case (on a Bareilawi website, supposedly based on hadeeth!) lest the colour of the mother’s skin makes the child’s appearance ugly!

Still, people might ask if the rebuffs they receive from the Asian community are not in part deserved. If a black man is turned down for marriage by an Asian family, it’s perhaps easier to tell them that because of family politics in the village back home they need a Malik or Rajput suitor than that they detest his character and the way he speaks, and perhaps they do not want to get into a religious discussion with a sectarian convert. If, for example, one has encountered the inconsiderate and intimidating behaviour of some black youths on public transport, and subsequently encounters a young black convert dressed in the parody of the Sunnah associated with certain ethno-sectarian groups in urban areas (I don’t mean the high-water pants, but the shaven head and clumpy boots) and a demeanour not far removed from the intimidating behaviour they earlier witnessed, one will not particularly desire the latter’s company for oneself, let alone one’s daughter. This sect, like those which attract middle-class white converts, instils arrogance in its recruits, allowing them to think themselves the saved sect rather than the riff-raff they are.

And all this goes on between people who share a common religion and think of themselves as “brothers” to each other. When two groups live in the same ghetto with barely anything in common except poverty, and different degrees of poverty at that, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they will come to blows at some point. Cohen notes that “blacks complained that Asians were doing too well from the government’s SRB6 grants programme”, and that white anger which fuels the BNP’s gains is motivated by “grants and services dispensed on communalist lines”. You can find a number of SRB6 projects by searching for the term on Google; they are not even targeted at Birmingham or indeed any urban areas specifically, but at anywhere where a regeneration agenda is appropriate. Among the first few hits is a rural bus service in the Vale of White Horse near Swindon. If it is going to entrepreneurs and Asians are doing well, you might ask why blacks are not going after it, or if they are not partly the authors of their failure. A “victim culture” is evident here; anyone who has been to west Africa knows that the idea that black people can’t trade is no more true than they can’t farm (commonly said of black Zimbabweans). The BNP’s capitalisation on “white anger” is often based on falsehoods anyway, as regularly exposed by Searchlight.

And as ever, he complains that the government’s policy to support faith schools amounts to “state-sponsored sectarianism”, when the religious schools I have personally experienced do not inculcate sectarianism. (The situation in Northern Ireland is obviously different, and its origins, as previously explained, are not religious schools.) If schools do push a communalist agenda and inculcate grievances in children, they need to be stopped from doing this, but religious schools are better able to teach children to be good citizens than secular schools trying to impress children with a man-made philosophy (if that). It’s worth pointing out that in places where school “segregation” has been implicated in riots in the UK, the schools in question were bad secular schools rather than religious schools. It’s an irrelevant issue to the Handsworth riots and there was simply no need to bring it in.

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