I was at the Democratic convention in Seattle the night that Barack Obama was elected and I was pleased to have witnessed what will always be one of the greatest moments of my life, watching the first African American President of the USA being elected.
I was also present at the Southall riots, the Brixton riots and had the misfortune to be selling Jamaican patties at the Notting Hill Carnival one year when the riots kicked off. This period was really our civil rights moment in England. Lord Scarman’s report published in November 1981 on the riots has shaped the discourse since that time and there is no doubt that we have made great strides in the UK since the 1980s. The many people who managed to buy a house in the UK in the 1980s have done well, and in general terms we have integrated fairly successfully but there is still a long way to go. We continue to be more likely to be stopped and indeed, incarcerated, than any other community in the UK. One great positive feature has been the expansion of education to reach nearly 50% of young people; this has opened up cultural awareness and to some degree, increased tolerance.
Some months ago we set out a number of areas which need to be tackled to convince many from the BME community to vote;
- Racism and equal opportunities in Europe
Racism and equal opportunities in Europe.
The 2015 The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) Report outlines some of the problems with racism in Europe:
In Sweden, 1 in 4 people of African descent with a university degree are in low-skilled jobs, as they were unable to get a job which matched their qualifications.
In Finland, the national unemployment average is 8.7% and 41.2% for people of African origin;
A Nigerian doctor raised in Greece was a victim of hate speech while treating a patient in hospital. A man told her “you people need Hitler and some soap”.
In Italy a 14 year old student of Nigerian origin was attacked outside his school by two pupils in the same school and racially insulted.
In Ireland a young teenage boy was racially abused by a nun, calling him a monkey and suggesting that he could climb trees.
Racist crimes that target black people have been linked to far right groups in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Sweden. Other countries report that visible minorities are at higher risk of experiencing violence.
The UK does not come out well in the report but due to the length of time that we have been here, and the fight for greater representation, we are further along than many European countries. France which has the largest Black minority 3.9% seems to be going backwards with the resignation of Christine Taubira the black French Justice Minister.
If we look at the European institutions themselves there is less than 1.0% black employment.
The 2.2 billion people that make up the Commonwealth will find it harder to work and study in the UK even when they have the relevant skills and qualifications.
Recent events with David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn have been particularly disappointing.
“David Cameron's visit to Jamaica in September 2015 exemplified breath taking arrogance and insensitivity. The offer of £25 million as contribution towards a jail that would house Jamaicans currently held in British prisons was an insult. Admittedly the reparations argument was poorly articulated and should have been presented in a better fashion but the disrespect was deeply felt. Over the last couple of years the Jamaican Government has embarked on a comprehensive and ambitious program of reforms for which it has garnered both national and international support. The reform program is beginning to bear fruit.” (BAC article, February 2016)
The question of slave owners getting compensation was made more personal with Cameron's relative Sir James Duff who was awarded compensation from the Grange Sugar Estate, was dismissively brushed aside.
Portia Simpson, the Jamaican Prime Minister, felt the backlash from Cameron’s visit at the election on 25 February 2016 where she lost the election by two seats. There was a general feeling that she had been disrespected by David Cameron.
There was general dismay at the tone of Corbyn’s remarks speaking on the BBC in April 2016, he advocated direct rule for some of the Caribbean islands:
“Corbyn argued that the government should tell administrations in places like the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands: “Hang on, you are a government of a British dependent territory, a crown territory, you must OBEY UK tax law, you must not become a harbour for tax avoidance and tax evasion.”
He went on to say;
“There was precedence for direct rule to be imposed", Corbyn argued, and it should be done. “The point is that they are not independent territories. They are self-governing, yes, but they are British crown dependent territories”.
He sounded like a colonial admiral telling these foreign colonials to get in line or we will invade. The tone was wrong even though Caribbean countries know the importance for transparency as well as they do in Isle of Man where you can just as easily have faceless companies. He talks down to our commonwealth partners.
Since February 2016 much has been done in this area but the stinging rebuke of David Cameron by Barack Obama is a sharp criticism of the UK’s role in allowing Libya to become a “shit show” after the fall of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
In his stinging rebuke, President Obama said that following a successful military intervention to aid rebels during the 2011 Arab Spring revolt, Libya was left to spiral out of control – due largely to the inaction of America’s European allies. Many of the Libyan refugees are being sent back under the most recent European plans. What we need to be able to do is choose without preferential treatment for the countries in the EU.
Whist agreeing to let in 20,000 Asylum seekers from Syria over five years there is nothing about Libyan refugees - we need a comprehensive and balanced approach to immigration which is proportionate and fair.
Back in February BAC outlined what the government had to do to make us say Yes to Europe and one of those things was to provide greater support for our Commonwealth partners. Both Corbyn and Cameron have alienated rather than supported and encouraged so we should vote NO as a community. These links need to be strengthened not weakened by staying in the European Community. Historically, Europe has damaged trade with the Caribbean e.g. bananas and sugar. BAC’s fear of racism from the East and paternalism and lack of equal opportunities in the rest of Europe, as demonstrated by the low number of BME working in the EU institutions exemplifies that Europe would be a bad bet for our community. The current system with the EU is not fair to our relatives and is certainly not fair to the Libyans we have left in such a mess.
I think we should only vote Yes if we feel there will be real progress in these areas otherwise we should vote No.