Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Racism today

Hostility towards migrants is on the increase. David Renton reviews a new book by Arun Kundani which puts contemporary racism in perspective

May 23, 2008
4 min read

The End of Tolerance: Racism in Twenty-first Century Britain

Arun Kundnani

(Pluto, 2007, £15.99)

In 1971, the full-time worker for the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Community Relations Commission was a 26-year- old activist by the name of Chris Mullard. Interviewed by a local newspaper on Edward Heath’s then government’s proposed immigration bill, Mullard warned that the consequences of the legislation, if passed, would be harsh. ‘This bill,’ Mullard said, ‘is the last step the government can take before a deportation order bill.’ Almost four decades later, his prediction has come true.

Just 378 people were removed forcibly from Britain in 1975, four years after Mullard gave his interview. Since then, the numbers have risen continuously, reaching an annual figure of more than 65,000 by 2002.

In the past six years, the fear of Islamist violence has been used to justify the extension of new powers to the state, greater than those claimed even in the wartime crises of 1914-18 and 1939-45. Individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activities, but not tried by any court, have been subject to indefinite detention. When the House of Lords ruled that such practices were incompatible with the Human Rights Act they were replaced by control orders, 16- hour days of house arrest.

In this context, Arun Kundnani’s book could not be more timely. And perhaps no one in Britain is better placed to write it. For the past decade, Kundani has worked for the Institute of Race Relations, editing its news service, meeting a new generation of community activists and working also with an older generation, in which the outstanding individual has been A Sivanandan, the editor of Race and Class.

Kundnani has an eye for the unfamiliar detail. Many readers of Red Pepper will recall the killing in 1993 of Joy Gardner, the 40- year-old Jamaican woman whose tourist visa to Britain had expired. Police officers bound her arms to her body with cuffs and wrapped her head in 13 feet of adhesive tape. Fewer, I imagine, will recall the killing of Omasase Lumumba, the nephew of the first Congolese president, Patrice Lumumba, to which Kundnani affords equal detail.

Lumumba was killed by prison officers in Catford in 1991. He was arrested on suspicion of stealing a bicycle and then accused of being in Britain unlawfully. Agitated by his detention, he refused an order to return to his cell; officers pinned his arms, legs and head to the ground. By the time a doctor arrived, he was dead.

Kundani has a talent to transform a familiar narrative into something memorable and new. Reading his account of the press campaign against Roma refugees from the Czech Republic and Slovakia arriving in Dover in 1997, I could recall without difficulty the hostility of the Daily Mail and of other newspapers. Only on reading Kundani’s account did I realise that the total number of Czech and Slovak asylum seekers in Britain that year was fewer than 500.

Again, reading his book, I was reminded of the extraordinary upsurge of hostility to migration that so marked the summers of 2001 and 2002: the campaigns of thousands of people against refugees in Kent, Sussex, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Dorset and Lincolnshire. Compared to the numbers recently mobilised by the Sun, the Mail, the Express and the like, the much-better-known events of 1968, when fewer than 500 dockers marched for Enoch Powell, deserve not even a footnote in history. And yet Kundnani’s book is the first to have given the racism of our times the attention it deserves.

One of the hardest tasks for those who try to campaign against the new racism is to break the indifference of the majority. Most people in Britain simply have no idea of the numbers of people in jail now for doing nothing more than being refugees. Among activists, as they come into contact with asylum campaigns, a common cycle can be seen. People realise just how bad Britain has become and respond with great anger. But seeing quickly also the weakness of the refugee and other defence movements, activists become despondent. The anger is replaced by what can seem like indifference.

Kundnani has written the book to pierce that apathy

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook


1