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  

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones