In Britain during the 1970s and 80s the face of racism was albeit an ugly one. Members of the far-right racist political party the National Front reigned the streets of Britain with violence, petty vandalism, racially motivated attacks and murder. News about minorities in the British was rarely ever positive, often linking the Asian and Caribbean community with crime, gang rivalry, drugs and as the sole reason for the lack of employment opportunities.
The government responded to the number of immigrants entering Britain, with a series of Immigration acts. During their time of election, the conservative party in its immigration drafted rules, claimed that ‘firm immigration control’ was necessary to calm the ‘genuine fears’ of our ‘own people’. Minorities were constantly made to feel as outsiders and not part of the ‘national community’. Immigration became a politically charged issue. And around the UK, the National Front were on the rise.
Nina Johal, who grew up in West London recalls her experiences of racism at the age of four “my Mum, would send myself and my elder sister to the shops to buy milk, on one occasion we were chased by a dog who was set loose by a member of the National Front, it was absolutely terrifying”. Nina and her family eventually moved from East London to Greenford, situated on the boarders of Southall. Nina’s father sought a job as a bus driver and on many occasions was physically assaulted. “We told the police, but nothing was done”, says Nina.
In Southall, rioting and protests took place after the murder of 18-year-old Gurdip Singh Chaggar. A week later, the Southall Youth Movement (SYM) formed, taking to the streets to fight against racists gangs, challenging the racist politics of Britain and the prejudicial behaviour of police towards the Asian and Black community, who were often reluctant to become involved in cases where the victim was of non-white origin. A study of the beliefs and practices of the London met police has revealed that racist practices and beliefs were prominent in the force. Asian and black men were constantly stopped and searched, often officers would use their position of power to act with immunity from the consequences of their actions.
The Southall Youth movement was pivotal in ensuring the National Front never enter into Southall again. Once represented as speechless actors in the news, Asians and Black community fought back with resistance and force to show Britain, they are not submissive, nor are they here to money scrounge, but they are part of Britain as equally as it’s white citizens. Across the country, the resistance and power of the people in the Black and Asian community began to see a number of movement’s forming. People came together with their collective shared experiences of racism and challenged racism through legal and political campaigns, music and culture.
Kulwant Singh, was three years old when Gurdip was murdered. He grew up hearing the stories and challenges the Asian community faced, describing it as ‘alarming’ and ‘shocking’. Originally from the golf-links estate, Kulwant first experienced physical racism in his teenage years. “I was heading back home from the playcentre, and an older white youth confronted me, he became abusive and before I knew I was physically assaulted. I came home with a broken nose and blooded face, it is something I have had to live with, and it carried on in the estate I grew up in and the high school I went to”.
40 years later – Southall pays respect
In remembrance of Mr. Chaggar and journalist Blair Peach ‘A March for Unity against Racism’ took place in Southall last week. Residents from Southall and members of the public from other towns came together in the procession that was led by young people from Southall. Placards and flags echoed the resistance of the fight against racism, which still exists today. A number of individuals from MPs, trade unionists, anti-fascist organisations and others spoke at the rally which stopped outside of the town hall.
Speaking at the event Pragna Patel the director of Southall Black Sisters said, “I watched the events of ‘79 unfold on my TV at my parents’ home on the outskirts of Southall, and I had a overwhelming feeling that what I was witnessing was a watershed moment in the history of Asian struggles in the UK, what I saw made me realise that it was okay to not to submit the bestial racism that we faced daily. Over the last 40 years we have formed a secular and regressive feminist politics that simultaneously challenges patriotic power and gender inequality as well as racism and fascism."
The event also highlighted the engrained prejudice of the UK’s political system, employment prospects, social mobility, criminal justice and the education system. In 2016 when the Brexit referendum took place more than 14,000 hate crimes were recorded between July and September. Figures published by the Home Office in 2016 suggested the number of hate crimes in July 2016 had been 41% higher than12 months earlier.
As Brexit looms in the background, it has brought with it a rise of the far-right, allowing racist and fascist groups across Europe to dominate the conversation on Brexit through its anti-fascist propaganda. Once again phrases such as ‘we want our country back’ and ‘make Britain great again’ flood the streets in pro-Brexit rallies.
Britain is a multi-cultural society and it is the diversity of this country which makes Britain truly ‘great’, our government must address the systematic engrained racism of this country and for change to come strict sanctions and actions must be put into place to ensure that events which rocketed Britain in the 70’s and 80’s never take place again.