I have long looked on at historical incidents of racism and found it disturbing, but since I've become immersed in US politics, it has taken on a whole new meaning to me. In the UK, we are no angels and for decades racism has been a part of society here too. However, I can tell you from my years of living in a town where the Pakistani community took root, things have changed dramatically. Having said that, with the rise of Nigel Farage and his UKIP Party and the Brexit fiasco, we have certainly seen an uptick in racist incidents since 2016. As you may be aware, Farage is a big friend of the former guy and often landed on your shores to pay homage to him. These people and their political allies are all cut from the same cloth and Farage took pages from the Trump playbook and deployed them here to great effect. He managed to divide the UK over membership of the EU and in doing so, will probably impact the UK economy for at least a decade. The common thread is division and it plays well with a significant portion of the white male population which then trickles down to women.
In 1970s Britain, the Pakistani community were routinely referred to as 'Pakis' whilst the Afro Caribbeans were equally disrespected, being called 'wogs' and 'coons'. We also imported the 'n' word from the US too. These terms are now looked upon with a sense of horror and some degree of shame. We feel desperately uncomfortable at even the thought of their use. However, if you speak to people from my parent's generation, they really struggle to see what the problem is and the same goes for statements they make in conversation about the gay community. As for trans communities, well they simply can't get their heads around that at all. I find it uncomfortable to write about, but the reality is, it's as much a generational issue as anything else. My dear late mum was a lovely woman who spent her working life in the care sector, visiting old folk and making their life better for her efforts. She would do anything to help anyone regardless of the color of their skin or who they chose to love, but often her choice of words in conversation in relation to others that were different, were at times, inappropriate. I would speak up and point out that what she was saying was disrespectful, to which the reply would be, 'I don't mean anything by it'. Did that make her racist or homophobic? Should I have been more forceful in condemnation of her inappropriate statements? Probably I should, but she was who she was and she was my mum. The good she did in her life, in my view, far outweighed her at times inappropriate comments.
My father on the other hand was a different animal. A half Irishman who left school at 14 and navigated his way in a world that at that time was as discriminatory to the Irish, as they later were to the influx of Asians into the UK. He had first hand experience of discrimination and the damage it caused. At 16, he got a job at the local glass bottle factory sweeping up glass and he worked his way up, all the way to becoming a member of the senior management team by the time he retired. He was an uncompromising fixed in his ways sort of man, who liked a drink and was not frightened to have his say. He became a major player in local politics in the Labour Party and was a much respected member of his local community. I tell this story because he was a man ahead of his time in terms of understanding the value of immigration and the good that a diverse population brought to the community.
He became the go to guy to get a job in the glass factory for local asians. 'Mr Pat' as he was affectionately known, (Patrick being his first name), was the man that gave them the work which fed their families and helped them build a life here. He once told me, I would employ a Pakistani worker any day in preference to a local. They have a work ethic that makes them the most productive workforce I have ever managed. The factory wanted to pay them less wages, but he had got them all to join the Union for which he was shop steward. He simply called them all out on strike. Within a week the owners capitulated. Without their Asian workforce they were dead in the water. As time passed, 'Mr Pat' became one of their own, her was invited to weddings, funerals and many of their religious events. He made provision in the workplace to accommodate Ramadan and created a space to pray as their faith demanded. He was a man ahead of his time and as a young boy, Christmas was the best time ever, as processions of his workers would turn up at our house with a bottle of booze for dad and a gift for me. They just wanted to show their appreciation for what he had done for them and their families, in what at times could be a hostile environment.
My father never saw anyone with a different color skin, as anything other than his equal. He was seen as a 'Paki lover', even by people he saw as his friends. However, in his world, God made us all equal and he lived by a set of values that everyone should have an equal chance in life. He helped people get housing, set up a charity to provide second hand furniture and appliances to families that struggled to make ends meet. When I look back, he was a pretty fine human being. Before you pick up any hero worship, he had his problems too, not least of them being his drinking, which at times saw some conflict. Me and my dad had a somewhat strained relationship, because I thought he should have treated mum better. For me he should have put her first sometimes, instead of his ever growing list of crusades. However, on balance, he was a good man and on the day he died the strangest thing happened. After he passed, I had to get a taxi home. Conversation with the asian taxi driver turned to a conversation about my dad and when I arrived at home, the taxi driver said 'this one is on me, Mr Pat was a legend in my family, it's the least I can do'. It was a touching moment that still sticks in my mind a decade on.
I think what I'm trying to say, is that racism is an abhorrent blight on society, but it is a very very complex subject that has a history and is deeply embedded in the psyche of society. The challenge is, the speed at which change needs to place and in the US, it appears to move at a snails pace, sometimes taking one step forward and two steps back. Race, whether you like it or not, is at the very heart of American politics. The co-ordinated effort to suppress minority votes is inherently racist. The ever growing number of young black men killed at the hands of law enforcement, speaks to systemic racism in the police. The number of incarcerate black men is a damning indictment on a clearly racist criminal justice system. The question for today is, how you can change it? I fear meaningful change is a long way off. I don't think there will ever be a time given our tribal nature, that you will be able to eliminate racism, it is simply beyond us as a species. However, can we learn to respect each other's differences and not be in haste to kill someone, just because they are different. Of course we can do better, we just need to try harder and show respect. You don't need a budget for that, it's for FREE. All you need is a little thought and consideration for your fellow man. How hard can it be? Clearly too hard for some.