by Andy Gregg, Chief Executive, Race on the Agenda
For some years it has suited the Government and the media to drive a wedge between, on the one hand the longer settled Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities - who settled here in the first of the post-War migrations (many from the “Windrush Generation” - largely from the “New Commonwealth” and their offspring), and on the other hand the more recent migrant arrivals including refugees, asylum seekers and EU migrants often from countries that had no history of British colonial subjection.
These days, few TV commentaries on race relations are deemed complete without at least one interview with a Black or Asian British person arguing that “there are just too many immigrants”. Similar suspicions are sometimes on display at organisational levels. Whilst there is some political synergy and unity in theory between organizations representing the two constituencies, there is still a fair degree of racism from the more established communities towards newly arrived communities as well as misconceptions and suspicions in the other direction. Groups and coalitions organizing around race relations, race equality and community cohesion do not always see their responsibility to include the views or issues of newer migrants. Equally migrant and refugee organizations have sometimes been more concerned with immediate protection, arrival and family reunion issues rather than longer term settlement and race equality issues.
This situation is becoming increasingly problematic and it is good to see that organizations on both sides of the divide are now more actively trying to overcome these divisions. At ROTA we believe that this has to become a strategic priority for ROTA and for all other race equality and BAME organizations. It is clear that recent developments are pushing us in this direction. To cut a long story short: “if we don’t hang together on this they will hang us separately”.
Recent events such as the mobile billboards and the Government’s attempts to clamp down on “illegal” migration are likely to exacerbate tensions between Police and Immigration staff with all black and minority ethnic communities regardless of their length of settlement and levels of integration in the UK. In a recent Independent article, Dave Garratt of Refugee Action makes this point effectively: “The Home Office is responsible for community cohesion. Yet we are increasingly seeing what appears to be hostility towards non-white immigration, which will do nothing but incite racial tensions and divisions within otherwise rich and diverse communities”. Doreen Lawrence has attested that recent immigration raids have clearly targeted “people of colour” and rely on“racial profiling”. Attempts to round up undocumented migrants at tube stations and in other public spaces will undoubtedly start to poison race relations for all people regardless of how long they have been settled in the UK.
Attempts to cut legal migration by introducing a an earnings requirement of over £18,6000 for family reunion is already starting to affect the ability of many UK citizens to unite their families where one of the partners has been born abroad.
We must organise more effectively against the growth of the English Defence League and other racist and xenophobic organisations. The increasing unwillingness of the Government and others to see the continuing fight against racism and discrimination as a priority must also be fought tooth and nail.
These issues affect us all and should unite us rather than divide us. In the next few weeks and months we need to come together to discuss how we can build bridges between our different organisations. How can we construct wider and more powerful coalitions to challenge the dangers of racism and inequality more effectively.