PREPARE FOR A RISE IN BIGOTRY
If there is one thing that drives my political thinking it is a desire to face up to bigotry. As a child, my parents joined a scheme to help Dr Barnardo Home children by giving them a family to visit on Sundays. Joan came to us. She was West Indian and I well remember the appalling comments of the children in my street directed at both her and me when they saw that she was black. I learned more about the impact of racial segregation living in Botswana as a teenager and being baffled by apartheid rules in Johannesburg airport on my way there.
My rage at prejudice of any tupe embedded deeply in my psyche and had much to do with my first, tentative forays into politics, following National Front activists late and night and stripping down their posters while they were still wet. It also influenced by production of a special magazine for the Commission For Racial Equality in the 1990s, using my background in music to teach schoolkids about the evils of racism.
Working for Peter Gabriel’s Real World company introduced me to the thrill of sharing cultures. I worked and performed with musicians such as Guo Yue from China, Ayub Ogada from Kenya and just before Christmas with the brilliant Johnny Kalsi, one of the most exciting Dohl drummers you could ever meet.
It staggers me that any racial tensions can continue to fester when there is so much pleasure to be gained from mixing with fascinating people from different cultures, sharing their music, their ideas, their food. Yet we need to be careful in the current economic climate. Already the forces of nationalism are gathering to blame anyone of non-white Anglo background for our ills. They will spread lies and dissent and we must do our utmost to fight them.
After years of progress, the paranoia spread by mainstream politicians and the media about immigration – especially the deliberate conflation of true refugees and asylum seekers with illegal migrants – has fuelled the fires of hatred. It’s resulted in the knee-jerk reactions I saw working with the Chinese community in the UK over Borders Agency raids on restaurants – hauling waiters and kitchen staff away in front of shocked customers. It’s driven idiotic policies such as the London Metropolitan University closure that’s driven away millions of pounds in foreign income from students too scared to come here.
It will get worse. UKIP’s thinly disguised attacks on “illegal” immigration are just the tip of the bigotry iceberg. There are plenty on the Tory benches who have a blind spot on the advantages of UK immigration and multi-culturalism. Nick Clegg once said to me that even though the reason for fearing immigration wasn’t real, the fear itself was and should be understood. I believe the best way to tackle it is to educate people in the advantages of immigration and to make people of different communities feel comfortable interacting and living together.
Britain is so much the richer for our multi-cultural community. I have no problem at all with the concept of multi-culturalism. Living in London I experienced it full on and loved it. People should revel in their cultural heritage. It adds so much to our life experience.