Calling Malcolm X

Last night, at the age of 92, Rosa Parks died peacefully in her sleep. Refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in 1955, she unwittingly initiated the US civil rights movement. Following her arrest for this ‘crime’, Baptist minister Martin Luther King organised a mass black boycott of buses lasting over a year that prompted a change to the laws of segregation.

What would either of them think of the state of race relations in some parts of Britain today? The Independent reported yesterday that the conflict in Birmingham this weekend was sparked by rumours that a gang of Asians had gang raped a 14 year old Jamaican girl; those accused believe the claim was made to damage the business of an Asian shopkeeper selling Afro-Carribean beauty products, a pirate radio station already calling for a boycott of Asian businesses. “This is racial harmony in Britain today,” complained one shop keeper, “where a rumour of a crime leads to a mob who trash your business and want to smash your face in because of your colour.”

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote in the same newspaper yesterday that racism is getting worse. She believes that it is no longer possible to talk of racism, because racists have now been emboldened to claim victimisation whenever the accusation of racism is filed against them. It was only a matter of time — publishers have been using ‘ethnic’ authors for years to publish what would ordinarily be considered racist were it authored by a white person. Alibhai-Brown reports how Joan Rivers told Darcus Howe that she was bored with his obsession with blackness on last Wednesday’s Midweek on Radio 4, while he sugessted that she was racially prejudiced. This was a small encapsulation of a wider problem in society today, argued Alibhai-Brown.

Meanwhile Joan Smith is foaming about the religious hatred Bill in The Independent today. With this Bill we are at risk of creating a climate of ever-greater intolerance. “So dreadful is this proposed piece of legislation that people who rarely agree on anything are united in opposition to a law that will curb free speech,” she writes. She believes that if made law it will only embolden religious extremists to launch assaults on members of other faiths and secularists. Perhaps, for once, Alibhai-Brown was onto something:

“We talk incessantly about multiculturalism, faith battles, Islamophobia, integration, assimilation, segregation, immigration, terrorism, the British identity, inner-city problems and ethnic tensions, but not race — even though it colours every one of the above.”