The Art of Racism:
It is appropriate to cite the experiences of the world famous cricketer, Sir Learie Constantine, to expose the extent to which racism and racial discrimination have become works of art in the culture of white British heritage. His experience will enable our young to understand that the changes and opportunities that they enjoy today are a direct response to WISC's campaign for change in social austerity to an appreciation of more harmonious relations brought about by the 1965 Race Relations ACT.
The social environment in Britain in the 1940s was steeped in overt racism because of the belief that the white skin is superior to the black skin; and that those of black skin have a duty to be submissive to the whims of those who are white. Based on this premise, West End hotels refused accommodation to black skinned people.
In 1943 Learie Constantine, one of the world's most distinguished cricketers sued the Imperial Hotel and won his case. CLR James another distinguihed son of Trinidad commented,"Learie revolted against the revolting contrast between his first class status as a cricketer and his third class status as a man". However, Constattine's legal victory made little impact on the imbeded racism and the struggle against the humiliating forms of colour bar in Britain.
Constantine and his family were involved in an incident of gross racial abuse that made the national headlines. It was reported that Constantine had booked accommodation and paid a deposit to the Imperial Hotel. Because of previous unhappy experiences, he checked and had it confirmed that the hotel would accept ‘coloured people’. On arrival at the hotel in Russell Square he was told in insulting terms by the woman manager that ‘We will not have niggers in the hotel because of the Americans. If they stay tonight, their luggage will be put out tomorrow and the doors locked.’
The attributes of racially prejudiced white customers were commonly used as an excuse to exclude non‐white people from hotels, restaurants, and dances. Constantine and his family went to another hotel, but he sued the Imperial Hotel for breach of contract. The case was heard in June 1944 and Constantine was awarded damages in the sum of £5. The incident did not bring to an end, racial discrimination in places that served the public, although other bodies unsuccessfully demanded legislation to outlaw such behaviour.
Learie Constantine, a popular broadcaster, was awarded the MBE in 1945, was called to the Trinidad bar in 1955, and served as Trinidad and Tobago's High Commissioner from 1961 to 1964. He was knighted in 1962 and made a life peer - Baron Constantine of Maraval and Nelson in 1969. He died in 1971.
Constantine's book Colour Bar (1954) illustrates his bitter account of prevailing racial prejudice and discrimination in Britain and in the British Empire several years after the end of a war fought partly over racism and the Jewish Holocaust. Britain had forgotten about its own domination and its own deep rooted involvement in the African Holocaust of Slavery for over 500 years.
Constantine and his wife experienced racial hostility when they went to live in Nelson. However, their easy manner and graciousness earned them local friends and to some extent his cricketing fame protected them from the kind of abuse that many people of African Heritage suffered on a daily basis. Early in the Second World War, while Constantine was working in a solicitor's office,he was asked to serve as a welfare officer for the Ministry of Labour and National Service looking after the interests of West Indian munitions workers and West African seamen in the Liverpool area. Part of this work involved negotiating with trade unions and employers who refused to accept 'black people' as members or employees.
Constantine wrote that older unions, such as the Boilermakers', opposed 'black workers' entering the industry, whereas the electrical unions were more cooperative and 'black members' served their union committees. As a consequnce of some firms either refusing to employ men of African Heritage, or put endless delays in their way, in the hope that they will seek employment elsewhere, Constantine wrote, ‘I used to get the Ministry to press those firms for most urgent delivery of orders, and then they found that they must take some coloured workers. With urgent work to be done, they were forced to give way.’
In his book The Colour Bar (1954), he summed up his experience of Britain and the British thus:
Almost the entire population in Britain really expect the coloured man to live in an inferior area…devoted to coloured people…Most British people would be quite unwilling for a black man to enter their homes, nor would they wish to work with one as a colleague, nor stand shoulder to shoulder with one at a factory bench.
One young man who was excluded and is now a successful businessman summarises the hatered which led to the Notting Hill riots, "It was commonplace for the maggots - the whites to call us- nigger, coon, wog, sambo, monkey. Being grossly outnumbered, we did not respond to their jibes. Many internalised the racism of my youth. They hate me, yet they want my tan, my food which keeps me young in my old age, whilst they crack-up and fall apart. My teachers did not like my contemtuous stare. My eyes spoke for me. They told them of my distaste. I was excluded for not responding to their psychological abuse."
WISC'S Impact on the Socio-economic Changes:
The Notting Hill Race Riots was the trigger for the proactive action by people of African Heritage to confront those who threatenrd their safety. Notting Hill, North Kensington in the 1950's was an area of slum housing, poverty and crime. It was not the play ground for the wealthy with multi-million pound properties as it is today. Notting Hill was dominated by the 'unscrupulous landlord Rachman' who housed black people. Sir Oswald Mosely and his Teddy Boys, distributed leaflets and held meetings directing their venom against the Caribbean Migrants, in their quest to 'Keep Britain White'.
In the Summer of 1958, Notting Hill was a battleground. Gangs of Teddy Boys were becoming increasingly violent toward anyone who was Black. Caribbean shops and business experienced unceasing attacks. It is argued that the prejudices of the indigenous poor increased as they perceived themselves to be slipping further down the social scale; to a level regarded to be lower than slaves.
Whites regarded the dirty West Indians as the root cause of all their problems. In 1958 there was also a proliferation of fascist/neo-Nazi groups in the area. The traditional intolerance of the pubs in Notting Dale towards outsiders, was fueled by the acts of racism orchestrated by Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement, the National Labour Party and the White Defence League.
Mosley’s calls for the repatriation of black migrants were voiced in the press and by government backbenches. The White Defence League’s Black and White News carried the following headlines, ‘Blacks Seek White Women’ and ‘Blacks Milk the Assistance Board’. The office of the White Defence/Protection League led by Colin Jordan, on Tavistock Road, became renowned for its swastika flag and military music. The National Labour Party led by John Bean and John Tyndall published the fascist Combat journal. The League of Empire Loyalists became Hitler's frontline in Notting Hill.
Against that kind of racist venom, on 24 August, incidents in Shepherd's Bush and Notting Hill, involved white youths assaulting Black men, leaving some seriously injured. In the following weeks groups of white youths, armed with knives, iron bars, and other weapons went on a rampage leaving more 'black men' so seriously injured, they had to be hospitalised.
It is generally accepted that the riot erupted when a domestic dispute between a black man, Raymond Morrison and his white Swedish wife, Majbritt Morrison, near Latimer Road Tube station. A crowd got involved and the ensuing arguements escalated to violent clashes.
A lynchmob of around 400 white men chased the Caribbean residents, who had now joined forces in to defend themselves. Whites attacked houses occupied by West Indians. Petrol bombs and bottles were thrown. There were clashes each night, until the police eventually regained control on 5th September. Around 140 people black and white were arrested.
The rioting lasted for about six weeks between August and September 1958. West Indians complainwed to the police, “We can’t go home. Our homes are surrounded by young teenagers, hurling petrol bombs at our homes. and beating, kicking and fighting people all along the street. You the police are doing nothing to protect us, and when we try to protect ourselves you are arresting and charging with affray.
On the following day, the Daily Mirror's headline read: ‘400 Clash in ‘Colour’ Riot – Police squads rush to Notting Hill – Patrolling cars are stoned – Black v White: What we must do…’
The Daily Telegraph had: ‘Race riots flared in Britain lastnight. Petrol bombs and thousands of milk bottles were thrown at police in West London after white youths taunted black immigrants with racist slogans. Rioting continued through much of the night, and this morning the streets of Notting Hill Gate are strewn with broken glass and other debris. Several people were badly hurt, and 59 people were being charged with carrying offensive weapons and other offences…3 petrol bombs were thrown. Special Branch officers were investigating the possibility of extreme rightwing inspiration behind the rioting.
It was against that backdrop of social conflict that Norman Manley at a meeting held at Friends House, Euston, recommended the formation of an organisation to work towards building a harmonious relationship between the white host community, and citizens from the British Colonies. He emphasied that people from the West Indies were travelling with passports which defined them as, 'Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies.' .
1958: West Indian Standing Conference was inaugurated in October 1958. The West Indian Standing Conference did not have any immediate effect on the racial conflicts. It was building an organisation from scratch with no resources, yet laying the strategic Vision and Mission for an organisation to represent and advocate for harmony to end the overt racism which was voiced by the white public, and mentored by the politicians in Government. The racism exercised by those who should have been the exemplars of excellence, created the environment in which we had to advocate for laws to address the debates on slavery, colonialism and the overt racism which ignored the commitment by people of African Heritage, especially from the Caribbean who were prepared to lay down their lives in defence of Britain against Germany's Nazis.
The Vision and Mission - Advocacy, Representation and Advice: WISC chose advocacy, representation and advice as the format for challenging issues of racial discrimination and harassment. The areas of casework were in housing, education, employment and police conflict and racism in eployment - especially verbal abuse.
On 17 May 1959, a carpenter from Antigua, Kelso Cochrane a 32 year old carpenter from Antigua, was fatally stabbed in Kensal Rise by a gang of white men. This became the social turning point, with more than 1,200 people, both black and white, attending his funeral. The killing of Cochrane appeared to have impacted a barrier to Oswald Mosley winning his contested seat in the General election. xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
: WISC began its campaign for Equality and Human Rights as the centrepiece for creating an equal, just and fair society. The Campaign caused the advent of the 1965 Race Relations Act which created the Race Relations Board and the Race Relations Industry. It follows that all those, including Trevor Phillips, Chariman of the Single Commission for Equality and Human Rights, who work in this industry, owe a debt of gratitude to the West Indian Standing Conference for its foresight and dedication to create an enduring race relations heritage in Britain. In 2004, the Labour Government provided funds for extensive consultations on their proposal to abolish the Commissions and create a Single Commission for Equality and Human Rights.
Historians in writing the history of Africa and her Diaspora have a propensity to exclude those people from any deserving credit for any significant work which have enhanced the heritage of Britain. The 1965 Race Relations ACT is a case in point. They write the history with the claim that the Government through the goodness of their hearts, enacted the 1965 Race Relations ACT. By exercising that kind of bias, at a stroke they have denied the credit due to the West Indian Stannding Conference. Therefore the responsibility falls upon the WISC to provide the narrative which illuminates the true social history. The font of the notion was significanlty and totally the domain of Joseph A Hunte: He offered this hypothesis as the frame work for putting into law conditions which would make it criminal offence to discriminate in the following areas:
"In a democracy, the Government of the day has a responsibility to create an environment in which all its people, irrespective of race, colour, class, creed, sexuality, or disability are given equal access to education; and to participate equally in the creation of he wealth of the nation."
It follows therefore that the Government of the day, under Harold Wilson, did not gift the 1965 Race Relations Act. The Act came about because people of African Heritage refused to turn the other cheek in the face of near fatal assaults. The victims decided to strike back. The Government was told that "Black people are queuing to buy machettes." Machettes was withdraw from sale. It was a prize which was hard fought for and won by the commitment of the people of African Heritage to stand their and not turn the other cheek in the face of the suprious racism and racial discrimination. Other communities did not support the campaign when the going was tough. They came on board only after the event; and when they realised that there were benefits to be had from making use of the Act. Today, all other communities have benfitted significantly from the Act, compared to those in the West Indian Standing Conference and the national African Heritage Community. There are pockets of funding success, but when compared to the success of other communties, the African Heritage community remains miniscule. Where people of African Heritage have built quality organisations, institutional racism is put into play to arrest the organisation from the control of people of African Heritage and give control to people of their own kind.
Such has been the experience of Presentation Housing Association which was built by a concerned group of African Heritage when it was common place to have housing notices which read, " Flats and Rooms to Let! No Children! No Irish! No dogs! No Coloureds!" The Housing Corporation has used its powers to take away Presentation Housing Association and give control to Notting Hill Housing Trust.
McPherson perception of institutional racism has been very evident in the Housing Corporation's Judgement. Those of us who are the Founding Fathers of Presentation Housing Association will argue that the anomalies were not that significant when comapared to the loss of £183 biillions by the banks and the y have been recapitalised. The Labour Government under Gordon Brown refinanced the banks in th sum of £183 billions pounds after the bankers claimed that they had lost that enormous sum of money. How can intelligent and competent bankers loose £183 billions or whatever the true sum is? The Government can recapitalse white controlled banks, even though they are not sure how these vast sums have been lost. How can one loose such a vast sum? The Housing Corporation has used its authority to take away Presentation Housing Association (PHA) for miniscule anomalies in service repairs to the properties to give responsility for PHA to Notting Hill Housing Association.
In the early 1960’s bringing to the attention of the public, the miss-education of Black children, and the high incidence of those children being subjected to poor education in schools for the Educationally Sub-Normal (ESN). WISC won the day in the field in witnessing the Inner London Education Authority taking a decision to phase out the practice of ESNs.
The first Caribbean streeT Carnival was organised by Joseph A Hunte (JoeHunte) as joint effort between St John's Inter-Racial Club and West Indian Standing Conference as an option for building the integration upon which West Indian Standing Conference's Mission was founded in 1958. A number of people came from Notting Hill which had been the residential area for many Trinidadians. The route of the Carnival procession was from Brockwell Park in Herne Hill to the Roundabout at Waterloo Bridge and back. The Carnival was supported by Lambeth Town Hall from 1960 to 1962. Further funding was refused in 1963 and on the August Bank Holiday of 1963 a young man named Leslie Palmer and a friend danced in the heavy rain on the streets of Ladbroke Grove. As they say, "The rest is history." The streetCarnival has achieved the purpose intended by Joe Hunte and the West Indian Standing Conference.
: WISC opposed the design and intent of the 1962 Immigration Act which openly descriminated against people of African Heritage. The Act was designed to stop people of African Heritage from taking up residenct in Britain. Migrants were coming from British Colonies with passports which defined them as "Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies." The 1962 Immigrations Act was the first salvo to take away the rights to entry under the 1948 British Nationality Act.
: The Tory Party overtly displayed its contempt for people of African Heritage by using the issues of race in its campaign to win the forthcoming election. Its election bill boards carried the lyrical message, "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour." WISC wrote to the Tory Party complaining about the inherent racism, but the Party refused to remove the bill boards or to apologise for its racism.
1965 Equal Opportunities
: WISC’s contribution to the growth, maturity and development of British Society has been the concept of Equality of Opportunity as hypothesised by its Secretary, the late Joseph Alexander Hunte. The principle which was enshrined in the 1965 Race Relations Act spawning the Race Relations Board. A revision of the Act in 1968 created the Community Relations Councils (CRCs). A further revision in 1976 created the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). A further revision in 2000 created the Disability Rights Commission. At Joe Hunte’s death in 1983, he was posthumously awarded the accolade, ‘Father of Community Relations,’ by Robbie Robinson, Deputy Chairman of the CRE.
: Employment was made more difficult for people of African Heritage. In the Labour Exchanges (now called Job Centre Plus) companies that had not wish to employ people of African Heritage were allowed to stamp the vacancy notices with the letters N.C.P in red. The letters were not to be interpreted as National Car Park. They signified "No Coloured Person". Against that kind of bigotry, WISC fought a sterling battle to drive racism out of employment. WISC's first major succes was against London Transport's recruitment and retention policy. WISC won the battle for the appontment of the first bus inspector of African Heritage. In the wake of that success the media carried reports on the first appointment of people of African Heritage in every field of work.
WISC‘s continuing campaign have created opportunities for people to occupy positions of authority in the respective parties, in every discipline, including sports in the United Kingdom. Without the advent of the 1965 Race Relations Act and the successive revisions in 1968, 1976, 1999 and 2007, people of African Heritage would still watching from the side lines, and dreaming about the notion of inclusion.
Playing a key role in giving evidence to government to mitigate the severe discrimination inherent in the 1962, 68, 71 and 1981 British Nationality Act. In this regard WISC was centrally instrumental in having the fees for British Nationality Registration reduced from £175.00 to £60.00 per person for the transition period 1983-88. WISC continued to campaign to have eradicated from the 1981 British Nationality Act, Section 44 which states, “A child born after January 1 1983 to parents who are not registered as British citizens does not have the right to become British.” Those children can now achieve British Citizenship through naturalisation, registration or adoption. To understand the need to continue the campaign, one has to be conscious of the security of citizenship the 1971 Commonwealth Immigration Act offers to people from the old Commonwealth who can prove that they have either a parent or a grand-parent born in the United Kingdom.
WISC submitted evidence of racial harassment as a causal factor in 1981 riots in Brixton to the Scarman Inquiry. Over the decades, WISC’s discussions and negotiations with the respective Commissioners of the MET, but especially, Sir John Stevens, have led to changes in the mode of arrest and brought about a model for minimising the incidence of deaths in custody. WISC has made a significant contribution in its submission to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. The Commissioner took WISC’s advice to establish medical centres in police stations in the Metropolitan area, to offer medical care to the detained.
It was a habitual practice to Local Councils to deny Black people access to the housing list unless they can show evidence of having lived in the Borough for five years. WISC also drew attention to the Wilson Government, the ignominy inherent in notices advertising accommodation: “Rooms and Flats to let, No Children, No Irish, No Dogs, No Coloureds.” That practice was terminated by law in 1966. In 1968, four members of WISC led by Adrian Betrand Thompson, Joseph A Hunte, Clarence Thompson and Patricia Stephens joined with three other community members: Hansan Ali, Mr D Gordon, Mr Alexis; and life President, Neil Wates of Wates Foundation
WISC has organised Seminars on the following issues:
- Cuts in funding to the Black Community in which 95% of black led charities are not in receipt of grants
- Evaluation of Black Nurses’ contribution to the Health Service
- Study on Caribbean diets with Manchester University which led to a video titled: ‘Healthy Eating’. The video is being road showed
WISC's written Submissions:
- Stephen Lawrence Inquiry
- Revision of 1976 Race Relations Act
- Revision of 1983 Mental Health Act
- Revision of Section 11 Funding
- Immigration and Asylum Powers on Information (Sections 134 -139)
- The Government's Green Paper on Identity Cards
WISC was commended by Jacqui Smith MP, Parliamentary under- Secretary of State for Education, for its contribution to the education debate on Complementary (nee: Supplementary schools)
WISC has hosted seminars on:
- Prostrate Cancer and Black Men’s health
- Managing Diabetes
- Stress Management
- Strength in Diversity
- Single Commission for Equality and Human Rights
- Creating a cohesive voice for peoples of African heritage (18 October 2006)
Immigration and Asylum: WISC continues to assist those clients who wish to have permanence to their leave to remain in the United Kingdom.
WISC members are encouraged to become active citizens by helping to establish a number of frontline community organisations.
Therefore, WISC has supported the quest to establish Presentation Housing Association (1968), the Queen Mother Moore Saturday School (1981) and the 198 Gallery (1988). WISC’s leading members were engaged in working with the 198 Galley to establish a memorial in Max Roach Park, Brixton, London; in honour of the 700 children who were shot in Soweto in 1976.
WISC’s Chairman Clarence Thompson worked with Joe Benjamin of Brixton to name Windrush Square in Brixton in honour of those who came to Britain on SS Windrush in June 1948. Windrush Square has been refurbished and reopened by the Mayor Boris Johnson in 2010.