It's dangerous to speak the truth

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The Independent Culture
BEING BLACK or Asian does not mean you can do no wrong. Like other groups we have fraudsters, felons and killers. I myself know nefarious, violent, tax-dodging men and women from my own community. Some of our kids are out of control in schools, on the streets and elsewhere. And I am not being racist by saying any of this, though, I dare say, by now many readers will have denounced me as a "Bounty bar" (brown on the outside, white inside) or as bigoted scum. Racism is a real and serious problem and we should not allow it to be used to exculpate antisocial behaviour; unfortunately, one of the by-products of endemic racism in any society is exactly this kind of justification.

We can see this in the United States where the horrendously violent behaviour of some black men is exonerated by Afro-centrist academics who think that slavery explains and excuses all such actions. Writers such as Alice Walker and Maya Angelou, who have written about brutal black individuals, face condemnation by right-on blacks and whites for "selling out". In the aftermath of the Lawrence report, we may be in serious danger of encouraging such tendencies.

It would be tragic if we had more black and Asian youngsters committing crimes and misdemeanours because they now believe that racism makes it OK for them to do what they will, and because those given the responsibility of dealing with the problems are too scared to do their jobs properly in case they are accused of racist attitudes.

This is why we must start taking seriously all the emerging evidence we are getting from schools, from community workers and, even, the police, although I would still treat the last with considerable caution because I do not trust their motives. I give little credence, for example, to the picture painted on Tuesday by a Met officer, John Harrison, at a Police Federation conference, who believes that there is a crisis of confidence among policemen caused by the Lawrence report. If only! But I am concerned about the Met figures showing a leap of 32 per cent in street crimes in the post-Lawrence Inquiry period: far too many of these are committed by black and Asian men.

I also keep hearing from teachers, white and black, who do not know what to do with some of the disruptive black and Asian children in their classes, as any assertive action might be "institutionally racist". So where are the voices of reason and courage, the black and Asian Britons who are no longer prepared to brush all such unbearable facts under the carpet?

They do exist and they do speak, but quietly, and mostly among themselves, because they know - as I know when I write this - that it is dangerous to speak out.

I spent Monday and Tuesday this week at an illuminating conference in Verona where representatives from various European Union cities were meeting to discuss race and education. Some of the most insightful speeches came from educators and youth workers in Leeds, a city that takes anti- racism very seriously. We heard how education has, for years, failed black and Asian youngsters, and how many of them have their futures cut down before they are 10 years old by a system that judges them as no good.

But at the end of the long days, when we were sitting in a beautiful piazza, completely unexpectedly some of these fighters for equality told me stories that quite did my head in. Black youth workers in some areas in our northern cities are regularly beaten up by their clients, some almost to the point of death. One of them has been forced to retire because he was so badly assaulted by a young man whom he had mentored and taken care of since the age of six.

A community worker from Manchester detailed his many bruising encounters with black men who were once his mates but who are now, as a result of crack, roaming mad on the streets.

I heard of young Asian men who have not only become unassailable pimps specialising in young girls, but have also now taken to gang-raping young Asian women who they think need to be taught a lesson in propriety. None of this gets reported because you don't wash your dirty linen in public, not even when it is covered with blood.

Of course, some of these men do what they do as a result of the education they did not get and the jobs they will never have. But, by allowing them to carry on in these destructive ways, we are allowing racism to win.

Somehow we must enable our young to understand how racism can and will interfere with their dreams, while never allowing them the luxury of surrendering to this iniquity, or, worse, using it to spoil their own lives and those of others.