Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: We should be proud of how far we've come

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The Independent Online

The crafty king of FIFA acts like the hapless Louis XVI. Poor Sepp Blatter. So old, so paternalistic, so disconnected from the values of the egalitarian modern world. So European. So unlike the Brits, who this week have every reason to feel mighty proud. Here Blatter was excoriated for his obscene dismissal of racism on the pitch as something resolvable with a handshake. In other EU countries not an eyebrow was raised. They do not care. Britain has its own ignoble history of imperial exploitation but it has always produced extraordinary resisters and, after the US, has been at the forefront of legal sanctions against discrimination. Good black and white people together have struggled against racial iniquity for centuries.

Racism in Britain is not over. The web delivers piles of vile racist abuse. Race played out in the recent riots. Convicted rioters include a horrendously high number of black and mixed-race young people – not all innocent, but many damaged by still having to fight their corner because they are not white.

Last week I went to the Arcola Theatre to see Speechless. Based on a true story, written by Marjorie Wallace, the play dramatises the tragic lives of identical twin sisters, born to Caribbean post-war immigrants. The father worked for the RAF in all-white areas; their mother never found acceptance and didn't understand her twins. Isolated and racially victimised, the girls turned in on themselves, refused to communicate with others, developed a lethal co-dependence and wild ways. For petty theft and arson they spent 11 years in Broadmoor.

Afterwards, Joan Bakewell, chairing a post-show discussion, asked me, almost plaintively, "Are we still like this? Is racism still this bad?" No, I said, there has been slow but impressive progress. The year when the girls were arrested, 1981, was the year of the Brixton race riots, starting a terrible decade. In his new memoir, Out of the Ashes, David Lammy, the black MP for Tottenham, remembers the riots of 1985 and his fears of ending up in prison just because he was black. Today's kids can see possibilities with motivating leaders such as Lammy. We have a near critical mass of highly successful black, Asian, mixed-race and Arab Britons.

That sort of leavening has not even begun in the rest of Europe. What's more, the extreme right is gaining ground there. When the BBC's David Bond finally got Blatter to accept he was wrong about racism in football, he reflected our nation's moral leadership. I know I go on about racial injustice in Britain and will again.

This week, though, I must acknowledge that we people of colour have more rights and more indigenous friends in the UK than do those settled elsewhere in Europe. And for that, much gratitude and respect.

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