Blacks still facing hard times in Liverpool's own form of apartheid

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE PUB at Liverpool dockside is for the mainly black clientele. "They generally kept together, the poor fellows, because they were at a disadvantage singly, and liable to slights in neighbouring streets," a police chieftold a visiting writer from London.

That was in 1861, and the writer was Charles Dickens. When Anthony Bevins, The Independent's political editor, reported from his native city in 1989, a huge number of the pubs were still segregated and the police, many local blacks would say, were alot less sympathetic.

The Independent's investigation into community relations in Liverpool followed a damning report by Lord Gifford who found that racial discrimination in Liverpool was "uniquely horrific." Mr Bevins concluded that the city practised "its own unique brand of apartheid," and the population, including some blacks, close their mind to this fact.

Nine years on, Tony Blair stated his commitment to a multicultural Britain. But the city his wife, Cherie, was born and raised in remains divided and full of distrust. There are people who say little has changed. Liverpool, which has the oldest residential black population in the country, has just one black councillor out of 99, and just 0.3 per cent of local authority employees is estimated to be black. In 1996, a survey by the University of Liverpool suggested that one in every two members of the area's ethnic population had suffered racial abuse.

Just a mile from the predominantly black area of Toxteth is the city centre where it is highly unusual to see a black person serving at the stores, or working in offices.

Over the years, Liverpool has built up a reputation as a place of racial tolerance and harmony. That, say black activists, is a mirage. The city had effectively operated a policy of segregation punctuated by outbreaks of violence. In 1919 and in 1948 there were race riots. Blacks were kept out of the better jobs and lived in areas with the worst housing.

In 1984, the Commission for Racial Equality reported systematic discrimination in the city council's housing policy. Five years later, the CRE issued a formal non-discrimination notice against the council because nothing had been done. The discrimination had continued during Militant's stormy stewardship of the city. In fact, Derek Hatton and his comrades were vehemently opposed to any form of special help being given to the ethnic minorities because they claimed it would lead to a white backlash and weaken working- class solidarity.

This working-class solidarity does not extend to white residents accepting blacks as their neighbours in the better off working-class areas, say pressure groups. The best of the council and Housing Trust properties is in the north of the city, and few black families who moved there from the south have managed to settle, most driven out by harassment.

At the Liverpool 8 Law Centre, which grew out of the Liverpool 8 Defence Committee following the Toxteth riots, co-ordinator Maria O'Reilly, said: "There are parts of north Liverpool where black people would not go alone after dark because they would be attacked and may even be killed. This is not melodramatic, you do find black dead bodies there and no one knows what had happened. Black families who have moved there also face a lot of harassment. What has improved in the last nine years? Next to nothing. Liverpool is a deeply racist city with its own form of apartheid. It's a strange situation, white Liverpool people denounce apartheid in South Africa, yet fail to see a problem here. No wonder black people feel that they don't matter in the eyes of the authorities."

The feeling of disenchantment and hopelessness is felt acutely in the streets of Toxteth. Granby Street was once a busy mixture of residential housing and shops. Now it lies virtually deserted with shattered shops, empty homes and the rubble of pulled down buildings.

The Granby Street project is part of a council redevelopment operation, but locals claim they had not been properly consulted, and the community does not want to be dispersed in this fashion.

Stephen Nze said: "It just shows the contempt they have for people around here. They would not behave like this towards white people in north Liverpool. In their eyes, our opinion isn't worth anything ... Heseltine poured a lot of money in, but what

happened to it?"

Academics and other experts maintain that black pressure groups are wrong to state that their views are totally ignored. Gideon Ben-Tovim, a councillor and university reader, said: "The ethnic minorities now do have greater access to channels to the

authorities, so in that respect things have improved, although they are far from perfect."

Anne Wright, equality manager at Liverpool City Council, stressed that the council was not sanguine about the situation. She pointed out that a number of measures have been taken to further racial equality, adding: "We know there is a major problem,and it is not something we are taking lightly."