Accept African identity, Grant tells blacks: MP ignores criticism to preach to new constituency

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The Independent Online
BERNIE GRANT was again proclaiming the need for British blacks to accept an African identity yesterday. But this time only invited guests were allowed to hear the speech.

The publicity which followed his calls in the autumn for the Government to help black Britons who wanted 'voluntary repatriation', and for some of the Crown Jewels to be sold to compensate African countries for the activities of slavers, had been so bad that the 'white media' were banned from his meeting in Birmingham.

''When Asians and Jews want to talk they are left alone,' he said. 'When blacks get together everyone wants to know what's happening.'

Despite the secrecy, it was clear what was happening. Representatives from about 150 organisations were coming together to discuss a constitution for a British 'African Reparations Movement'.

The Labour MP for Tottenham's theme is that Britain is a dangerous place for blacks. British blacks should not just follow 'the methods of the 1960s and confront racists', but build a new agenda whichhad African identity at its heart.

The delegates in Birmingham yesterday included representatives fromthe Nation of Islam, the All African People's Liberation Front and the Ethiopian World Federation. After raising the issue of 'voluntary repatriation' at a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference in October, Mr Grant was subsequently jeered and booed by young and largely black demonstrators at an Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA) protest in Trafalgar Square and came close to making a public apology. Fellow activists made no secret of their horror. 'He's playing with fire,' said Palma Black, spokeswoman for the ARA. 'It's just giving in to the racists.' Embarrassingly, the only major politician to back him was Winston Churchill, a right-wing Conservative MP.

But over the intervening two months, he has grown in confidence. At meetings in Leeds, Manchester and London his message has been the same: blacks at best face a 'lousy' future and should look on themselves as Africans not Britons.

At a rally in Brixton, south London, two weeks ago, he emphasised African identity. 'I'm not talking to you about Indians, Bangladeshis or Pakastanis . . . I'm talking about black people of African origin. We fought the blackshirts, the brownshirts, the teddy boys, the skinheads of the National Front . . . and for a while things got better. Now they are back again calling themselves the BNP and black people are saying 'take your country, we don't want it'.'

He questioned the whole idea that it was possible to be a black Briton. 'We need to find those people who call themselves black Britons. We must give them our message and tell them we need them because they are black African people.'

Mr Grant has been attacked by his own party, and other anti-racist campaigners called his new black nationalist line 'dangerous', 'ill advised' and 'pandering to the worst manifestations of racism'.

But the uncomfortable truth for many on the left is that Mr Grant has found a constituency. Brixton has the fastest- growing black mosque in London. Every Friday, Uthman Ibrahim-Morrison preaches on the need for black separatism to a congregation of converts from Christianity. He rejected his Methodist family and a comfortable middle-class job which took him travelling around Europe in his early thirties.

'I saw what Europe had to offer - its short-sightedness, its consumerism, its shallowness. I wasn't satisfied. They were meant to be the most advanced and most enlightened people . . . but they were morally and spiritually empty. I said, 'Hang on, OK, enough is enough]' I started to study and came to Islam.'

The 'Africans of England', he proclaims, in an unusual interpretation of the Koran, must liberate themselves from the 'cancerous curse of the usurous economy' (paper money). They must also fight a 'false religion' (Christianity), the 'freemason programmers' (who control education, the media and just about everything else), 'Jewish structuralism' (which produces Marxism and most other modern ideas) and 'the wage slavery of the banking centre of the world' (the UK). 'Please don't mistake this for conspiratorialism,' he added, politely.

The mosque, which teaches that most of the African slaves transported to the Americas were Muslims whose descendants have subsequently lost their religion, has seen its membership grow from 20 people in the 1970s to about 300 today.

There are other black Britons who would not dream of converting to Islam or going to one of Mr Grant's meetings, but who have picked up on the idea of emigrating.

The Home Office-supported International Social Service of the United Kingdom receives about 100 enquiries a month from people wanting help to leave Britain. Many are pensioners who have worked here all their lives and plan to go back to friends and relatives. But others are young, British- born and well-qualified.

A spokeswoman for the service said that after racially charged events, such as the election of a BNP councillor or Mr Grant's original speech in October, calls from the young 'flooded in'.

Linda Deane was born in Lincoln and educated at Warwick University. Her father served in the RAF in Britain and the Far East and was relatively well off. Conventional wisdom would assume she would have a successful career in Britain. But last month, aged 30, she and her architect fiance emigrated to Barbados, her parents' native country.

'Europe isn't so hot any more,' she said. 'I just couldn't take the direct or indirect racism of England. When I waited to cross the street to my home, drivers would shout 'black bitch' at me. When I went into shops I would always be followed by the store detectives.

'I thought, there are so many troubles in life about jobs and money that at least if I went to Barbados I could get rid of racism and be treated as a first- class citizen. It would be one less hurdle to jump.'

Ms Deane emphasised that she could move to the Caribbean only because she had visited Barbados often and knew what she was letting herself in for.

Ken Douglas, president of the Association of Jamaica's Returning Residents, said that many who emigrated to the Caribbean came back to Britain. 'They did not realise that it's not just all sun,' he said. 'They did not know about the violence and the unemployment in Jamaica.'

But for all the caveats, the underlying fact that a minority of black Britons despair of this country cannot be hidden.

Ms Deane's sister, Sue Beckles, lives in Rugby. She has a master's degree and is married to a doctor.

'At the moment I don't want to bring my children up here,' she said. 'You watch the news about the growth of fascism and it's frightening. Everywhere ordinary people are becoming extreme and mainstream parties are losing out.

'I'll give Britain five years. If it doesn't get better we'll go.'

Additional reporting by Jason Conway and Jennai Cox

(Photograph omitted)