The united front against racism has fragmented, with some choosing flight instead of fight

The campaign for racial equality still lacks a leading figure


Yet another black actor speaks out about the paucity of good roles for them in Britain. Another superbly talented thespian has abandoned these shores and gone off to the US because that country offers them more possibilities than ours does.

This time it is Treva Etienne, who previously has had good parts in Black Hawk Down and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl, and now has a lead role in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi TV drama Falling Skies. Idris Elba, of The Wire, crossed the Atlantic for the same reason. So too the extraordinarily sensitive actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who we first saw in Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies; David Oyelowo, who starred in The Butler; and David Harewood of Homeland fame.

Archie Panjabi and Parminder Nagra, gifted Asian actresses of true grit, got snapped up by US TV producer/directors and never came back. Here they might have had a few moments in EastEnders, no more. I know three other young black actors who have migrated to America after too many years of no jobs or humiliating bit parts as gangsters or dead bodies.

Four Asian doctors, also acquaintances,  are absolutely disenchanted with their institutions, which expect much from them and yet treat them as genetically inferior to their white colleagues. And they are embittered too about the way immigrants are demonised. They have all applied to go either to Canada or the US. Black and Asian academics too have moved to countries where they will be better appreciated.

This, then, is the so-called post-racial era in the UK. Which means nobody feels any qualms about conscious and unconscious racial prejudices and exclusion. Lenny Henry is rightly kicking up about the way the BBC has failed to find, nurture and keep black and Asian talent.

Channel 4 is even worse. Meetings are held, worthy promises made, nothing changes. How many times can you watch Alan Davies on panel shows? Or Miranda Hart making us laugh? And why are all TV historians white? Well OK, we do have Death In Paradise. Because it is set on a Caribbean island, it has to feature people of colour. But of course the hero is a white Englishman in a suit. (Yes, I get the gentle mocking, but this is lazy neo-colonialism.  What about having a black detective in Jersey instead?)

Look at the longlist for the Booker Prize. The Lives of Others by the Indian-British writer Neel Mukherjee has got in, but that is all. Irenosen Okojie, an emerging black British novelist, is outraged: “Really? Just one non-white author? ...once again it feels like if you are not white and male, your talents don’t matter.” An inevitable result, I suppose, when the judges are all white.

Print journalism is a little better than it was 10 years ago. When I got this column, I was the only non-white person on the comment pages of British newspapers. We have a few more now, for which God bless the bosses. But all the critics are still white and mostly male, and most editors are too. Those of us who are out there have to survive daily racist abuse from some haters. 

It is all getting worse again. Discrimination is everywhere from education to employment. Once upon a time we had anti-racist collectives, big hitters such as Darcus Howe, Bernie Grant and Suresh Grover of the Monitoring Group, and white allies such as Ken Livingstone and the Tory MP Peter Bottomley. We still have the gutsy Diane Abbott and persistent Doreen Lawrence taking on racists, but there is no movement, no phalanx to fight back against unfairness and injustice.

Black and Asian people are choosing silence, acquiescence or escape, and most white people think racism is just so over – or that it is justified. The British Attitudes Survey shows attitudes towards migrants and minorities have hardened.

It really is not at all easy being British and black or Asian these days. Some of our brothers and sisters have got into the establishment and do nothing to rock the fine boat. Even more painful is the culture of denial. To call out racism is to blight your chances or invite further abuse. This column will undoubtedly provoke the latter in bucketfuls. 

This is happening at a time when gay rights have broken down the resistance of the most homophobic institutions. Campaigner Peter Tatchell challenges power year after year. Where is our black Peter Tatchell? Women too have been rising (again) in recent years, taking on everyday sexism, ugly misogyny, refusing to be co-opted.

In contrast, black and Asian anti-racists are disunited, seem to have given up. It hasn’t helped our cause that Muslims have broken away from what was once a coalition of various ethnicities and religions against all forms of discrimination.

Fragmentation, cowardice and lack of political intelligence have disabled the struggle against racism. Fight, not flight, is the answer. Feminists and gay people have never given up. We should learn from them.

A life full of booze awaits our young people

Our nation has a cradle-to-grave booze habit. It is destroying lives, families and communities, and overburdening our NHS. New figures published by the Government’s Health and Social Care Information Centre are encouraging.

In 2003, a quarter of 11- to 15-year-olds were consuming alcohol. Their grades suffered and they seemed already to be on  the road to self-ruination. The figure has dropped to  9 per cent. Drug use was also high. That too has  gone down. This is very good news.

Now for the sad news. Children seem to have got the message about the dangers of alcohol, but  that doesn’t mean they will be saved.

Adults around them are at it every hour of the day; some newborn babies have alcohol in their blood; universities do nothing to stop binge drinking among students and instead assume it is part of the higher-education experience; television glamorises and normalises pissheads; and every public event and almost every private function is awash with alcohol.

With this hot summer, people are downing even more hooch. The manager of our local supermarket tells me sales of Pimm’s, gin and white wine have rocketed. What lies  ahead for the teenagers  who have decided to  sober up?

They will eventually  have to succumb because Britain is addicted to intoxicants – across ages, classes, genders and  races. And it will not  give up, not even for the sake of its children and their futures.

Twitter: @y_alibhai

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones