Christina Patterson: The bigger issue beyond Lee Jasper

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The Independent Online

So you're tapping away at your keyboard, frowning at your screen and grappling for the right words. And you're tired. You're tired because you've got the burdens of an entire community on your shoulders. Anyone could make a slip, and at first it's fine. But one day your secret's out and it's spattered all over the papers. Yup, there it is in, er, black and white. You can't spell.

"I want to wisk you away," you wrote, "to a deserted island beach" and "honey glase you". "You are indeed", you added, "greatly loved up" and "magnifecently appreciated". So "magnifecently appreciated", in fact, that you ditch the "honey glase" idea for something a little more concrete. A £65,000 grant, instead of "candles and dinner and a special prezzie from Jamaica". Or maybe as well. Belt and braces to match those "bangles" and "chains" and that "flaming red sari". Poor, poor Lee Jasper.

His cheery emails to fellow race relations campaigner Karen Chouhan have, once again, attracted vicious racial attacks. Would a white guy be dragged through the mud for a bit of "banter" with a professional associate? Or for failing to declare a "close relationship" with the director of an organisation your own organisation funds? Or for apparently allocating £3.8m of taxpayers' money – to no clear public benefit – to organisations run by your mates (denied, of course)? Or for failing to declare a foreign trip (also denied)?

Er, possibly. You don't have to be stupid, of course, to believe that all attacks on your integrity and behaviour are racist. You don't have to be stupid to believe that pretty much every issue facing every black person in this country is the product of "institutional racism". You certainly don't have to be stupid not to be able to spell.

But, if you are the senior policy adviser on equalities to the mayor of one of the most diverse cities in the world, and also the chair of the National Black Alliance and the National Black Caucus and the national secretary of the National Assembly Against Racism, and the deputy representative of the UK on the European Council's European National Anti-Racist Network, then it just might be fair to say that you have probably been over-promoted. And it's probably fair to say that your mates, or those of your mates who run those organisations whose main skill appears to be securing public money for old rope (or rather recycled grant application forms), probably are too.

Actually, it's a disgrace. It's a disgrace that, 60 years after the SS Windrush arrived on these shores, bringing those first Jamaican immigrants, shivering in their thin coats and smart suits, those qualified nurses and teachers who scrabbled around to find jobs as hospital porters and cleaners, and rooms which didn't bear the sign "no blacks, no dogs, no Irish", we can't do better than this. The fact is that while the Trevors (Phillips and McDonald) of this world had the benefits of a colonial, Caribbean education – an education as rigorous as the poshest of private schools – most black Britons have had to settle for something a little less exacting. Something, in Alastair Campbell's immortal words, a little more "bog-standard". As the social and economic realities struck, and as the top universities, unlike in the US, made minimal efforts to attract black students, that first-generation faith in education faded, and often died.

And so it goes on. Hip-hop, rap, sport. Newspaper, city and government offices with barely a black face. And for the quangos and the caucuses and the alliances and the forums, the same old, same old musical chairs.

A time when stories were pure fiction

Another day, another tale of misery and abuse. Whose abuse? Well, ours, obviously. We, the book-buying public, have, yet again, been duped and violated and subjected to unspeakable torture by a vicious sadist masquerading as a nice, middle-class woman from suburban LA. Her crime? She's just written a book about growing up as a mixed-race foster child. A book she called a memoir. And she's white. Last week, it was Misha Defonseca. Before that, it was James Frey. And now it's Margaret Seltzer, masquerading as Margaret B Jones. Spawn of the devil all of them, messing with our heads and messing with our faith – faith now shattered into a million little pieces.

There was a time, of course, when stories were things you made up. That was in the days when television wasn't all real people and when people cooked food instead of watching people cook food. That was in the days when people used this weird form of mental acrobatics called the imagination.

* The campaign against the hormone-fuelled, so-fat-that-it-can't-move-its-wings (but there's no space to anyway), £2 chicken has finally hit home. Some of the more discerning residents of these shores are opting instead for properly organic, properly fed, properly free-range birds – birds, in fact, with the royal stamp of the Crown. Yes, they're eating swans. Some, indeed, like the man whose tent on the shores of the River Lea in north London was found surrounded by bones, feathers and a huge pile of magnificent white wings, just cannot get enough of this nutritious delicacy. Now here's a man who can adapt to ancient British traditions. First, catch your bird, etc.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

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