Racism, rape and political correctness

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The Independent Online

The aftershocks of this year's Notting Hill Carnival continue. It has now emerged that among the two murders, 19 stabbings, 69 serious assaults, 276 reported crimes and 129 arrests, the 12-hour gang rape of a 23-year-old woman was recorded as a "sexual assault".

The aftershocks of this year's Notting Hill Carnival continue. It has now emerged that among the two murders, 19 stabbings, 69 serious assaults, 276 reported crimes and 129 arrests, the 12-hour gang rape of a 23-year-old woman was recorded as a "sexual assault".

The decision not to issue an appeal was, say the police, taken on operational grounds. They deny suggestions that there was a deliberate attempt to mislead the public, and explain that the victim was so traumatised by her ordeal that she could give few details of the crime against her, which she did not report for two days.

One thing that this young woman does remember is that her four attackers were young black men. It is pretty obvious that this is sensitive information. In the long history of bitter racism that exploded in Britain with the docking of the Windrush, the repugnant yet powerful idea that all black men are rapists has endured.

The chorus of voices that saw off Reggie Kray the other day with further homilies about the lack of muggings and rapes in the East End when the twins were on the streets is nothing but the same racism. When people boast that the Krays "looked after their own", what they really mean is that they'd rather live next door to criminal white psychopaths than decent black families.

It is this kind of unvarnished race hatred, dressed up as maintaining a traditional concept of Britishness, that has given patriotism the bad name highlighted this week by the Runnymede Trust in its report The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. Jack Straw may point the finger at "left-wing liberals" for abandoning the field of patriotism to the far right. But in fact the report contains some irrefutable facts. "Britishness" is still for the time being racially coded, and does remind blacks and Asians of colonisation and empire.

The Notting Hill Carnival, however, is a celebration of how far we have moved away from strictly racially coded notions of Britishness. Once focused on black and Caribbean culture, the Carnival has expanded to attract a huge white following.

A furore followed the claim by the chairman of the Police Federation, Greg Smyth, last month that for a decade crime at the Carnival had been underplayed in the name of racial harmony. Some commentators, notably Trevor Phillips, were keen to emphasise that crime at the Carnival could no longer be considered as a race issue, since the Carnival was no longer a black event.

But at this year's Carnival, the most serious crimes, it transpires, have been "black events". It is clear from the photo-fit and the recently released video footage that 21-year-old father Greg Watson was stabbed to death by a black man. It is undisputed also that 28-year-old Abdul Bhatti was beaten to death by 40 or 50 black youths who were "steaming" through crowds and targeting Asians.

Such seemingly racist points are difficult to make, for it is true that for many years the skin colour of criminals was only reported when it was black. This convention certainly did not help to quell racism in Britain, and it also gave impetus to the adoption of a slavish degree of political correctness among the left. A few years ago, a newspaper article about the dangers of women riding alone in cabs brought a long and furious tirade from a reader incensed by the way the drivers had been racially described. In fact the article had been using the phrase "black-cab drivers" to differentiate those working in hackney cabs from mini-cab drivers.

I've been guilty of the same weird over-sensitivity myself. A decade ago, after I'd had my bag snatched by black youths outside my home several times, I called the police, but felt oddly traitorous about the prospect of describing my assailant to the police as black. I gave a detailed description of the clothing my main attacker was wearing, without mentioning his racial characteristics. Finally I told the police he was wearing trainers.

When the policewoman enquired, "colour?", I stammered (in shock at her blatant line of questioning), "Oh, he was black."

"No," said the officer wearily. "What colour were his trainers?"

Now, in the face of the Macpherson report, it is the police who stand accused of being politically correct. The police point to an 84 per cent increase in arrests at this year's Carnival as a rebuttal of a "softly, softly" approach. And while they were pilloried after a leaked document revealed that the police had been advised not to arrest people for smoking dope, or search those suspected of carrying firearms, it is notable that neither dope nor firearms have figured in the most violent of crimes at the festival.

The ban on arresting people for dope smoking at the Carnival appears to me entirely sensible, especially in the wake of recent events, which have brought home to us all just how widespread the practice is. As for firearms, this surely must be a further attempt to curb the hated "stop and search", which is undoubtedly directed at black people far more zealously than at white people, and which incenses many innocent black members of the public.

In the meantime, what has now happened is that hatred of political correctness has become a veiled way of supporting racism. For, as ever, what the fact that all of the most violent criminals at the Carnival were black youths tells us, is that these are the people who feel most keenly their anger and their social exclusion.

A few months ago, the black academic Tony Sewell took advantage of the fact that girls were doing so much better in exams than boys, to highlight his own concern. He publicly announced that, among boys, black boys were doing worst of all, and pointed to a commercial and "street-smart" culture as damaging to their prospects. For his pains he was branded "a coconut", black on the outside, white on the inside.

At the Carnival, we see all this writ large. In some respects the event has come to represent some of the most damaging developments that have shaped the image of the black Briton. A huge white constituency wants to visit it, to gain cred, then go home having contributed little themselves, just as black culture has been so influential in white popular culture since the records came of the boat at Liverpool to shape Merseybeat, but has received so little credit for it.

For this cultural ascendancy has not translated into widespread economic ascendancy. In Notting Hill itself, the population - as depicted in the eponymous movie - is largely rich and largely white. Black culture may have enriched Notting Hill and made it irresistibly trendy to liberal whites. But it has left a worrying minority of young black men disenfranchised, and living out dangerous and violent pastiches of what it is to be tough, cool and streetwise. White boys and girls do this too but, as at the Notting Hill Carnival, demographics and history dictate that the most visible examples of extreme lawlessness are more likely to be perpetrated by black youths.

As long as racism continues, we need political correctness as a counterbalance, however inadequate. But we must also be certain that it is not adopted as a fig-leaf to cover or excuse the bitter legacy of decades of racism. Two young men are dead, and one young woman is deeply scarred by a horrific gang rape. These three awful crimes were committed by young black men, during a carnival that purports to celebrate a culture that includes everyone. We have now reached a point were it is more insidiously racist to turn a blind eye to this, that it is to face up to it.

d.orr@independent.co.uk

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