Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: If blacks are fearful for their jobs, they are right to be

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The Independent Online

Last week I was contacted by apprehensive black and Asian staff working across the BBC – from journalists to support staff, including one of those many silent tea ladies. Most were fearful that in the imminent mass sacking, they would be the first ones to be cast out.

In a still hideously white BBC (described by Greg Dyke) the management had better not throw out their few streaks of colour. Morale at the corporation is in tatters from top to bottom regardless of race and ethnicity. However, race, religion and ethnicity compound the vulnerability, sometimes because of real discrimination, sometimes because discrimination is imagined or assumed.

There is still no genuine and uncontested equivalence between white Britons and those who are unfortunate enough not to be. Old forms of overt racism have been banished from the landscape; the main political parties have tacitly agreed a red line on racist statements by influential insiders; chosen black and Asian citizens now get to powerful positions; friendships and romances between us steadily weave a multicoloured social tapestry, strong and beautiful. New internal fissures and violent hatreds within black and Asian hearts and minds sometimes make white racism appear tame and polite.

I still say there is no genuine and uncontested parity between whites and non-whites, not here, not in Europe, not Australia, not in the US, not even in post-apartheid South Africa rejoicing today in their rugby win.

This is why our furies rose to beat down the bigoted Nobel prize winner James Watson and Martin Amis's "racist urges" and why we will ferociously campaign against the next punitive Bush war on mostly innocent Muslims, this time in Iran. When Watson claims black people have inherently low intelligence, he authorises inequality in perpetuity between whites and blacks. When Christopher Hitchins, Tony Blair and others see 9/11 as the worst atrocity that befell humanity in the last hundred years, they are telling the world some lives are self-evidently worth more than the millions of others who have fallen in Africa, Asia, Arabia and South America.

Embedded, nay endemic unfairness is all around us. Even when discussing the controversies above, it is largely white people who are deemed clever enough to participate. Key broadcasters couldn't find a single black academic to take on Watson (and yes there are many); Channel4 News wouldn't let me debate live with Amis ( Remember my column provoked the novelist into writing an open letter which detonated the latest furore) and didn't even dignify me with a name when referring to the vital exchange.

Let them dare to show such disrespect to, say, Matthew Parris or Janet Street-Porter. Kate McCann's complaint that she is being treated unfairly because of her slim look makes me think: What would we know of such a lost child if the family were Arab or black?

Oxford professor Colin Blakemore is very cross that the distinguished scientist Watson has been silenced "because of his unpalatable views". Let me put it to the Professor, that if these "unpalatable views" were about Jewish genetic faults he would not dare to speak up for him. And if Amis had let off about feeling the odd paedophilic "urge", his friends in high places, in high dudgeon today would have slipped away.

Loud defenders of free speech do not speak up when rude rappers with bad lyrics are kept out of town or when Wahabi brainwashers are denied entry. I say keep them all out, including racist Nobel prize winners. But that would be treating them all equally, and that would never do.

The most depressing thing is that the victims imbibe these hierarchies, these insults to ourselves. On YouTube you can see the latest of a study periodically carried out since the fifties. Young black children are asked to choose between white and black dolls. 80 percent choose the white one and think black is "bad". One of the nervous from the BBC said: "Maybe we can never be as good as whites. They let us in as a favour, but they are way ahead. So I suppose they must sack me."

Keith Jarrett, the president of the National Black Police Association, asserts that more young black men need to be stopped and searched in the fight against gun crime. No problem with that, just as more Muslim men must expect greater scrutiny when there is a terrorist threat.

But why do they do what they do? Does the savagery come out of a feeling that they do not matter and never will? And that therefore no one else should either? When there is no equivalence between the races anything goes on both sides.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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