Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Policemen are racist because our society is racist

Nobody cares when Muslims who have never been tried are parcelled off to the US

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The Independent Online

I can't point the finger at police officers who racially abuse and assault black and Asian citizens. In the last fortnight 10 complaints have been brought against the Metropolitan Police by different black men who allegedly suffered racist insults and violence after arrest. One of them, Mauro Demetrio, recorded the experience on his phone. A fresh inquiry has been launched into the case of 53-year-old bus driver Kester David, found burnt to death two years ago in Enfield. The police treated it as suicide, though the coroner recorded an open verdict. His family strongly believe the Met didn't investigate with due care because David was black. Mr and Mrs Lawrence faced that stonewalling when their boy Stephen was killed. The IPCC remains, as ever, utterly hopeless.

Now Police Chiefs and Top Tories have got on their high horses and promise to rid the land of prejudiced coppers. Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner of the Met, has declared he is their "implacable enemy" and will drive them out. Even London's Mayor, Boris Johnson (read further to find out why "even"), wants an official probe into the Lawrence case to check out if some officers behaved improperly.

Why place all the blame on policemen? This is displacement, a way of avoiding collective responsibility. Bob Morgan of Thatcham, Berkshire sent a pithy letter to this paper stating facts too long denied. Racist police officers, he wrote, only reflect our society, "where even discussing racism is so uncomfortable it is rarely done". I thank Mr Morgan for his acuity and candour. Such talk has vanished (been banished actually) from the public space. Britain has decided racism is over or an unsightly scratch on its radiant self-image or a profitable lie used by citizens of colour or, worst of all, perfectly OK and even understandable.

Disagree with any of the above and you get slapped by the right (metaphorically) and bullied by an army of malevolent internet "nationalists", or are quietly categorised as trouble and dealt with accordingly. I now try hard not to bring up British racism because what follows is scary. I was recently told by a successful independent TV producer that the time was right for people like "that Sikh in a kilt. Funny, no chip on his shoulder, who doesn't make whites feel guilty, not full of PC shit". Now you know why so few young black and Asian highflyers mention the R word.

Britain is uniquely open, delights in different cultures, where people of all backgrounds mix, work together and marry. We have come some way since the blatantly racist Sixties, but not that far. My friend the restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab, a mentor for unemployed people, says race discrimination is the elephant in the room, seen but ignored. Women know how a little progress is used to block further change. It is even worse for racial minorities who are supposed to be "grateful" for being here, trying the patience of the "host country" by always asking for more.

So to Boris. At the time he denounced in print the Lawrence inquiry as "hysterical" and a "witch hunt", its recommendations more tyrannical than people suffered in Ceausescu's Romania. I couldn't find these columns online – they must be buried in a box for posterity. Or there is an election to win, black votes to get. His arts advisor, Munira Mirza has repeatedly asserted, without hard evidence, that racism is no longer a serious barrier to life chances and that today the excluded are the white working class. People of all backgrounds have been failed by the powerful. To pit them against each other is a disgraceful political strategy.

Over 50 per cent of young black men are unemployed today, double the number in 2008. Trust me, they are not all trainee rioters and drug dealers. Furthermore black Britons are more likely to be unemployed than black Americans.

When last did you hear a politician make a thoughtful speech about the evils of racism? I believe it was Jack Straw, announcing the Lawrence inquiry. Politicians frequently push gay rights and muster concern for the disabled and women's equality, though this government uses pretty words to distract us from their iniquitous policies punishing women, the disabled and the poorest. But still, at least we argue about those injustices.

Race is buried under an avalanche of outrage over political correctness and of prejudices whipped up by the press, pundits and politicians against non-European immigrants and Muslims, the whole lot of whom are thought to be active or passive terrorists. Frank Field's obsessive anti-immigration campaigns have made outsiders of us all. Now those who give jobs to whites feel they are being patriotic. Nobody cares when Muslims who have never been tried are parcelled off to the US, and Blair and Straw casually wave off their complicity in rendition. The English Defence League and BNP have been accommodated by a nation that fought Nazi racism. That's how bad it is.

The police reflect what Britain has become. Racist cops burnt on the stake of righteousness makes our leaders feel better, but doesn't address that terrible truth.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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