Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: America's racial divide is healing faster than our own

Black Americans can rise to the sky – but the poorest languish forever

Share
Related Topics

Pennsylvania: The BNP row feels remote and oddly more unsettling from here; distant thunder portending a calamitous coming one can sense, but not yet quite define. "What's going on, what happened to polite old England?" asks my best friend, a family physician in Pittsburgh, who, like me, is an Asian from Uganda. She is shocked after listening on radio to some of the grumpy old folk from these isles and their practised grievances about immigrants, people of colour, Muslims, white liberals, politicians, and the other usual suspects.

I explain. These punters have lost out as global capitalism sweeps away job security and certainties. Their terror is understandable but not their faith in the Nazi and racist BNP, which promises to vigorously wash off foreign muck and make Britain linen white again.

Once Nick Griffin is in 10 Downing Street, they must believe, Vicky Pollard and Waynetta Slob will at long last run Goldman Sachs, all-night corner shops will be opened by ambitious aboriginal Brits and Prince William will be available to marry the chimney sweep's illegitimate daughter. I mock, but it is only to deflect my own fears of what the future may hold.

When a deep recession combines with legitimised racism, civil strife infects societies with a plague of suspicion and blame. The powerful turn outsiders into scapegoats; and we saw just how with the disgraceful BNP fest on Question Time, on which all political reps enthusiastically showed off their anti-immigrant colours.

This week, Panorama secretly filmed white men, women and, most appallingly, children abusing and assaulting two journalists who pretended to be Muslims living on an estate in the Bristol area. But is the US any better? Or are Americans by inclination self-congratulatory and instinctively down on Europe?

My friend is too often complacent. In her country, over 40 million citizens have no basic healthcare and Hispanic, Muslim and African Americans experience conspicuous racism. Black individuals can rise to the skies, but those at the bottom languish generation after generation. American shock jocks are more toxic than the most outrageously un-PC of British broadcasters and they viscerally hate President Obama.

This week, the right-wing politician and broadcaster Pat Buchanan evoked the same dreams and nightmares as our Mr Griffin – true Americans are white, their land is being stolen from them by Mexicans, blacks and other un-American forces, some now in the White House.

Other raging debates show it is premature to speak of a post-racial US of A. Chris Rock, the African-American comedian, has just released a documentary called "Good Hair", which asks why successful black women including Oprah and Michelle Obama all straighten their hair. Is it cos they want to look more white? I think it is an interesting question. Black women have taken it as an attack. They have hit back so hard, Rock won't walk straight for a long time.

But I also felt a permanent shift in the national psyche away from the US of segregation, lynchings and the Klan. White supremacy is uncool and stupid. Samuel, a 60-year old African-American homeless man, was once on death row, set up by racists for a murder he did not commit. We had coffee sitting on a wall near my hotel. "I know now that America can be a place for someone like me", he said to me, before adding: "I have nothing, but now I can believe. It will never go back. I can die a happy man now. Glad they didn't send me off back then".

A new Gallup poll found that six out of ten Americans believe, like Samuel, that race relations can only get better under Obama. Only 13 per cent are pessimistic. In Britain, meanwhile, even though it has been hugely comforting to watch white Britons recoiling from Mr Griffin, 22 per cent of those polled after his Question Time appearance said they would consider voting for his hate-loaded band, some of whom are violent.

Unlike Samuel, I can't believe or hope the forces of good in the UK can overcome the march of the jackboots. Things can only get worse. Sleepless in Pittsburgh, I struggle with the woeful possibility that my unborn grandchildren may still have to fight to be accepted in Britain. They could move to North America.

Have we wasted all those years, trying to get our adopted homeland to embrace its diverse history and multifarious soul? I fear so, but we soldier on.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The plan could lead to up to 15,000 people being operated on annually  

The obesity crisis affects the whole of Europe... apart from France

Rosie Millard
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'