Letter: Black people who want to go home

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The Independent Online
Sir: Of course Bernie Grant was right to raise an issue which is much discussed in some sections of the African community, that of returning home ('State funding to help blacks 'return' urged', 6 October). And in doing so he has perhaps opened up a can of worms.

In the years I have been a community activist and worked within social services, I have come across many elderly black people who long to return to the country of their birth but cannot afford to. It is not that they want to be repatriated, it is that the hopes and dreams of their youth have been shattered and abused.

Many black people came to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, invited to do so to help out the mother country. The countries from which they came were then part of the British Empire, and they were citizens of Britain. It was not pure altruism, but economic necessity, with Britain controlling but not investing in countries it was shortly to make 'independent'. This created high unemployment, high illiteracy, poor or non-existent social welfare in the 'colonies'; this then was the background for many of those who now want to go home.

After a lifetime of work and of contribution to British society, many black people are sick to death of being treated as second- class citizens. Most would have already returned if the promises that were originally made to them had been kept, but instead they received low pay, under-employment and under-education for their children.

For as long as I have lived in Britain, that is to say all my nearly 43 years, I have been told to 'go back to where I came from'. Repatriation has been a clarion call of the right, whether the BNP or Tory Party, for years. But it should not follow that we as black people should not ourselves question our continued presence on these isles.

For my own part, I have nowhere else to go, but if I had a choice I would not wish to stay here where it is made abundantly clear almost every day that we 'blacks' are not welcome.

Perhaps because of Bernie's boldness there will be a serious discussion about the attitudes and actions that make so many British citizens feel so unwelcome in Britain. He has voiced the concerns of a significant section of the African and Caribbean community, but it is an indictment of British society.

Racism is an endemic problem in Britain today. It is not confined to election victories for the BNP, but stems at least in part from the ignorance and intolerance of most white people. Unless and until we are made to feel that we do belong, the problem will continue. But I shan't hold my breath.

Yours faithfully,


London, SW2

6 October