Monday, 11 May 2009

In defence of Brixton

On May 5th, the Times published the following article, called "Brixton: the depressing symbol of Britain's multicultural failure".

Roger Lewis has written the following letter to the editor in response:

11th May 2009

Dear Editor

I was passed a copy of Sathnam Sanghera’s article on Brixton in The Times 5th May 2009 “Brixton: the depressing symbol of Britain's multicultural failure“.

I felt a tinge of sadness followed by a growing sense of disbelief at Sathnam’s arguments echoing Trevor Phillips’ much publicised rantings on the failure of multi Culturalism in Britain today.

Firstly, let’s get some of the more ludicrous criticisms of Sathnam’s arguments out of the way.

1 Sathnam argues that “on Saturdays”, White people shop at Tesco’s and Black people shop in Brixton Market.

Sathnam, a very high proportion of Saturday market shoppers are not actually from Brixton. They travel here to enjoy Brixton and the worldwide selection of foods etc that are available in this internationally renowned market.

2 Suggesting, as he does, that no Black people shop at Tesco is simply bonkers and doesn’t deserve any further reply from me.

Sathnam suggests that White people don’t shop in Brixton market? Not my experience at all. However, I do concede that not that many white people are familiar with some of the produce, know that there is more than one variety of yam or mango and can’t recognise a cassava let alone know how to cook it! As examples of the failure of multi-culturalism though? I’m not impressed Sathnam.

3 Black people eat in Ethiopian restaurants and white people go to the pub? Well this is just stating the bleedin’ obvious isn’t it? Particularly if the Black people Sathnam refers to are Ethiopian. Also Sathnam, Strangely Irish people often go to Irish pubs that play Irish music and where people gather who share a common Irish culture.

IF I go to the West End for a Chinese meal, the people eating are generally non Chinese whereas the staff are generally Chinese. Is this not segregation?

Black kids congregating in McDonald’s? Apparently
Sathnam seems to suggest White kids don’t go to or eat McDonalds. Bonkers Sathnam. If you can honestly state this with a straight face and believe it then I’m a teapot!

If it were just that these statements were harmless throwaway remarks then I’d let it go at that, but the stakes here are too high.

Sathnam states his despair at… “The bombing, the mini-riot, the numerous anti-terrorism raids, the stabbings, kneecappings and murders,”

Get a grip Sathnam. This is Brixton we’re talking about, not downtown Kabul. I’m sorry to hear of your unfortunate experiences, but don’t make out this is the norm. Of course things aren’t perfect; we have our problems with crime and drugs like other places which don’t have the same mix of racial communities living cheek by jowl like we do here in London SW2. And “kneecapping”?, where on earth did you dig this up from? What about deaths in police custody? These continue, mainly to young Black men, but you don’t mention this.

The real danger here and the danger that arises from Trevor Phillips statements on the same subject is that this gross distortion of reality does nothing to encourage community cohesion and everything to open the door to the arguments of the racists in the Nazi BNP and elsewhere. This is unforgivable.

I’ve lived and worked in Brixton, Clapham North and Stockwell for over 20 years. I use the market, live in a racially mixed household, work in a multi cultural workplace, (like every other workplace in Lambeth), shop at Tesco’s alongside Black and Asian people as well as white. Moan about the queues, laugh at the same silly things and chat with the Black/White/Asian worker (delete as applicable from your last shop experience) at the checkout.

Sadly, the depth of Sathnam’s pessimism is matched only by his failure to justify what he states in such glibly damming terms about the people of our community.

The forces at work today that are dividing and damaging our communities are not due to the unwillingness or inability of the various peoples of Brixton, or anywhere else, to socialise, mix and share our experiences. This is not a result of in built hostility between people from different backgrounds,. This stems from the social and economic policies that are destroying jobs, social services, the health service and social housing etc.

The council’s closure of Dick Shepherd School, along with the youth theatre and swimming pool and it’s replacement with luxury flats is what separates us, rich against poor. The high security gated communities alienate us, not our schools, restaurants, shops and cinemas.

Our public services have been devastated and passed over to the private sector. Costs have risen and standards have fallen. These are the dividing factors at work here. The press and media share the blame for this too. Demonising our young, particularly our black youth, attacking immigrants for all the evils in society, scaremongering about street crime, the result being a huge increase in stop and search – disproportionately aimed at Black and Asian kids and young adults. Sathnam might have done better to go into one of our schools and ask the youngsters how many of them have been subjected to stop and search and how often this happens. You can do this Sathnam, and it’s not dangerous, and you won’t need to wear a stab jacket either!

Dont pander to the racists Sathnam, don’t swallow the lies of the politicians after a cheap popularised soundbite. The BNP are grinning with delight at your article and love it every time it and others like it appear.

Finally, a message regarding Trevor Philips much publicised views on the matter.

When Trevor talks about segregated communities, Does he mean the gated communities in Belgravia and Kensington and Chelsea? Does he mean the segregation he imposes on himself with his luxury chauffeur driven car driven by a driver who he probably segregates himself from with a screen? Does he mean The posh restaurants he frequents which would not even allow me through their front door?

In Brixton, we travel together on the Bus, Black, Asian and White, use the same overcrowded Tube, shop in the same shops, eat in the same McDonalds, KFC, etc. It’s poverty Sathnam, this food is cheap. We integrate and would have to even if we didn’t want to. Our housing is overcrowded, not because of immigrants taking it all, but because it is being sold off to the private sector and the remainder left to rot. Poverty, heavy handed policing, lack of opportunities, poor quality and insufficient housing beat people down, lower expectations and aspirations in our young and breed frustration and sometimes anger. Certainly they alienate us from the politicians, bankers, and sometimes, sadly, from each other. Racist lies about immigration drive wedges between us and foster fear and suspicion.

Brixton has a fantastic and long tradition of welcoming people from around the world second to none and equal to areas like the East End, Hackney, and areas outside London such as Moss Side, Toxteth and elsewhere.

Social deprivation is what divides us Sathnam, not social diversity.

Yours faithfully

Roger Lewis
South London

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