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EDITIONS
Friday, 31 May, 2002, 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK
Global Forum: Race UK

Reeta Chakrabarti put your questions to our panel of guests in a LIVE forum. A transcript will be posted here shortly.

  Click here to watch the forum.  


Your questions were answered by:

Nitin Sawhney:
Along with Talvin Singh, Nitin Sawhney has been credited with the Asian Underground music scene into the mainstream.

The British Asian composer was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2000, and won the South Bank Show Award for his Beyond Skin album the same year.

Nitin is also an award winning writer, actor, and scriptwriter.

Nina Wadia:
Nina Wadia shot to prominence in the award-winning BBC comedy Goodness Gracious Me.

However, her career has spanned a decade of acting on stage and television.

Nina's awards include "Greatest Achievement by an Actress" from the Society For Black Arts in Britain, two Sony Awards, and a British comedy award.

Simon Wooley:
Simon Wooley is the founder of Operation Black Vote.

He has helped transform the project into a nationally acclaimed organisation which actively fights against the "Black democratic deficit in the UK".

Simon writes for the national and black press, and is a board member on the Council of Charter 88 - a organisation which promotes justice in democracy.

Ravi Chand:
Ravi Chand is President of the National Black Police Association.

The Association represents over 3,000 black policemen in the UK.

It aims to protect their rights within the force and improve the quality of service the Police provide to the Black community.


The topics discussed in this forum were:

  • Politics
  • Black awards
  • Gender and social divide
  • Racism in the police
  • Diversity and integration
  • Separatism
  • Representation
  • European dimension

    Politics


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    Rahul, UK: Paul Boateng said that he did not want to be "defined by the colour of his skin." Why do think that most ethnic minorities still define themselves as an Asian or Black person?

    Related to that a question from Anon, Leeds, UK: Do you not think it is a shame for Britain to have its "First Black Minister" so late, given that we are a multi-cultural nation? Is racism not then in the heart of No 10? Surely there must have been Black people of high calibre to be the "first Black minister" in the past.


    Simon Wooley:

    I'll answer the second question first. Firstly, I think it's great news that we have the first black Cabinet Minister. I think it's good news for Boateng, I think it's good news for Britain's black communities. But it is great news for British democracy because what it says is that our talent is and should be recognised and we should have black faces in high places.

    Is it late in coming? Yes, it is. You know as well as I do that there is a teeming talent out there and that whether by design or fault our institutions have shackled that talent and so many people are turned off in politics because they see them as all white and irrelevant to the concerns and needs of our community.

    Now should politicians wear their colour on their sleeves? Well I think that some should but that's the choice of the politician themselves. I remember Bernie Grant who proudly wore his black identity on his sleeve. He campaigned on many Black issues and people saw him as an icon for Britain's black community. But the trouble is that when you do that, people put you in a box and they want to shackle any other debate that you may have. So it's a very difficult position for Black politicians.


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    Nonetheless you think they should be upfront about it?


    Simon Wooley:

    I think it's their choice whether they do or whether they don't and Paul Boateng has said that he doesn't want to. But people see him as a black man and see him as a proud black man. But we do need those firebrands like Bernie Grant and Diane Abbott who will readily speak up for the black community.


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    And you only get that once you've got a critical mass of people.


    Simon Wooley:

    Yes you do - this is one of the key problems. We have 12 Black politicians - African, Asian and Caribbean politicians - at Westminster, for it to be remotely representative we need about 45. So there's a long way to go.

    Some of our institutions, for example in Wales, are all white which is a disgrace. Scotland is all white too. In London, where one in three of the electorate is from a Black and minority ethnic community, we only have two Assembly members. So we can see that our institutions are woefully lacking when it comes to representation and we need to get that right.

    Return to the top of the page


    Black awards


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    Fiona Main, Falkirk, Scotland: If our aim in this country is to promote equality irrespective of race or colour (which I support entirely) then why do we have awards ceremonies like the "Emmas" which recognise only the achievements of black actors and actresses? Do you feel that this kind of discrimination is justified?

    Rahul, UK: When you speak for "the Asian community" or you are referred to as "an Asian female" doesn't it just purport the myth that you are some how different from non-Asian people? Awards such as the "Emmas" or "Mobos" do little to promote ethnic minority groups but just segregate them further.


    Nina Wadia:

    First and foremost I don't actually ask people to call me an Asian female or an Asian community person, that's something that the press does regardless of my choice. In terms of having award ceremonies like the Emmas, it is important because it allows for people from the black and ethnic communities to actually have role models that they can aim for. People like Nitin Sawhney who one an Emma himself yesterday, it's important that his work is recognised not only by our community but by the mainstream community as a whole. So if the Emmas are a stepping-stone to them getting to the mainstream, then it's important to have that additional stepping-stone.


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    How do you feel about Nitin?


    Nitin Sawhney:

    The whole thing about the Emma awards and so on is that it's about to some degree redressing a balance. You have things like the Brits - it's a music award that's predominately white based thing. It's hard to get past that institutionalised racism that exists in the music industry in terms of mainstream awards and it's only happened in recent years in terms of the Mercury prize for instance. In terms of the Emma awards, I think they are a good focal point.

    But then generally I have a problem with awards anyway because I think it's a lot to with judgementalism in the arts because I think people who express themselves, their expression should be listened to and received and supported rather than judged.


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    But you were happy to accept a prize from them.


    Nitin Sawhney:

    It's a compliment. If someone is paying you a compliment, you are gracious about receiving it. But at the same time within the Emma awards I was marginalised to a category called World Music and I have a really big problem with this category because it's almost used as a form of apartheid in record shops where you'll see this tiny little section called World Music compared to the mainstream sections or the rock and pop sections. There's maybe five records under India, three under Africa or whatever and it's just an excuse for people to marginalise things on the basis of racial backgrounds rather than looking at things in a pluralistic context. I think Britain is pluralistic now and people need to grow up and be aware of that.

    Return to the top of the page


    Gender and social divide


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    Tigger, Bristol, London: Do you think that race is a bigger issue in this country than the gender divide and the social divide between the haves and the have nots?


    Nitin Sawhney:

    I think in a way all are related - insecurity is the basis on which prejudice is born. A lot of people talk about that it's great Paul Boateng is now a Cabinet Minister but in a way it's treating the symptom rather than the cause. If you look at things in a deeper context, education is where things need to start and until we start to educate children in terms of trying to bring out who they are rather than what we expect them to be or what we're trying to make them into. That kind of judgemental way of teaching children I think actually promotes insecurity and I think prejudice is born from insecurity. Prejudice in all forms, whether it's gender related, race related or whatever comes from that. Until we start to look at how we're educating children, we're not really going to get past prejudice full stop.

    Return to the top of the page


    Racism in the police


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    Fred, England: A friend of mine got pulled up 27 times in less than two months and told to produce his documents on practically every occasion. He is white with no criminal convictions or even attempted prosecutions against him. His only crime was being aged 18 to 25 and driving a vehicle at night (which is part of his job).

    Craig, UK: I'm a Police Officer and all I'm trying to do is a good job and prevent crime. I get sick of hearing people complain when I stop them that it's because they're black and I have no reason to. If you think you could do a better job why not try and join the service.

    HP, UK: I don't think it's a black and white argument but rather that the police treat most people with contempt


    Ravi Chand:

    There is an issue in terms of service delivery - our police provide a service to everybody - the whole community. Issues have been raised in many discussions up and down the country regarding the quality of the service the police provide. I think one of the issues challenging the modern police service today is the demand on the police is far greater than it has ever been. So they are having to deal with so many needs out there, far more so than they ever anticipated.

    But the dilemma is that when it comes to providing a service, the police are far more effective in providing a better quality of service to the majority community who are white than minority communities and that's evident in much research and many of the reports - it was identified through the Stephen Lawrence and institutional racism.

    With stop-and-search, last year's figures showed that if you were Black and Asian you were five times more likely to be stopped and searched - this year's figures, are likely to show that you are still six to seven times more likely to be stopped and searched. The figures are yet to be published but we think that the figures are going to be in that proportion.

    There are white officers who feel threatened when they stop somebody who is black and they feel that somebody may suggest that they have been stopped because they're black. There has been the suggestion within the service that as a result stop-and-search has dropped. If you look at the statistics now, stop-and-search has dropped right across the board but actually the greatest drop in stop-and-search has been for the number of white people we stop rather than black. So that argument just doesn't hold true.

    The Government has done a lot of work and my organisation has just put in a big contribution to looking at changing of the code of practice around stop-and-search. There are proposals that are going through Parliament which are going to change the whole law around stop-and-search making officers far more accountable when they stop people. So you don't get a situation, no matter what colour you are, where you feel you've been stopped and you have no explanation or understanding as to why you've been stopped.

    I think people have a right to know that if they've been stopped going about their lawful business, as to why they've been stopped. I would encourage people to co-operate with the police but also it goes hand-in-hand with the police co-operating with the public and explaining exactly why they've been stopped - the reasons for it - and exactly what they're looking for. Asking people to turn their pockets out, turning their cars inside out and getting people to produce their documents is unacceptable unless the individual can be held to account. I really hope the changes are made in Parliament and they accept the code of practice as has been put forward and bring about these real changes which will make a difference to everybody.


    Nitin Sawhney:

    Last year the legislation brought in, in terms of the Race Relations Act, was actually to stop institutionalised racism across the board. It seems at the moment there's a contradictory thing going on - it's almost since September 11th there's a degree of political opportunism going on, I feel, that it seems to have made it ok for certain institutions to act in a certain way. There was also a lot of paranoia around the Oldham riots and so on and I think as a result of that I think it's become. There was a lot of progress being made towards the middle of last year and I think a lot of that has been pulled back - everywhere in Europe but particularly in England at the moment - in terms of what's happened since September 11th.

    Return to the top of the page


    Diversity and integration


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    Stephen Wilks, Ireland: In saying diversity is a good thing and saying that integration is a good thing, aren't these two policies contradictory? And as well aren't they also practically unworkable?


    Nitin Sawhney:

    No they're not. This is supposed to be a pluralistic society - there's a big difference between multi-culturalism and pluralism. Pluralism is supposed to be about equal opportunity, anti-racism and multi-culturalism existing hand in hand. Apartheid was multi-cultural - it's not good enough just to talk in terms of multi-culturalism, you have to think in terms of attitudes.

    I travelled last year to 70 different countries around the world and it's quite amazing how just about every country is bi-lingual and then you get people from England going around and there's a certain arrogance that goes with saying - you should speak English if you come to our country. But if we go abroad, we also expect people to speak English.

    It's that level of arrogance that annoys me because I think people should be welcoming people that are coming to this country bringing new ideas and new concepts. I would say that what's going on right now in this country is very exciting and people should start looking at the fact that we're experiencing a cultural renaissance in the same way that Italy did in terms of explorers bringing new ideas. A similar thing is going on right now across the arts - theatre, music etc. - and people are ignoring the fact that there is such a richness that is being brought by being a culturally diverse society and that's what I think we should focussing on rather than this paranoia about asylum-seekers or detention centres etc.


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    Nina Wadia, one of the reasons that Goodness Gracious Me is always cited as being so successful is that it is meant to show that Asian people are confident and secure enough to be able to laugh at themselves. We got an e-mail from SN, Glasgow, UK: Do you think that you would have gotten so far in your career and been so successful if you had chosen not to make people laugh at your "own" expense?


    Nina Wadia:

    I want to go back to this point. There is a question of educating people - having citizenship classes etc. for immigrants coming to this country. Instead of having a kind of arrogance is saying we need to educate these people about what the British lifestyle is - if instead of education we had a kind of exchange of ideas. Instead of having classroom situation, if we had a pub situation where you literally sit down and exchange ideas between people and between cultures, that's perhaps maybe where you will get the right ideas.

    What's happening is that the media unfortunately represents things in such a negative light. What people have to realise is the negative side is only the side that is being portrayed - you need to see the positive things that are being done. There is so much positive work going for asylum seekers and for people who really and truly have suffered so much that they do need the held. The one good thing about the UK - it's one of the things that I love about this country- is that there is help out there, it's just I wish the media would show more of that side.

    In terms of Goodness Gracious Me, I think yes, it has helped my career - not because we're laughing at just ourselves - we laugh at everyone across the board. But if we didn't laugh at ourselves, yes, it could be construed as a racist show - you do have to be careful. The thing about using humour to get your point across is that it's not damaging - humour is a universal language, comedy is a universal language. If you can use the arts to get your point across, people will listen.

    Return to the top of the page


    Separatism


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    Arne Saknussemm, London: Will the UK ever have a truly multi-cultural society that can live in harmony when separatist organisations, such as Operation Black Vote, exist?


    Simon Wooley:

    Operation Black Vote is not separatist. We want equality of opportunity for Britain's black minority ethnic communities. We see that institutions don't represent us but we are not a separatist organisation.

    Can we have harmony? We have harmony particularly in the metropolitan cities. As Nitin said, there's fantastic dynamism going on - I'm not a native Londoner but I like it because it's teeming with diversity, with energy - people being who they want to be. I think it's not only a great example for Britain but it's a great example for the rest of the world.


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    I think the point that they are making partly is not necessarily a separatist organisation but one that advocates some sort of special measures or special influence or special action.


    Simon Wooley:

    I cannot understand why people cannot get their head around the fact that if you see social injustice or an imbalance that to correct that imbalance you need to put positive action here - be it gender, be it race, be it age - and that's all we're doing. Our contribution benefits everyone - everybody can gain from it and our political dynamism too benefits everyone.


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    There's a question addressed to me. It's from Robbo, Luton, England: Whenever there is a news story or article involving non-white people, the BBC seems to always allocate a non-white correspondent or journalist. It's patronising and irritating, so why do the BBC feel it is necessary?

    Robbo, if you are watching, the answer is that there is actually no grand conspiracy here. The job that I do - I'm a political correspondent - I do stories about race but I also do stories that aren't about race - I do stories about health and education etc. and my white colleagues will do similar things, they will do stories about race as well.Then reason that I am presenting this particular forum is because a while back I did what was known as the community affairs brief which did concentrate on race stories and so I have an expertise in it. But there is no greater design behind it than that.

    Return to the top of the page


    Representation


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    I wanted to ask you all about what you thought about representation - whether only Black and Asian people can represent Black and Asian issues?


    Simon Wooley:

    I don't think so - you can get a particularly good white MP that represents everyone and that's happened throughout history. Also you can get a Black MP that represents the whole community - Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott - in election after election their majority has increased.

    But having that diversity around the table brings in different dynamics. As a woman you bring a certain history and a certain dynamic to that table. As a black man, I bring that to the table. So it's just about enhancing the debate.


    Nina Wadia:

    I agree, although having said that with a show like Goodness Gracious Me it would have been odd to have four white people doing it. So you do have to find the boundaries. But then you've someone like Sasha Baron-Cohen being Ali G.


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    Controversially though


    Nina Wadia:

    Perhaps controversially but that's the idea - the idea is to throw up all these things. Sasha Baron-Cohen is a great performer which is why Ali G is successful. If he was a bad performer then that would be the problem. I wish people would actually look at the skills involved as opposed to the colour of the skin.


    Nitin Sawhney:

    Another thing is respecting differences. It's about anyone can respect differences between people. It's not about saying differences should be about marginalisation. I agree that the whole thing should be about balance - my big word is balance. I've only got one principle which is one human life - regardless of where it comes from and what gender it is or anything else - is equally valid to the next. Yet you don't see that depicted in the media, you don't see it depicted in education in terms of words like history or words like music - in terms of my education that didn't apply to everyone, it applied to certain elitist white male dominated hierarchical countries. That's how I learnt about history and unfortunately I didn't learn about India, apart from in terms of colonisation or Africa in terms other than slavery - it shouldn't be like that.


    Ravi Chand:

    You can get people from all races or backgrounds being able to speak on an issue. But when you're talking about being able to speak from experience - I have that black experience and if you're not black you don't have that experience and it's very difficult to understand. So all we're doing is speaking from that experience. But that doesn't mean that if you're not black that you can't challenge inequality, that you can't do something about the injustice that goes on in society. Everybody has a responsibility for dealing with that and we can all talk about own experiences. What we're representing is the experience rather than necessarily the colour.

    Return to the top of the page


    European dimension


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    Andreas Rams°y, Oslo, Norway: Britain is the only country in Europe today where the notion of "race" still prevails. Other countries may not have a perfect record in assimilating people from other countries, but there is no reference to "race".


    Ravi Chand:

    European countries really need to look at themselves. In our work within the European aspect - they are far worse in relations with Black communities and their history. Their record on human rights violations and treatment of Black people and people from minority backgrounds is the worse than anywhere and Britain is far better than are European countries.

    Norway, for example, had a piece of legislation which forbade anyone who was foreign from owning land - it's being debated through the courts in terms of people's rights - so these are current issues and not old issues. So let not certain European countries dictate to us if they think we're making an issue of it. We're raising it as an issue because we wish to address it. People over there don't even have a voice and I think it's an issue for the European Union to look at.


    Simon Wooley:

    There's no discussion in many of these European countries. I travel around Europe and we speak in Norway and other European countries and many Black communities are keeping their heads down because the debate is not even on the agenda whereas at least here we're discussing it and you can see the fruits of it. You can see in the capital and some of the major cities where it's a great place to be and a great place to live despite some of the problems.


    Reeta Chakrabarti:

    Rosario Rammaro, Rome, Italy: What are the racial minorities doing in Britain to counteract this resurgence of xenophobia?


    Simon Wooley:

    I think that Black Britain is at the forefront of tackling racism throughout Europe precisely because we're organised and mobilised and we have the debate and we lead Europe - Black Europeans look to us to see what we're doing.

    It is particularly worrying in mainland Europe with the of the rise of the far-right and it is precisely because the Black groups haven't been allowed to organise and mobilise themselves. For example, there's about 18 million people of colour in mainland Europe and only 4 million have the right to vote - what kind of a voice can you have where you are not even afforded that basic right - even if you're born in that country. In places in Germany, unless you've got German, so called blue blood, you're classified as an alien and so you don't even have a right to vote. At least here we do and so we're not only fighting for Black Britons here in the UK, we're fighting for our Black brothers and sisters on mainland Europe too.

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