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Life & Debt in Jamaica
W. michael byrd and linda a. Clayton
Law & Order
Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism
Native Challenges to Mining and â€¦
Iraqi Sanctions: Myth and Fact
Nuggets From A Nuthouse
Race and Class
You Can Beat the Privatizers
Consequences Of Empire
An Interview With Miriam Ching â€¦
The War In Afghanistan: 40 â€¦
Stephen R. Shalom
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Race and Class
An interview with Jenny Bourne, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Race Relations
ADRIAN HAREWOOD: I want you to begin by talking about the origins of the Institute of Race Relations. Many people in North America and Canada are familiar with the journal Race and Class and that might be their only understanding of what the institute is. Perhaps you could tell us about the institute's history.
JENNY BOURNE: Yes, the institute had a very long history. It's the foremost race body probably in Europe of its kind. And it had a very different politics at its inception than it does now. It was set up in 1956 as a department of the then Royal Institute of International Affairs, which was a sort of colonial body obviously looking into the relationship between Britain and its colonies. Essentially, what the institute was about at that point was researching, primarily for businesspeople, what the kind of climates of racial tension might be in those countries in the Third World that were getting independence from Britain, but where they might want to invest. So it's quite significant that in the 1950s the money for the Institute of Race Relations and its research came from people like BP (British Petroleum) and Shell and then later from multinationals like the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller, Nuffield, all these big companies were putting money into this Institute of Race Relations.
So it was a fact-finding institute, a clearinghouse of information?
It was, but also we were producing the only so-called “objective research” on race relations at that time. So I do have an ambivalent attitude towards it. In one sense it was forward looking, because no one else had seen race relations as an issue in Britain. At another level it was intensely reactionary. In 1958 Britain had its first so called race riots, which was actually when white fascists went to beat up Black people living in the Notting Hill area. People suddenly realized [that] now race relations weren't something out there in those colonies but it was here in Britain actually around the experiences of the people from the colonies who'd been asked to come here to work and now were facing extreme racism. The institute then began to research racism in Britain as well. They suddenly realized that the chickens had come home to roost, the problem was here. But when they looked at racism in Britain—of course racism wasn't the word they used then, it was race relations—it was still seen as an interpersonal problem, “How can we help these colored immigrants,” as they were called, “to assimilate?” After the idea of assimilation came the idea, “Well, maybe they can integrate and maybe there is a bit of prejudice in the white population.” That's as far as they went. “There was no racism, there was a bit of prejudice and if we educate them we are all reasonable people and everything will be fine.” Of course, everything wasn't fine and by the time I joined the institute in 1970, there was a change in the whole debate on race and that change was focused in our institute.
Talk about what was happening in British society at that point and what was happening in the world. Of course we know that the Black Panther party in the 1960s had had a tremendous impact on people. In 1968 Enoch Powell made his famous speech in Birmingham in which he talked about the necessity of repatriating Black people who had come to this country. There was a lot happening. From your perspective, what was in the air at that time?
I was at university from 1966-69 and you couldn't help but be affected by the politics that was around. The one thing you left out was the impact of the Vietnam War. The idea of the struggles in the Third World being legitimate struggles [and] our implication in imperialism was central to everything and you didn't have to be political. I wasn't particularly on the left, it was just normal to have that consciousness, and there is absolutely no doubt that the Black movement, particularly the American Black Power movement, was what politicized us all. We were all reading George Jackson, Eldridge Cleaver, Malcolm X, all of us. I'm white, but that, in a funny way, was my coming to politics, maybe my coming to feminism was through that Black struggle by proxy. It was your whole life, it wasn't [that] politics was a thing aside; it was central to your thinking and to your reading and to your music appreciation. That kind of thing was part of a whole generation.
Enoch Powell was the central racist in this country who spoke and stoked up white working class racist fears toward the end of the 1960s and obviously we organized as students against that, as well as supporting the Black Power movement.
Why was he so dangerous?
Because there was no working class leadership on the issue of race. We had a very strong trade union movement in this country but it was very workerist and it was very racist and there was no principled articulation for working class people on the issue of racism. They didn't know how to relate to the Black workers on the factory floor. Britain, unlike the rest of Europe, had an anti-fascist tradition; there was always this thing, “We are not racist because of the side we were on in the war.” So there is an anti-fascist tradition and the idea was almost that they equated racism with fascism, so if you weren't a complete fascist you couldn't be a racist and Powell spoke to all that. He made use of white working class fears; the people who were in the areas into which Black workers were moving; who thought that their areas were being taken over; who thought that their house prices were going down; who thought that their school places were being taken, had a senior politician now articulating that view. He made out [that] he was reflecting what people told him.
But obviously, if you are a central politician, you're being peddled in the media every day; you are doing the influencing yourself. And Powell, for that reason, was extremely dangerous. I mean to give credit where it's due he was sacked from the then Conservative cabinet and in that sense he was put beyond the pale of British politics—which is significantly different from what is happening now when we are having a recurrence of that kind of political debate and we are not getting that kind of decisive leadership from either the Conservatives or from the Labor Party on the issue of race.
But ironically, Powell became a galvanizing issue for the Black community and very few people have actually pointed that out. There was something formed called the Black People's Alliance, which was a coming together of a number of different groups made up of people who had come from different islands in the Caribbean, from different countries in the Indian sub-continent, and from Africa. They all came together in this Black People's Alliance to oppose Powell and also to try and influence Commonwealth countries and I think then it was the issue of what was happening in what was then Rhodesia.
What happened then? What changed the institute?
The institute in 1970 was a very large, very hierarchical, very elitist organization based in the middle of Mayfair, the most expensive part of London. You had the marble stairs and polished brass door handles and all this stuff. It was not [a] place that black people would go, it was the place where people from the House of Commons or House of Lords might go and those were the people who the institute thought it ought to be serving at that time. I came in as a researcher.
What happened, in a nutshell, was that many members of the staff, and obviously the ones who were Black in particular, were becoming more and more influenced, not just by things like the Black Power movements and Vietnam, but by everyday racism in Britain. We were having demonstrations on the streets against police racism. Many Black children were being put into schools for the educationally “sub-normal” just because they were Black. Asian children were not being allowed to get into the schools in their locale; they were being bussed out because there were supposedly too many Asian children in their schools. Racism was rife in the prisons [and] in all kinds of areas of society. But whenever we tried to write about that or articulate that, we put it at a very basic level, we just said, “We want to articulate the voices of the victims,” that was all we were saying. Our Board of Management, which had all these big multinational corporations on it, plus people in the government and in the House of Lords, [told us] “No, you can't say that. That's not objective.” Suddenly it wasn't objective if Black people were talking about their experience. It was only objective when one was giving the other point of view, their point of view. The issue came to a head when we had a magazine then called Race Today and we put an advert in it for an Anti-Apartheid demonstration and the management called us to account and said, “You've cost this institute £10,000 in fundraising. You are not allowed to do this. We are going to close down this journal. We are going to sack this editor.”
There was a very famous tome of research that had come out that was called Colour and Citizenship, which had looked at the whole of race relations in Britain, and this researcher basically said that we were doing the government work, that in the future if Black people had a researcher knock on their door they should tell them to “Fuck off.” He used those words in a public lecture and attacked the research as, “Research that was not in the interest of Black people.” So the management committee decided [that] he should be sacked [and] our magazine should be closed down, and on those very basic issues of academic freedom and press freedom, we then had to unite the staff against the management. When I say we, I am not being quite honest. Most of us weren't political at that time. Dr. Sivanandan, [who is] known as Siva, was then the librarian at the institute and he'd already begun to write quite significant things about racism in Britain and it was through his political acumen that we began to understand how to organize; that there was something to organize; that there was a fight to transform the institute.
We unified the staff and then our whole membership—because we were a membership-based organization—and a whole lot of community organizations that then understood there was this battle going on about the nature of what an institute of race relations ought to be. We were basically saying we wanted it to be an institute against racism. There is nothing objective about race relations. There is something called racism and it's got to be combated and you can't hide anymore within these sort of academic orthodoxies that they kept peddling about objectivity. So there was a long struggle with our management council that took about two years and that is what politicized me. Because the people who owned the institute, owned the press. I mean they literally owned the newspapers.
So how did you manage?
It was a lot of work. I gave up any pretense of doing anything else other than organizing to transform the institute for about a year, and I wasn't the only one, all of us would be doing this. We went through the press cuttings that came in all the time. We circulated them to maybe 200 people all across the world. People were sending in telegrams of support to the governing board and explaining why they wanted to support our position. Journalists were writing things, ultimately we managed to get our position in, and they were writing articles that were sympathetic to us. But an awful lot of other ploys were being taken all the time to try and divide the staff. The Ford Foundation came in and tried to offer bribes to different people to take different bits of research away, or, “We'll publish your book if you'll go into retirement.” I think it made people in the Black community actually think they could trust some of these people up in this elitist organization, because why should they have trusted us before.
Eventually in April 1972 the management was forced to take the idea of closing down our magazine and sacking these people to an annual general meeting of the membership and they hadn't realized that by then we had actually begun to change the membership. We had a very different membership base with people who were conversant with what was going on in the country, and they got defeated. So that was a magnificent meeting, looking back on it. And it was a Pyrrhic victory because as soon as they were defeated they took away all the support of the institute. They were the ones who had raised the money. They were the ones who could now bad-mouth us everywhere, not just in the private sector world but also with the trusts and foundations from which we had been getting money. So we were left with a library and information service with a lot of support and no money. We had to start again in 1972 to re-think, re-orientate the institute. We didn't want to do that long-term kind of research that had been done before, which just served the academics and not the communities we were supposed to be serving. So we'd say that we would do the research that gathered ammunition that other people could then use in their fights against racism. That's the kind of research that we do, ad hoc research that collates experiences, which tries to show there are patterns and there are trends—give people the wherewithal to fight.
Even the Race and Class magazine started life very differently. There was a very academic journal called RACE that used to be produced here. We inherited this magazine and we looked at the mailing list and there were about 50 people who paid and everybody else had been getting complimentary copies and they had been sitting in universities and they had been doing nothing. Nobody wanted to read this very arid journal. So we took this thing called RACE and everybody said you can't turn it into something to serve the Third World and we did. We changed RACE to Race and Class: Journal for Black and Third World Liberation.
You have talked about the kind of international work that the institute was involved in but the Institute of Race Relations played a very important role in Britain in terms of struggles in education, struggles in prison. Talk about that kind of work that you were engaged in.
We used to say the slogan for Race and Class was that, “We think in order to do.” I think the clearest example of this was in the work we did on education. Because multiculturalism became the kind of fad in Britain—that you must teach children about each other's cultures and everything is going to be all right in schools. After a while out of the analysis [that] we'd been doing about the extent of racism in Britain, we were saying, “The problem is not cultural misunderstanding, it's racism.” We realized that kids needed something more than just a cultural prop to each others' lives, as it were, and we started a whole program of what we called anti-racist education. We produced for young people a set of four pamphlets that explained the history of racism from the pre-colonial period onwards, across the world, but particularly the parts of the world that Britain had been connected to through colonial experience. We did these two books called Roots, and Patterns of Racism and then we also did a cartoon book, which had never been done before for a much younger age group, to make the thing look fun but also understandable.
We began to retrieve the Black history of Britain. So anti-racist education was important, but we were also trying to say, going back to what I said about the trade union movement being racist, that Black people were always written out of history in this country as if they had never been here. They were [even] written out of a radical history. So we began to try and retrieve the contributions, the histories of struggle that Black people had done since at least World War II and Siva's work was very important on that. So he produced something called From Resistance to Rebellion, which was the history of what Black people had done, and by Black we meant people from the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa who had had a joint experience of colonialism and also of British racism. From that history we've had a lot of spin-offs. So we did an exhibition of images from those struggles and going back into the newspapers of those times and even the leaflets and stuff that was put out. We did a very big exhibition and then a book from the exhibition and more recently we have produced a CD-ROM.
Called Homebeats, an award winning CD-ROM.
Yes. We have also produced two smaller books on different Black communities in Britain. We have also produced four films. But again, we are trying to say that Black people have made contributions in the struggle of creating the cities of Britain and it's taken a long time to push that line. There are other areas in which we've tried to do pioneering work. One was the issue of policing—the way that Black people not just feel, but are policed, has been completely racist from way back and the riots that we are seeing now of Asian youths in northern towns in Britain is just a continuation of the kind of riots that were going on 20 years ago in mainly African-Caribbean communities. We've done two major studies of racist policing. I'd say we look at the aspects of racism that are the harsher the cruder types of racism. We've looked at the deaths in custody that take place for Black people where they are differentially treated than white people—that's the custody of the police prisons and also mental hospitals in this country. That's an ongoing piece of research that we are monitoring all the time and also the levels of racial violence and the number of people who lose their lives in racial attacks, which is now again on the increase.
I think it would be safe to say that since 1972 the Institute of Race Relations has been a radical organization. Although the institute has produced first class intellectual work it has always maintained a real connection to the community, a connection to the activities going on on the streets of England on the streets of Brixton, Detroit, Los Angeles, or wherever you were covering whatever you were doing. How has the institute managed to deal with that kind of tension, internal tension that might have existed within the organization?
First of all, I don't know quite which came first, but we have a distrust of academics. I'm not saying all academics, but academics for academia's sake, as it were. Very soon after we transformed the institute we found there were academics that had been very happy to help us to get rid of the businesspeople, but now they wanted to tell us exactly how we ought to be doing research and they became a contradiction. The same thing happened when we took over this journal RACE and turned it into Race and Class and the staff asked Siva to be our director and edit the journal. These academics on the board turned around and said, “What? This man. He's not an academic. How can he edit a journal? We are the academics.” So I think we learned a lesson then that we had to take control of our products and also that we had to be much more conscious about how we did our research. It's quite interesting that very often when we go for money to funders and we say we want to do this and we want to produce a report, they say well, “Who is going to read it? Who are you going to influence?” And we say, “No, that is not where we start. We say who are we speaking from, not who are we speaking to.”
There is now in this country a whole kind of, if you like, a whole race relations industry full of people who want to promote equal opportunities, implement the race relations act and all the rest of it. There is nothing wrong with that, except that it has become very much part of management and personnel-speak; but, it's not the level of racism that we are engaged in trying to combat. The other thing is that all of us don't walk into the Institute of Race Relations as a job or as a career. All of us have been in different struggles and still are, whether it's through feminism or anti-fascist movement, or the Campaign Against Racism Fascism (CARF), or work that I have done on Palestine. We have always been grounded by our external activities, as it were, so this is an extension of our politics as well as our livelihoods.
Next year is going to be 30 years. What are some of the challenges that you think the institute faces in this new era, particularly in terms of young people coming up and participating in the work of the organization?
There are a lot of things changing we've become aware of just in the way we service people. It sounds a bit boring, but we've bragged about this magnificent library that we have got here that we have built up since the 1960s and suddenly we realized that people are not using libraries in the way that they were and the requests that we are getting for help and information are all coming on-line. So what we have tried to do is not just produce Homebeats but put stuff out on our website, communicate with people electronically. We are just about to launch the first anti-racist news service on-line, probably the first one in Europe. We've just got money to do that. Because we see the whole use of the electronic medium is going to be the way forward, it's the way that students are being taught to do their research and it's how people are receiving their information.
For better or for worse?
I just feel my age. I've had to learn. I've had to be educated. All of us have had to be educated in this. And also in the terms of Race and Class journal we've recently gone into partnership with Sage Publications, which is a commercial publishing house, because we realize that they could make it electronically available and we couldn't have done that ourselves. So if we are still producing a hard copy format of it, it was a way for us to get into the new market. So I think we are realizing that the ways in which we work or the way we deliver our information has got to change a lot.
The other thing about young people is something, to be honest that worries me—we are not having the resonance within say the student community that there was even ten years ago when every beginning of the year students would have a thing here called Freshers' Fair and they would ask people to speak on different subjects. We would also be going out to speak about racism. They're not asking anymore.
Why do you think that is? Has the institute become an anachronism?
No, it has nothing to do with us. It has to do with the economy. Students are worried about jobs and Thatcherism destroyed education and Margaret Thatcher's impact is still there in our new labor government. For example, we helped to set up a whole race and culture module at one of the universities, the first of its kind. It's been running for about three years. We helped develop the curriculum. It's just been axed. All the staff have been made redundant, because they say there are not enough students enrolling and the reasons students aren't enrolling for that kind of thing is because they want to go into something where they know they are going to have a job at the end of it and if you do race and cultural studies you're not going to have a job. So there is also a de-politicization going on amongst young people that our new labor government is helping with. We've got a downturn within politics and it does worry me when I look around our institute, because the other thing is we have always relied on having a lot of volunteers. We love having volunteers in and they are usually young people and they are usually fantastic and many of them go on to become part of our staff or our council of management. Now we find the people who are writing in, emailing in that they want to be volunteers, they just want something on their resume. They haven't got the commitment that drove most of us into this kind of work and it's actually quite hard, therefore, to give them a space here.
You've been involved in the institute for a long time. What are the lessons that you think as an organization you have learned over these last 30 years that other organizations can learn from?
Well, first of all I don't think that any of us thought that we could transform an organization and keep it going for 30 years. I don't think we thought we could take on the power that those people had on our management committee and win. So that is very important. We had to be strategic. I hadn't understood about strategies and tactics until we had to overthrow people. I'm not saying that you water down any of your principles but you have to be strategic. You have to know how to win people over. When we fought the institute battle we didn't become ultra-leftists or anything like that. We just said, “This is freedom of speech. This is academic freedom.” We managed to win a whole lot of people with us on that and then politicized them in the process. You don't sort of start and say you know, “We're going to have the revolution tomorrow.”
Siva's got a phrase that is very useful, “On our own we move a pebble but maybe that pebble will start an avalanche.” And that's the way we do things. But always to know there is a possibility, always to know you can move that pebble.
And that change is possible.
Yes. That change is possible, and then you become changed. I mean, I personally learned. I came in as a researcher as a sociologist. I learned that I could do a whole of other things that I never personally thought I could do.
We've all been transformed personally and then created something out of that transformation that's probably had an impact on people. Z