Problems at work; changes; identity; 1992
Frank Scantlebury: The name of the factory was Westinghouse Brake and Signal and there were quite a lot of people from the colonies working there at the time, as well as from various parts of Europe, Poland and Hungary and other countries, Italians, and so on, and although we were glad to have the opportunity to work, there were those in the group who thought for some reason or other that we should not have been there. They never showed any hostility as far as I can remember towards the Europeans that were there but we were the ones who bore the brunt of the attacks, not physical attacks, very often verbal attacks, unpleasant remarks. They would often refer to us as ignorant and uneducated and accuse us of being lazy and if we decided to answer back and then we would be accused of having a chip on our shoulder and not being able to take a joke. And this is what most of us resented, when people say things to us deliberately to humiliate us and make us look rather silly.
Ranjit Sondhi: I'd suddenly discovered there was an English working class and, of course, in India you never hear about the English working class, you only hear about the administrative class and the rich people and the aristocracy. So really finding that there was an English working class was quite a unique experience [laughs].
Nurul Hoque: My feeling was English people never tell lies, never steal, so one day I left £4 in my pocket in the changing room before I started work. When I come back at dinner time it's gone, and since that day my feeling is changed. I say, English people also steal, they'll tell lies. Before that I so sincerely thought, they never steal, they never tell lies and they never do any bad thing. That was my feeling before that £4 was gone.
Carlton Duncan: And I saw this job going in Brent for a Head of Economics Department, so I applied for it and I was one of five applicants short-listed for the job. When I got to the school the first thing I noticed is that at a guess 80% of that school was black children. Very large school but I remember very well five of us congregating in the Head Master's office at the time and he's saying to all five of us, I being the only black one present, "I don't know why you've applied for a job at this school," he says, "They're all niggers here you know and they're rough, tough and loud." And I could see everybody looking, they can't believe what they are hearing and three of the candidates, three of the candidates withdrew there and then.
Esme Lancaster: Another time I went into the coat-room to take my coat and she was in there talking and as I came she says, "I can't stand the sight of her," and I said, "You can't stand the sight of me," I said, "well let me tell you, I am here, we are here, we are coming and we're increasing and one day we shall be like the children of Israel in the land of Egypt and if you don't like it you either go or die!" And I walked away.
Ranjit Sondhi: Then when I went to university it all flourished. I think in the first year there was a demonstration against Enoch Powell, who had made his "Rivers of Blood" speech and incidentally at that point really racism wasn't a word in my dictionary but he had made his "Rivers of Blood" speech, he was due to come back there and we had organised a demonstration. The students had not liked it and I saw here a bunch of white, university students, largely white, protesting against a man who was making comments about black people and I thought this was something, I really must get involved, and I did and I was in the front line and I remember being punched by a policeman in the stomach, very coolly and very calmly, The policeman came up while my hands were pinned behind my back by other demonstrators; I got punched in the stomach. Now this infuriated me and that fury lasted for many years, I couldn't talk about the incident without really feeling very angry about that but it had most important impact upon my thinking.
Nurul Hoque: It was a very important factor, how the sub-continent people survived, help from each community to another community. Even at work like there was a good feeling towards each other.
Avtar Singh Jouhl: During the 70s there was very big, great trend towards westernising. In the homes people tried to speak English, even the children lost their mother-tongue and that speaking English is higher in status. And also among the children of the 70s, youth, the trend was "becoming westernised." High-heeled shoes, flared trousers, long hairs and disco dancing, and everything. So what happened that it was great in the schools going to the discos, all this and that. I'm talking about the first generation of the children who either came from Panjab or born here but when they came out on the labour market they suffered a shock. Who are they who are not getting the jobs. A white person came out of the school, have a job, I don't have a job and this is a fact even today not even in the 70s but then it started "Who I am?" and then these people have been forced to go to their roots and hence the demand came, "I want Indian meal, I want Indian food, I want Asian food," and hence the question of identity.
Ranjit Sondhi: When I say blacks, I suppose I mean all those people who have suffered, in some ways, the impact of discrimination and disadvantage. Now this would obviously mean people largely from the third-world countries, from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, People who have been seen to belong to the native hinterlands and who have now arrived at the "Mother Country" and are treated, literally, almost in the "Mother Country" as if they had been treated as if they were still back at home in their own countries. I think that old colonial relationship, if you like, between the master and the native or the master and the slave is reproduced with a vengeance in the "Mother Country" and it is that old relationship in its new form that you see in Handsworth and that leads to trouble from time to time because it is not a healthy natural relationship. It is an artificial created relationship between black people in the servile role and white people in the master's role. It'll have to break down and as it breaks, as people move towards equality, struggle for justice and create equality, there is a tension and that tension sometimes becomes quite difficult and it erupts like fire in the inner cities.
Carlton Duncan: There is a view that we didn't have any racial riots in this country. We have racial uprising in this country. But there's also a view that look, it wasn't only about black people in Brixton and Lozells or Handsworth and Toxteth and so forth, that working-class white youngsters were quite visibly taking part in these areas, which would tend to subscribe to the view that it was an uprising rather than riots: in the sense that if society makes some of its members feel that they don't belong, they haven't got a claim on anything, then it can't be surprised if people who don't feel that the towns, the centres, the buildings, the facilities have anything to do with them set out to destroy them. It is a way of people saying, "Look, you've really got to release me, you gotta really take me into your confidence and make me feel part of the system, only then can I respect what we have!" and so on. It was people rebelling against a suppression, being kept in poor circumstances, poor housing, no jobs, little resources and so on, that's my opinion of what actually happened in these various towns.
Ranjit Sondhi: The ground was laid in Handsworth over a long hot summer in which people had started to feel, as they had been feeling for a long time, but feel a bit more critically, some of the impacts of what I call wagelessness. There's no money in your pocket, there's everything to play for, there's no way in which you can get something in your lifetime. There is no job that you can take on because there isn't a job to take, it spills over and if you read the tabloids at the time you would have thought quite clearly if you'd lived outside of Handsworth that really this was a Russian plot, but it was nothing like that. People in Handsworth don't know who Trotsky is, don't know what the Russian revolution meant. What they were responding to was the exact nature of the quality of their lives and they were saying to the world, "This is what we think about our houses, this is what we think about our area, we think so little of it that we are prepared to see it go up in smoke without any problems!"
Carlton Duncan: Yes, this is an uprising, against deprivation and that deprivation to a very large extent was concentrated on the black community. But white working class understood that, suffered that and that's why in all of these so-called riots you could see white youths in particular, running the streets with blacks and throwing the stones and lighting the fires in the same way and nearly all of them, if you watch you saw that happening. It's an uprising against deprivation. It's not easy to determine the truth, if, I suspect that if you were to ask the players themselves you'd get as many explanations as there are players about what was really happening. We shouldn't just block off a whole sector of our community and say, "No, you can't get the chance, you can't get the opportunity." Yes: it's the opportunity to become part of the system, to own some of those shops which they burnt down, to get jobs so that they are not on the streets at night, in fact, if many of those had jobs to go to the next bloody morning they wouldn't have been out there in the nights. They'd have been catching some sleep because they gotta get up early the next morning, but the system was such that the jobs available, the jobs were for white people not for black people.
Sakiina Haaruun: Some people you know they are not going to move, they are not going to shift, they going to have this thing about white supremacy, because that's where racism is coming from because of the different colour, it means I have more power than you as a black person. Now who then wants to shift that, it's like you have being a boss and you know, you're managing your resources all this time and then you're going to go down into the workshop and give your, somebody from your workshop, your chair and tell them to get on and do it. So it makes it difficult but there is something about, understanding, there is something about sharing, there is something about even though you and I might be different colour and even though we might come from a different background, we are human beings. And that is what people should actually try and remember because it must be a purpose, you know what I mean, for me to be here and for me to be black, [there] must be a reason.
Ranjit Sondhi: The more I got involved in the work in this country there was a slow and steady shift into the English way of life and by English way of life I don't mean the white way of life because the English way of life is white and black way of life.
Ryland Campbell: As far as it go we are strangers whichever country we are, we are strangers, British passport say that I must travel the world and nobody should, you know, trouble me, so with that it make me into international person. I'm a universal man, I can die in any part of the world I feel.
Carlton Duncan: I don't really feel I could settle anywhere now which didn't enable me to share both Jamaica and England.
Esme Lancaster: I'd like to go back to enjoy a bit of the sun, you know, get that heat generating my body again, build my strength a bit. I'd like to, but then I found I couldn't, so then all I had to do was to make the best of it here.
Saji Kaur: I've been back a number of times but then you see it means that I would now have to be in a situation that I couldn't possibly live there because my children couldn't live with me. So I think, as an immigrant I think it sums up the fact that I was born one because this country didn't accept me (do you remember you said), and I think I shall always die one [laughs]. But I think you also come to a very philosophical ending that maybe with that life ahead of me as the children grow older I might still find some place somewhere, wherever it is, where I think I like to grow old, and that's another romantic notion.
Carlton Duncan: I feel my children are too early to avoid much of the racist practices which still permeates this society. They might not have it as difficult as I had it in that front because society is changing slowly but maybe their children will see a society which is much more equitable and just.
Avtar Singh Jouhl: The dream with which nearly everybody, I would say almost all, who came to this country, that dream is shattered from the aspects of, back home connection will not remain here which we in the community saw that our children will live together, there will be lot of cosiness, closeness, all this. Children started living separate, they want their own life and there is a tension, argument between the first generation and the second generation and second generation are saying, "You are not living up to the time and you are not changing with the time!" But I would say, if they are in first generation shoes they would realise what change mean and so I would say it is a sad story. The situation looking for future is even more grim unless we in the Indian community, Pakistani community, Bangladeshi community, black community as a whole, the whole black community whether they are of whatever origin, they unite their ranks, rather than in two years, now, against the rising tide of Fascism on European scale. It is frightening, it is frightening in terms of reading the result of the elections in Belgium that Fascist parties have made inroads up to ten to twenty per cent votes, in France, in Germany and even in this country the Fascists have become active again and their target is black. And next week National Front France here they picketing this 1992 conference organised by Birmingham City Council and they saying a hundred per cent white Europe. So life is again linking back to the '50s with the dreams that life will be easy but life have been difficult and it is difficult and I can see it will remain difficult. Life of any migrant is difficult yeah.
TRANSCRIPTION OF CASSETTE 2, SIDE B