Brown Britain, Black Britain

As autumn segues into winter, Prime Minister Gordon Brown bristles with intent, but can he deliver a Covenant with Black Britain, asks Thom Blair.

It's sophisticated and trendy in politics and the media to claim we live in  "a new country in the making" and "open to diversity". Indeed, we're told, the barriers to equality are quietly receding. The new Prime minister's pledge to  'change' Britain and "tap the pools of talent", is one example of these sentiments.

But, in this era of change in government leadership, my Afro-barometer tells me that for all the talk of "pioneering for social justice", Mr Brown will have to demolish the colour bars that stretch into every area of life, domestic and foreign policy.

This is no random thought or personal view. Let's face it the interests and the rights of Black Britons have been under attack for a long time. Without an effective counterforce the assault can only grow more oppressive.

A recent survey by the Voice, the 25-year-old Black newspaper, supports this view. "Almost the entirety of Black Britain (9 out of ten) agrees that racism remains an issue," said the Voice.

Moreover, "seven out of 10 Black persons in the UK believe that racism has either remained the same or worsened over the past three to four years"  — a period when Mr Tony Blair's New Labour Government, of which Mr Brown was the Chancellor, promised to confront the problem.

Though it would be churlish to deny individual achievements over the years, in politics, business, sports, fashion and music, the Voice reports that in all essentials of life "racism is alive and well".

What does this mean in real terms? It means talents wasted in poor schooling, hard-knock neighbourhoods and low paid jobs. It means skills never developed and legions of Black youth in care, prisons or on the mean streets of London and big cities. Left adrift, Black youth face difficult lives and are often destined for tragic fates.

Even aspiring, law abiding, job-hungry Blacks are so marginal and insignificant they do not appear on the positive side of the social ledger.

What's more the biggest issues facing Black communities -- such as chronic unemployment, poor housing and racial discrimination - don't register a blip on the radar of mainstream, corporate and political elites.

To counter this dire prospect, Britain needs concrete strategies that will lay to rest all fears of continuing Black disadvantage.

It's time for a "solutions summit" drawing on the best ideas of independent Black Advocates. Prof Gus John calls for schools that open the minds of youth and parents to the brighter possibilities of the future.
"We need collective action to hold those whom we elect to account, whatever their colour. Sentimental and sycophantic celebration of the fact that we now have Black barons and baronesses of the realm gets us absolutely nowhere".

Black Advocate, Dr Vince Hines, with the intuitive rigour that characterises his community work, says: "Strategies should be based on the successes and good practices of surviving black and ethnic minority self-help groups with over thirty years of experiences working at the grassroots".
"I believe that successful community development in Britain is in the nation's interest. Better trained and well-motivated citizens, whatever their ethnicities, ward off damaging world competitions in trade and commerce, and contribute to the wealth of the nation. It is a simple equation: 'Racism is bad for the Nation. Equal Opportunity is good".
Twenty-year veteran of national politics Diane Abbott MP, who began her parliamentary career in 1987 with the Black and ethnic minority advocates Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and Keith Vaz, is an essential link to civil libertarian principles.

"We were not selected because of our good looks and charisma, at random or as an act of patronage by our leadership. We were selected on the back of a feeling in society that had arisen because of the riots in London, Bristol and Liverpool in the early 1980s that it was high time that, towards the end of the 20th century, this House of Commons started to look like the people of Britain. If the case for representation was important 20 years ago, it is, if anything, more important today".

Simon Wooley, founder of Operation Black Vote, heads a nationally acclaimed organisation which actively fights against the "Black democratic deficit in the UK". He calls for a "crisis race summit to serve notice on the Government".

So, what should Mr Brown do to meet this challenge? (One thing for sure, people are sick and tired of the same old silly game. No more flying visits to the ghettos. End the candy floss sound bites and media shoots with compliant Black children; sweet but insubstantial.)

Empowering historically deprived Black communities to reach their full potential is the most serious economic and civil rights challenge we face today. Solutions must be sought as part and parcel of all timeless egalitarian principles and effective urban policies.

The "Browning of Britain" is a great challenge. Is this too daunting a task for the man who as the most powerful Chancellor in modern history transformed the Treasury into a formidable policy-making machine?

Thom Blair is editor and publisher of the Chronicleworld website http://wwwchronicleworld.

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