To Be Young, British, And Black

We've got nowhere to live; they shove the colored people into the dirty stinking flats that they moved whites out of long ago. We can't get work. I've got a cockney accent so over the phone they say okay. But when I go for an interview, they say fill in this form, and that's the last I hear of it.

We get framed. One day I was walking along, and a car pulled up and four detectives jumped out. They grabbed me, searched me. They found two medicine tablets I had to take. Then they took me to the station and said, "You're not leaving here until we find a charge." All we can do now is resort to violence. You're still going to get done if you do nothing, so you might as well inflict some real damage.

LONDON--You can hear it in their voices. You can see it in their faces: the frustration, the oppression, the growing anger of the young blacks of Britain. And while British officials busy themselves questioning the validity of black complaints and allegations, worried leaders of black communities believe that race relations in Britain are following the pattern set by America, with the problems of a racial minority seriously ignored.

As blacks move in, whites move out. Schools where black children attend are usually grim slum-buildings with little done to improve them. Relations between blacks and police can only be described as hostile, and not a week goes by without yet another incident pointing to the almost inevitable conclusion that Britain is moving inexorably towards a Watts-type explosion.

In Birmingham, England, this summer, Jennifer Williams, a pretty 13-year-old West Indian, was walking home from school when she was attacked by two white youths who hurled her into a gravel pit pool. Shouting, "You blacks can't come down here," the boys watched as Jennifer drowned. Later that same week, Ken Harvey, a 41-year-old white schoolteacher, and his family of 12 were burned out of their home in London's predominantly black area of Brixton by a gang of 20 black kids who had vowed "to get whitey out."


"Lots more work will have to be done to divert the rivers of blood," cautions Joseph A. Hunte, former secretary of the West Indian Standing Conference, a vocal but moderate civil rights group. It may already be too late, however, to heal relationships between white Britain and its half-million black residents, who live mainly in the nation's large cities.

Polarization is evident all the way from Newcastle to London. During the months of March and April, 17 black-owned businesses were fire-bombed in London, while a series of physical assaults on police by blacks in Manchester prompted one officer to say, "Things seem to be getting as bad as New York."

Britain's blacks, lured to the island from the West Indies during the late 1940s to "help the mother country" with her post-war labor shortage and shunted into menial jobs that white Britons didn't want, have spawned children who see Britain as their home and are burning mad over the discrimination they face.

"The blacks born in Britain are growing up, and they will not stand for their society's oppression," warns Christopher Mullard, 29-year-old community relations worker, author of the controversial "Black Britain" and something of a leader in Britain's black community. "Unless something is done to improve race relations in this country it will lead to unrest and riots."

And while there has been nothing recently on the scale of the bloody Notting Hill riots in 1958, in which thousands rampaged through London, there has been no shortage of major racial disturbances. In June, a knifing incident in Brixton's Brockwell Park exploded into a full-scale confrontation, pitting 200 taunting, bottle-throwing youths against 100 policemen with swinging truncheons.

It is understandable why Britain's blacks are so bitter. Though Britain's 1968 Race Relations Act has made most forms of race discrimination illegal, complaints of the color bar in employment, education and housing continue to mount. There has been a steady growth in unemployment among West Indians, and the 1971 census revealed that unemployment among young blacks (many of whom have been educated in Britain and therefore expect more than their immigrant parents) is twice that of white youths, despite the fact that West Indians are not predominantly located in areas of high unemployment.

Those not unemployed usually find themselves in low-grade jobs with little prospect for advancement. Blacks are ubiquitous in such lower status and low-paying jobs as bus conductor, railway porter and hospital orderly.

In Britain's highly stratified educational system, blacks are a rarity in the college-bound track. Only 500 of the 200,000 West Indians enrolled in British schools are in grammar schools, the more academically advanced of Britain's two types of public secondary schools. Five times as many--2500--are in Educational Subnormal Schools, the large majority of the students misplaced.

Culturally bound Standard English often presents the West Indian child with many problems, and he may not understand what the teacher is saying. Typically, the teacher interprets this as a lack of intelligence. As a result, one school in North London estimated that 70 per cent of its black pupils were incorrectly assigned, while a survey of the whole of London showed that 28 per cent of black children--compared to 7 per cent of white children -- were misplaced. Many in Britain's black communities have interpreted these grim statistics as a plot to keep blacks out of Britain's colleges.

A report by the London Community Relations Commission revealed that blacks face substantial discrimination when trying to buy a house and that the color bar is forcing many blacks to live in substandard housing. Charges of police brutality have become common, and earlier this year 31 community relations workers and teachers sent a letter to the Birmingham police chief charging that "the insensitivity of the police to the situation is deliberate [and] any encounter between the police and a group of black people can almost be guaranteed to result in violence."