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In Conversation: Lee Jasper (Part II)

Lee Jasper is a political commentator and a leading campaigner for social justice and race equality. He was a Senior Policy Advisor on Equalities for the former Mayor of Greater London and was recently awarded the 2010 Life Time Achievement Award in recognition of his contribution in the fight for race equality in the UK by the national Union of Students Black Students’ Campaign. In part of our conversation series, Lee Jasper talks about the actions the black British community must in order to make a change for itself.

Lee JasperBelinda: When you talk about the need for a Parliamentary Black caucus, what do you mean? How effective do you think a Parliamentary black caucus would be for the black British community?

Lee Japer: I think it will provide a platform for cross-party consensus to be developed concerning issues that have to do with race and inequality and at the moment we don’t have that. I very much use the Northern Ireland experience in the early 90s, when they had Catholic youth unemployment of 65/70 percent.  I think we are heading towards that in the next three to five years and the Sinn Fein party lobbied the US Irish Congressional caucus to pressure the then, President Bill Clinton to introduce affirmative action in Northern Ireland and as a consequence, we have seen the Northern Ireland Catholic youth unemployment over the last 20 years drop to the same level as their white protestant counterparts.  This is how useful a caucus can be whether congressional or parliamentary in making international connections. Now that we have an African American president in President Obama, I would think very much a replication of the Northern Ireland strategy being applied here, with an appeal to President Obama to use his good efforts to say to American companies, I want to see more equality and diversity in businesses that are based in the united kingdom. I want to see the urging of the British Prime ministers in taking affirmative action as a way of tackling a largely unemployed and alienated black community in the UK. All of that is one of the possible benefits of a unified black parliamentary caucus. It would have to happen because when this crisis begins to bite as it will, in unprecedented ways in the next year or two, I think people will demand a greater level of unified election by our elected representatives.

Belinda: The Voice Newspaper was at the forefront with its reportage about the Stephen Lawrence murder and fight for justice, which followed. Is racism still as rife as it was 20 years ago and has the attitude of the police towards the Black British community changed since the Macpherson report, which said the Metropolitan Police force was institutionally racist? Has that attitude changed?

Lee Jasper: We have certainly seen the consequence of Steven Lawrence inquiry, a reduction in the number of racist murders, to the extent with which white youths were being engaged in racist attacks that led to the murders of young black men. Thankfully, that is in decline. We have seen the number of young black men death in police custody come down, so that has been some progress. So, we have seen some marginal progress but what we haven’t seen is the substantial difference in the racial profiling of stop and search. What we haven’t seen is the huge numbers of young people who are in the criminal justice system. So, we have the anomaly that a first time offender, white or black, are arrested for the same offence, the black youth is more likely to be charged for the offence while the white youth is likely to be cautioned. So, we still have massive levels of institutional racism police stop and search patterns and we still have huge levels of young black men in the criminal justice system.

Belinda: There was a piece in the Times newspaper this year and the writer said there was no need for the Black Police Association. How effective is the association in addressing these kinds of issues within their workforce?

Lee Jasper: They are very effective in terms of an organisation and they have pushed the government to crisis levels both from the point of boycott of black recruitment into the police service to demanding race equality within the service itself, leading to black promotions. So, they are an enormously effective organisation. It is part of the post 9/11 backlash that we see all things race and multicultural denigrated by the right wing press.

Belinda: How well does the government consult the black British community when making decisions that concerns?

Lee Jasper: The government fails in that regards or else you would not have increasing levels of racial inequality. Though they have been a great deal of lip service to the principle of race equality and some money spent on it, what the government has failed to do is take the necessary legislative  actions to tackle race equality. Instead they rely on small special projects initiatives and research papers as a means of seeking to demonstrate their commitment to race and equality but the figures speak for themselves and they would by any stretch of imagination indicate that the government have failed in its ambition for an equal society for all citizens.

Belinda: What actions can the black British community take and how can the black British community continuously seek change to achieve what they want, socially, politically and economically?

Lee Jasper: We are typically black in as much as we don’t do anything until our back is well and truly pressed against the wall. At the moment, we are seeping concrete into our spinal fluid. I think the consequences of that…which the recession and the economic impact will lead to huge levels of political activity in defence of community organisations, jobs and I think we are about to see a return after the brief room of the Stephen Lawrence enquiry which many people in the Black community  thought was the turning point of our struggle but in reality, we are going to have to constantly fight to continue and have a constant level of vigilance campaign and awareness in order to improve things in our community. I think we are going to see an increase in political activity in our community.

Belinda: How can the black British community influence issues with their vote and voice to secure their children’s future?

Lee Jasper: Here is the paradox and anomaly is that with the last elections, the pools indicated that it was a very tight race among the parties. Each party was seeking to get a workable majority in the commons and its rumoured that between 35 and 50 seats was the maximum any party could expect. The black community had the strategic strength in over 180 marginal constituencies, which meant that with successful coordinated action, real national movement with a consensus agenda around the black manifesto, we could determine the outcome. The anomaly is that the after years of inequality and social and economic oppression, we are the last people to realise that we have this power And so, cynicism and alienation from the political process means not enough black people are registered to vote and those who are registered, we need more people to turn out to vote. And so, we are at a transitional junction, where at the same time as we are disaffected with politics, and this is the general community and not just the black community, though we are more disaffected than most. At the same time, when the demographics growth of the black community means that they are now in a position to assume power, that transition will require churches, businesses, human rights and secular organisations to come together into a powerful national alliance to use the power to move forward. The black community has an influential vote but are not using it.

Belinda: When you look at the African American experience and compare it to the black British experience, is the hope that Britain will one day have a black Prime Minister feasible in the next 10 or 20 years? Is it something we need to fight for?

Lee Jasper: We need to, we need to inspire our young people and our children that there is a future for them in this society. It has to be demonstrable that black British citizens are not third class citizens in a first class democracy but have equal citizenship and rights alongside everybody else. In order to do that, the standards, the flags of civil rights have to be risen. We have to rally round and pursue a strategy similar to the Civil Rights movement in the 60s in order to ensure our children going forward are not permanently fielding in what could be a  prison of poverty, lack of ambition, deprivation and further  alienation proceeding from the next two or three generations. So, there is urgency about our situation that would have to be responded to if we are to inspire and hope for the next generation.

Note: Lee Jasper was interviewed in April 2010 before the general election in May. To read full article, flow this link: UK Elections

Image: OBV/Lee Jasper


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