From Socialist Review, No. 171, January 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Eds: Winston James, Clive Harris
The issue of racism has catapulted up the political agenda in Britain in recent months.
Inside Babylon is a collection of essays which chart the very real oppression which blacks have suffered at the hands of the state and authorities since the 1940s.
The immediate postwar period is generally characterised as a time when Britain welcomed immigrants from the West Indies. Most notably, Enoch Powell, Tory Minister of Health and later to become Britain’s most famous racist, enthusiastically encouraged blacks to come over to work in the National Health Service. Clive Harris argues that both Tory and Labour governments were in fact much more reluctant to allow black immigration.
Those immigrants who were allowed in were given the least skilled, worst paid jobs. There were few promotional opportunities and thus blacks found themselves in a vicious circle. They were forced to live in the most deprived areas and to send their children to schools with the least resources. Consequently, those children received, and continue to receive the worst education, get the worst jobs and so on. Inside Babylon is not the first book to highlight this development of institutionalised racism, but it does provide a wealth of historical evidence.
Errol Francis argues, in the chapter on psychiatric racism, that blacks are ‘massively overdiagnosed as mentally ill.’ He provides a detailed account of the ways in which blacks in mental institutions are invariably characterised as dangerous and violent. Consequently, blacks have been criminalised, incarcerated and, in a number of cases, killed whilst in the ‘care’ of the authorities.
The book offers a sympathetic account of the specific experiences of black women, and attempts to analyse the various cultures of people from different islands. These analyses highlight the fact that there is no uniform identity among black people and no automatic unity. Cultural differences, sexism and of course class, are all barriers that must be overcome.
In the final chapter, Winston James looks at the question of repatriation. Clearly, the current debate which Bernie Grant has generated is not new. In fact, many of the first wave of immigrants always intended to ‘return home’. Furthermore, the sickening experience of racism in Britain will have made many tens of thousands of others wish to leave. James argues that repatriation was never a serious option either for that first wave of immigrants or for subsequent generations of blacks. It was economic necessity, not a desire to forego the sun and the beaches of the Caribbean for the damp drizzle of Brixton or Slough, which brought people to Britain in the first place. James finishes by arguing that blacks are ‘Here to stay. Here to fight’
This marvellous conclusion comes at the end of a book in which none of the authors offer any strategy for fighting back. The omission, and ridiculously complicated language and terminology used in the book, are its biggest weaknesses.
Marx once wrote that philosophers have interpreted the world but the point is to change it. Sadly, this book will prove to be of most use to people in pursuit of degrees and research grants than those whose aim is to smash this rotten system.
Last updated: 4 March 2017