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Black people will resist the Borders Bill

Given our history of colonisation, emigration, life as second-class citizens and our experience of open racial prejudice, Britons of African and Asian descent are not surprised by the Tories' latest attack on us — and we are ready to resist it, writes ROGER McKENZIE

THE Nationality and Borders Bill allows the government to strip, without notice, the nationality of nearly six million British citizens, including two in every five black people, even if this makes those people “stateless.”

The Bill, now heading for the House of Lords after the Tories voted it through the Commons last week, also criminalises anyone helping an asylum-seeker to arrive in Britain — with a penalty of up to life imprisonment.

When one sees these measures alongside this government’s deeply draconian measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to curb non-violent protest, everyone should be incandescent with rage — but realise these are not new proposals.

These and other measures, such as the slashing of overseas aid, delivers much of the agenda spewed out by the National Front in the 1970s. An agenda that so many of us fought hard against with them and their successors. The Tories know full well what they are doing.

The targets of these political manoeuvrings are real people who left the former colonies or fled wars instigated by the colonisers to seek safety and a better life. It seems convenient for some to forget that “we” are here because “you” were there.

My parents came to England from Jamaica in the early 1960s. They were, like many others, invited to help to build the economy of this country and to do the jobs that white people did not want to do.

The enslavement of Africans, such as my ancestors, to work on the plantations of the Caribbean, should never be forgotten in these political debates. And neither should the brutal colonialism that went with it even after the abolition of the, very legal at the time, institution of slavery.

My dad worked on the railways for thirty years — mostly stuck on night shifts that meant we didn’t get to enjoy his company in the same way that many of our white friends got to with their dads.

My mum, as well as looking after us kids, worked, amongst other things, cleaning up after office workers who rarely saw her as she was either in there before they were even awake or there after they were in the pub enjoying a drink. A working life that had serious consequences for her health and wellbeing in her later years.

This was, of course, not just the experience of my parents. Countless immigrants to these islands can tell similar stories of long unsociable hours and hard work for low pay. Working conditions often, sadly, too inconvenient for trade unions to consider a priority for organising.

Many immigrants can tell their stories of racial harassment at work, in the streets or even attacks on their homes.

My dad never talked to me about the racism that he experienced but my mum did. I remember her asking my brother and I to meet her after work to walk her home because the National Front were active where we lived and she was afraid of being attacked.

She often told us the story of when in the early ’60s she was attacked by racists when she was pregnant and had to fight them off single-handedly.

Again nothing special to our family. Thousands, if not millions of immigrants to this country could tell similar stories.

They could tell of racist graffiti on their homes, being ordered by racists to go back where they came from, getting ill, partly because of the low-paid hazardous jobs they were doing, and having the audacity to use the National Health Service that they too were contributing towards.

To now be told that having enslaved you, colonised you, started wars in your countries, got you to come over to to clean our toilets, we are now going to strip you of your citizenship at will and without warning, would be surprising if many hadn’t seen this coming for years.

Stories abound of people of African and Asian descent keeping a packed suitcases handy on top of the wardrobe or how the big clothes trunk was always ready because they knew that whatever was given could easily be taken away and indeed, often was.

This was, after all, the experience in many workplaces and the impact of the plethora of nationality and immigration laws that have been passed over the last 40 years or so.

We have always been a political target whether they call us immigrants, migrants or refugees or just benefits scroungers. Take your pick.

What many people of African or Asian descent have also known, whether because of enslavement, colonisation, indentureship or the colour bar and racism experienced in this country, is that while we have allies or even sometimes active collaborators against racism, we have to organise ourselves.

Whenever unjust laws have been introduced we have always found a way to resist. We can lament the draconian and racist laws that the Tories pass as much as we want but we must create what the legendary poet and activist June Jordan once called a place of rage. Not some uncontrolled anger but rather a thought out organised rage of resistance in the same way that we have always done. We have a history of black resistance to racism that must guide us once more.

Roger McKenzie is general secretary of Liberation.


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