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Stabroek News

IS BRITAIN FOR BLACKS? Most Jamaicans say racism too high
published: Sunday | June 10, 2007


Mayor of London Ken Livingstone (right) converses with Jamaicans at a market while campaigning in Brixton in 2004.

Daraine Luton, Sunday Gleaner Reporter

THE FIRST major poll among Jamaicans in Britain has found that they believe there is a staggering level of racism in their adopted homeland.

The survey, commissioned by The Sunday Gleaner and conducted by Bill Johnson from March 17 to 27, found that a great majority of Jamaicans in Great Britain believed the dark spectre of racism had intensified in recent years.

A whopping 96 per cent of the sample, when asked whether they believed racism existed in Britain, responded with a resounding yes.

The poll, which has a sample of 400 Jamaicans - born in Jamaica or in Britain of Jamaican parentage - was conducted in several black communities across England. It has a margin of error of plus or minus five per cent.

Of the Jamaican-born respondents, 95 per cent said they believed racism existed in England, while 96 per cent of the English-born respondents said they believed there was widespread racism.

In Great Britain, racism is nothing new. Heather A. Horst, a researcher at the University of Southern California in the United States, has chronicled the Jamaican experience in Great Britain. Her work captures the realities of the Jamaican migrant returning to resettle after years in the United Kingdom.

Horst, in her study, says some 191,330 Jamaicans left for Great Britain from 1955 to 1968. Jamaicans and other colonial subjects were eligible to migrate to Great Britain under a provision granting British Commonwealth citizens unrestricted entry and permanent residence in the British isles.

The migrants did long and tedious jobs and often received low wages. However, only a small number of Jamaicans took advantage of this provision until after World War II, when the reconstruction of Britain required skilled and semi-skilled workers. From 1956 to 1958, labour shortages eased; hence employers were able to weigh their options for myriad of job applicants.

However, there were feelings of hatred and mistrust among the West Indian immigrants and working-class white Britons who blamed the West Indians for the high unemployment rate among them.

'Notting Hill Riots'

Tension between both groups culminated in the 'Notting Hill Riots' in late August and early September of 1958. Not very long after the racially charged conflicts, the British Government made significant changes and placed restrictions on immigration to the United Kingdom. Jamaica was among the countries affected.

Decades after a regularisation of the immigration system and a corresponding redevelopment of Britain, Jamaicans continue to hound that country for various opportunities. It is estimated that over 340,000 persons, born in Jamaica now live in Britain, pursuing employment and educational opportunities. However, many Black Jamaicans said they have had to endure the testing evil of racism.

According to recent Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson polls, 64 per cent of 400 Jamaicans sampled in England believed that much racism existed there. Another 28 per cent said there was some amount of racism in England, but not much.

Meanwhile, responding to whether there was more or less racism in England today than there was three or four years ago, 37 per cent of respondents said there was much more; 36 per cent said it was about the same, while 20 per cent said it was less.

However, Percival La Touche, president of the Returning Residents Association, and who spent 28 years in England, believes the prevalence of racism may have been overstated. "Racism existed in the old days, but it is not like that now. Things have changed," La Touche pointed out.

"If people are having problems with racism it is because of the 'hurry-come-up', 'fly-by-night' ones who have gone there to mash up what we have worked so hard to build," he claimed.

"You have people going there now selling drugs and committing other crimes. They are the ones who are causing the problem. People are not picking on people because they are black; they do so because they associate with these criminals who go there, not to work but to get rich quickly," La Touche added.

No equal rights

Most respondents have highlighted discrimination in the workplace, low pay and less promotion, verbal abuse and no equal rights as the most common ways in which they had been affected by racism.

Despite the perception that this major problem exists, 65 per cent of the sample said they were glad they, or in some cases their parents, migrated to the U.K. Only 17 per cent wished they had stayed in Jamaica, a figure which is almost similar to the 18 per cent who didn't have an opinion on the matter.

Sylbourne Sydial, founder and director of the Jamaican group in Britain, Facilitators For A Better Jamaica said, "Racism is institutionalised in Britain." He said despite laws against discrimination, black people have had to work "twice as hard and even more" than their white counterparts to be just as successful.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com

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