Following the Birmingham clashes between the African and Asian communities in October this year, the Guardian newspaper published an article entitled ‘Rumours of a riot’ (November 29, 2005), in which journalist Ed Vulliamy claims to investigate ‘the truth behind the rumour that set Birmingham alight’. Unfortunately, the article merely revealed his disdain for the African British community through the guise of informed, liberal journalism.
Myopic and anti-African reporting is not the unique preserve of the Guardian newspaper. It is in fact a nationwide strategy adopted by all mainstream mediums in a bid to reassert stereotypes and reaffirm the belief in european cultural supremacy. Imperialism doesn’t only happen in official political domains or in the european history books. It is also very much an integral part of the fabric of journalism in British society.
The Guardian newspaper has long basked in the rays of liberalism, feigning sympathy and compassion while subverting this superficial exterior with intelligently worded ethnic bias and european cultural imperialism. That they can articulate themselves by creatively utilising the English lexicon is the only real difference between them and the overtly racist Daily Mail. It is difficult to ascertain whether the Guardian has actually changed over the decades or simply become more transparent in its racist agenda as it takes it liberal branding for granted. Either way, the sanctioning of material that consistently denigrates, offends and misrepresents African people in Britain is now a matter of course. Malcolm X also known as Malik Shabazz was very much aware of the danger that the european liberal posed to the African community when he said;
“the white liberals are foxes, who also show their teeth to the Negro but pretend that they are smiling. The white liberals are more dangerous than the conservatives; they lure the Negro, and as the Negro runs from the growling wolf, he flees into the open jaws of the "smiling" fox.”
Ed Vulliamy’s article is but one example of an array of anti-African propaganda disseminated by the Guardian and other mainstream media. Admittedly, Vulliamy must have worked hard on this piece of work. To construct such a creative piece of journalism takes some skill and an equal level of determination to a very specific end. In Villainy’s case, his very specific agenda was to demonise the African British community through the age old stereotypes of aggressive and violent reactors, illogical thinkers and self perpetuated social disadvantage, whilst simultaneously absolving the Asian community of any responsibility for the clashes.
Violent and Agressive
Let’s take the first of Vulliamy’s favoured views. Much of Vulliamy’s article is geared towards condemning the African British community and holding them solely accountable for the clashes. To this end, he highlights the comments posted by independent posters on the Blacknet website forums. He states:
Blacknet announced that "Birmingham Asian shop owner and 18 other Asian men have raped a 14-yr-old girl because they thought she was trying to steal a wig", and invited comments. One duly read: "I hope Asian women are getting their throats cut as we speak." "Narrow it down to Pakistani women and I'll agree with you," came a response. After the riot, Blacknet apologised for and removed what it called "absolutely disgusting" material posted on its site.
Conveniently, he forgets, or rather consciously omits the quotes that came from many of the Asian websites which included one poster announcing “Big up the Pakis that raped that n****r b**ch”. Far from this being a one off, a substantial number of posters explicitly stated that the young girl at the centre of the allegations “got what she deserved”. Others took to gloating about how “stupid” African people were for supporting Asian businesses whilst allowing their own to suffer. Most Asian posters took the opportunity to proclaim their historically entrenched hatred of African people, with a substantial number claiming that is was racist for African people to now advocate supporting their own businesses, even if this meant avoiding or boycotting Asian outlets.
Incidentally, Vulliamy erroneously claims that Blacknet removed the offensive post after the riots. This is a categorical lie. Blacknet took immediate action on the offending post and subsequent posts by removing them within 24 hours of posting. Asian websites, Pickled Politics and Desi.com, took a noticeably longer time to do the same, and their action only came when the media picked up on and relished over the offending Blacknet quote.
As with the other media outlets who have reported on this story, Ed Vulliamy focused on one quote, a violent, aggressive call to murder which was condemned by other posters and deleted almost immediately. The hundreds of other comments about the social situation in Birmingham, the need for economic empowerment in the African British community and the historical racism of the Asian community were ignored. After all, we apparently don’t do informed debate, just the irrational promotion of violence. Vulliamy takes his racially charged baton and runs with it as he continues the blame game by quoting an Asian man who claims that people were ringing in to pirate radio stations urging listeners to ‘Kill the Muslims’ whilst ‘gangs of black youths’ are alleged to have toured Asian shops, threatening the owners.
He continues with the exoneration of the Asian community, with the anonymous mention of a ‘passerby’ who was murdered. The nameless passerby was in fact African Briton, Isiah Young-Sam. A BBC News online article states that three men have been charged with his murder; “Azhil Rashid Khan, 22, is also charged with the possession of ammunition without a certificate, a firearm without a certificate and a prohibited weapon. The other two men are Waqar Ahmed, 25, and Afzal Asraf Khan, 22.”
He attempts to validate his racist position by seeking the comments of Martin Blissett, Chairman of the heavily funded Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre in Birmingham. Blissett asserts “We have never had black-on-Asian violence”. This misguided African Briton is a mere pawn in Vulliamy’s attempts to suggest that the violence was caused by African people and instigated against the ‘innocent’ Asian community. He continues his portrayal of the aggressive African by referring to community activists Maxie Hayle and Bini Brown as ‘militant’ although nothing they are quoted as saying suggests that they are advocating anything other than awareness of the African British social reality. He expediently forgets to state that Maxie Hayle of the Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit was also a member of the Victims’ Advisory Panel, a statutory body established by parliament. Whilst Bini Brown is a well respected community campaigner from Birmingham’s long established African Caribbean Self Help Organisation.
The ‘militant’ label is a favoured one amongst those who want to detract from and misrepresent an honest and uncomfortable reality from the mouths of African community activists. It is not a label to be afraid of per se, but we should be aware of the manipulative motivation behind its use in this article.
The paragraph on militant, read aggressive, African people is juxtaposed with a paragraph depicting the ‘sympathetic Asian’ as we are told that Fazal, an Asian business owner “know[s] everything these black people go through” because “when I arrived here I was called a Paki, my children beaten up at school”. Throughout the article, the Asian voice is portrayed as distinctly reasonable and ultimately, logical.
Unreasonable and Illogical Thinking
The perpetuation of African people as mentally and politically inept was the second of Vulliamy’s strategic approaches. It is not a school of thought limited to him. Advocators of anti-African sentiments have always sought to align African people with an inability to reason. For example, not only did football commentator, Ron Atkinson use the n word to refer to Marcel Desailly during a live broadcast earlier this year, but he also used the qualifier ‘thick’. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson, once said of African people that;
‘Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one black could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous…’
Consciously and unconsciously, this school of thought has permeated the mindset of the people of colonising nations. Vulliamy talks of a ‘perception’ amongst the African British community in Birmingham that ‘male staff in these shops lusted after the young women’. At this point, he fails to mention the enquiry that was made into a previous incident at an Asian hair shop where an African woman was assaulted. Instead, he prefers to claim that it didn’t matter whether the perception was ‘true or false’ because African people believed it anyway, thereby suggesting that we are an irrational people who are unable to critical assess any given situation. The fact that Asian female posters on Asian websites had also stated that they felt ‘perved upon’ or had been ‘verbally sexually harassed’ by shop owners in this particular area was also ignored, perhaps because it doesn’t sit well with the notion that these experiences are mere ‘figments of the African imagination’. He subtly attempts to juxtapose the illogical aggressive Africans who ‘talk with bile about…. Paki rapists’ with Asian youths outside a bookshop talking about ‘kalas’. We are told that ‘kalas’ translates simply as ‘blacks’ but it is in fact a derogatory term for African people in Punjabi and loosely means ‘darkies’.
At no point does Vulliamy bother to highlight the fact that there were peaceful demonstrations organised by the African community aimed at calling for more information and support from the Asian community, police and national media in a bid to ascertain whether the allegations were in fact true or not. It was also aimed at showing support for the alleged victim herself and encouraging her to come forward to the police. African Britons in Birmingham also found that there was a distinct wall of silence erected by local Asian business owners who were reluctant to assist in attempts to get to the bottom of the allegations.
Vulliamy falls into the trap of attributing the Birmingham clashes to the “momentum” of a whisper and economic jealousy on the part of African people. He concludes his article with the final words given over to Mohammed Saleem of the Birchfield Traders’ Association who surmises that the sum total of the clashes and tensions come down to ‘Afro-Caribbean whispers’
Self Perpetuated Social Disadvantage
In the midst of the clashes in Birmingham, Asian newspaper, Eastern Eye brandished the headline ‘jealousy’ across its front page. The headline was based on the misconception of the Asian business community that African people are jealous of their economic success. Vulliamy’s article also follows this line of thought by claiming that Asian businesses revived the previously degenerated area of Birmingham and ‘logically’ moved into ‘traditional Afro-Caribbean products’. He states that these Asian businesses undercut their African business competitors and ‘supposedly’ took their customers. This shallow analysis, if in fact it is an analysis, amounts the sum total of his understanding of the economic situation that only partially contributes to the ethnic tensions in Birmingham. In fact, the reality is much more conniving. Asian business deliberately undercut the prices of African businesses. They did this in the full knowledge that it would impact on the profits of African businesses and inevitably lead to them suffering serious financial losses and in some cases, a complete shut down of their business. This was clearly a move motivated by the desire to economically exploit and dominate their market despite the fact that Asian shop owners rarely have any interest or knowledge of the products they sell or experience in dealing with African hair. Interestingly, at no point in the article are there comments from African British businesses in the Birmingham area.
What Vulliamy also fails to talk about, is the lack of respect that many African Britons feel is afforded them at the hands of the Asian community. In this sense, Birmingham is not the only area where such tension and lack of respect is an issue of contention. Had Vulliamy, or any of the other journalists who have sought to address this issue bothered to read through the hundreds of comments on this issue on the African British websites and forums they probably never even visited, they would be aware that the Asian prejudice and discrimination against African people are more than isolated incidents and are certainly more than perception. This was echoed by the comments of cultural superiority and anti-African abuse by Asian posters on their web forums. Some Asian posters even acknowledged that there is a serious anti-African sentiment within the Asian communities and that it had existed for years. Again, these comments were not highlighted.
The silence of victims
Despite the police stating that there has been no evidence to prove or disprove the fact that the alleged rape incident took place, many people in the mainstream media, Vulliamy among them, have taken the view that no such incident occurred. No one has attempted to understand why the alleged victim may not have come forward nor address the emotional impact and subsequent effect that the inability of the police to disprove the allegation had on galvanising the African community. Whilst there has been some commentary on her immigrations status, none have highlighted the fact that the majority of rape victims do not come forward. The subsequent political and social tensions of this situation may serve as an added deterrent for the alleged victim.
What Ed Vulliamy’s article does show is that racism is not as simple as europeans hating non-europeans. There is an extra dimension which reveals a hierarchy of ethnicity where African people are perpetually placed at the bottom by the proponents of anti-African ideology, regardless of their ethnicity. Africans therefore, have no friends politically or culturally unless there is an inherent benefit to that group economically or politically. They are afforded the least respect of any other ethnic group across the globe and have been historically and currently exploited by non-Africans including Indians, Arabs, Jews, Chinese and of course, the european/American.
In the UK, the Guardian newspaper has become a significant perpetuator of this continued oppression through its fake liberal posturing that falls short of actually analysing and challenging the unique position of African people. Often they do this by purporting to ‘care’ about the ‘poor African people’ who reside in the Continent of Africa. In some cases this purges consciences and for others, it serves as a useful guise that they can hide behind when denigrating and attacking the African people who live on their very doorstep.
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