Tuesday, February 08, 2005

You learn something new every day

I knew that the 1964 Smethwick election was infamous for the low politics of the Tory candidate Peter Griffiths (who held the seat for just two years and was subsequently an MP for Portsmouth between 1979 and 1997) and his campaign slogan of "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour."

Well, I'm indebted to Bob Piper for reproducing this press release from the local branch of Unite Against Fascism, because I didn't know that Malcolm X even visited the UK, let alone Smethwick.

"Malcolm came to Smethwick in what turned out to be the last week of his life, at a time when he already knew he was in imminent danger of assassination. His arrival in Britain came in a period when Smethwick had become notorious as the scene of racial conflict, fuelled by local and national politicians seeking election in the area (does this sound familiar?).In 1964 a Tory MP had been elected for Smethwick under the slogan of 'if you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour' and, over the following winter, the legacy of that campaign continued with the local Council's attempts to prevent the sale of previously White-occupied homes to Black people from the Commonwealth.Malcolm paid a short visit to the town as an act of solidarity with the Black and Asian immigrants to the area (many of the arrangements for the visit were made by the local Branch of the Indian Workers' Association).

At a press conference he said "the worst form of human being, I believe, is one who judges another human being by the colour of his skin". He was asked what he thought of the situation in Smethwick and replied: "I have heard that Blacks in Smethwick are being treated in the same way as the Negroes were treated in Alabama--like Hitler treated the Jews". Asked what he would do, he said "I would not wait for the fascist element in Smethwick to erect gas ovens ..."

Malcolm flew back to the USA the following day and was gunned down as he spoke to a public meeting in New York just a few days later. Twenty-two thousand people went to view his body as it lay in a Harlem funeral home.

To different people, Malcolm's visit has been a source of curiosity, outrage and inspiration. For anyone involved in the local campaigns against racism & fascism -- both then and now -- the visit of such an international figure is a welcome reminder that we are part of a global movement. The anniversary of his visit is also a reminder that the gains we have made against racism in Smethwick and elsewhere had to be fought for. But the campaign isn't over. The General Election expected in May or June this year will see the fascist British National Party contest several constituencies in the Black Country and Birmingham. Now is surely as good a time as any to take Malcolm's message seriously. "

No comments: