Charity & social welfare

Sivanandan, Ambalavaner (6 of 10).  National Life Stories: General

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  • Recording date

    2010-08-13, 2010-08-20, 2010-08-26, 2010-10-20, 2010-11-02

  • Interviewees

    Sivanandan, Ambalavaner, 1923-2018 (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 6: [Third Session 26 August 2010] The library at the Institute of Race Relations was used by the membership. This was 1964. It had been set up in 1952. The board of management had mostly worked overseas, Philip Mason, director, was a visionary Christian. Basically it was for businessmen who made their money in Africa. It was supposed to be independent. But it was involved in research to help government. In 1958 it was situated in Jermyn Street. Then the IRR had to look at immigration to Britain. James Wickenden wrote a pamphlet on the Notting Hill riots. [5:24] Britain after the war did not have enough labour, so they sent for people from the colonies. They were given British nationality. The workers did the meanest possible work, a class beneath the white working class. By 1962 there was talk that there were too many coloured people here, and there came an Immigration Act, passed by the Tories. In 1964 Labour came to power and passed a tougher Immigration Act with a voucher system. The IRR sided with the government. The IRR then decided the research had to be about Great Britain, into the push and pull factors causing immigration. [12:15] AS found the library was small. It became more oriented to GB, collected press cuttings, which were classified into topics. AS was the only qualified librarian. He was an advisor to the board about what was going on. He had a free hand in buying books. Other members of the board, the council, the staff never met. There were businessmen and academics, Lord Burleigh, David Runciman David Sieff, Booker McConnell Michael Caine And Philip Oppenheimer for instance. There were two aspects, helping business to make the transition to the new colonial period and what Gunnar Myrdl had written about years ago, race relations and immigration. [20:10] AS opened the library out to the public. It was hardly used previously, and anyway not at all by the victims of the situation. They knew about Black Power and independence in Ghana and other countries. AS said anyone could use the library after 6 pm. He would get literature and journals from Harlem and elsewhere. The other thing that was unique was that the people who had started the library had no idea what race relations meant, it was not a discipline. It should be interdisciplinary, economics, sociology, politics, geography, the cross fertilisation of these subjects. More details. You had to listen to the subject peoples. [27:11] With the beginning of institutionalised racism, people began to organise. Laws were passed against the “new” colonial people. Roy Hattersley’s line was that immigration had to be limited to improve integration. Little movements grew up like the Grassroots bookshop and the Molteno Project, teaching people skills. Edward Boyle, Minister for Education passed a law about the proportion of non-white children in a school. The movements resisted the law, and created associations. Wilfred Wood became the first black bishop in this country. He became the first chairman of the IRR when the staff took over the Institute. It was Mason’s foresight to be forward looking and to influence government policy. AS informed both top brass and others on what they should read. A lot of groups came to AS and asked him to provide material for their children. AS had his own children to bring up at the same time, as his wife was in Ceylon then. AS was the first coloured person in his residential area. [36:26] The worst immigration act was in 1968, around the Kenyan Asians, and Ugandans. They were British passport holders but were at first denied access to GB when thrown out of their countries. Details. AS and others were beginning to ask “what is this race relations?” The library had grown, they had half a dozen people, several qualified librarians. They had a periodicals library in the basement. The black archive today is unique. The Marxists said that once there was a classless society it would be a raceless society. They said no. They are parallel struggles. They worked at the grassroots levels, speaking to the victims. [44:00] The Survey of Race Relations, part of the IRR, had its own director. This surveyed the whole country and reported on all parts of the country. It was led by EJB Rose. He was a journalist, a very nice man. His assistant was an academic, Nicholas Deakin. They had researchers, one of whom was Jenny Bourne (Now AS’s wife). This is the Sixties, the whole world was in ferment. The IRR was caught up in this. Capital now went into the third world, and divergence between rich and poor was happening in GB. Just before Mason retired, at the end of the 1960s, the staff made a point of saying that the subject was not race relations, it was racism. The IRR is independent and supposed to be objective but the Survey still showed paternalism which predicated the type of research. They had a few non-white people on the council by this time, of whom Fernando Henriques was one. The Survey published its work under the title ‘Colour and Citizenship’. [52:10] The Ford Foundation gave them money to look at international race relations, so they had this unit led by Hugh Tinker from SOAS and his second Prof Bob Mast from USA. AS was being influenced by groups such as Keskidee who were doing plays and art work, and Harambee run by Brother Edward Herman connected with Michael X. then there was the Black University in Notting Hill run by Roy Sawh. Another group was the Universal Coloured People’s Association. AS became more politicised. He began to write and lecture and review books. [57:40] In 1968 the Ford Foundation wanted to set up libraries in the States and AS was asked to advise. Colin looked after the children and the librarians could cope with the work. There was a sit in at Berkeley University for Bobby Seale. He went to Colombia, Stanford, many universities. They were all taken aback by AS calling himself black. He was able to bring events in Britain to a conceptual level. All the small groups came together as a class, regardless of their qualifications. AS gave sense to the fight against the racism of the British state, the judiciary and administration. They united under the slogan “ here to stay, here to fight”. There were strikes all over, ending with Grunwick, and spontaneous rebellions. AS explained this to the Americans, in terms of the British having colonies, Americans had slavery. Details on housing. Later the young find out that non-violent protests don’t work and become more radical and militant. The experience in the States was different. Also they didn’t have a third world perspective. The fight was not about culture, it was about racism. After the Scarman report in Britain it did become about culture. [1:09:27] It was an important time for AS in America. He gave the inaugural lecture at the Institute of Race Relations in Berkeley.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Ambalavaner Sivanandan (1923-2018), director of the Institute of Race Relations and founding editor of Race & Class.

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