Charity & social welfare

Sivanandan, Ambalavaner (8 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 8: [Fourth Session 20 October 2010] AS got money from the World Council of Churches and the Methodist church. They were trying to turn the whole debate from race relations to racism. This is talking about the fight against a system rather than against an individual. They speak from the people not to them. Secondly the IRR was now issue related, about racial injustice which occurred in institutions. The magazine ‘Race’ was very academic. They wanted to talk to the man on the street through the magazine which then became ‘Race and Class’. They all did all jobs. The magazine came to be known as a very important international journal. The first job AS did as editor, was to fire the editorial committee. They opened the library out in the evenings for everyone. [9:38] The whole point of interpreting is to change the world. All sorts of radicals who had no venue came to use the premises. Another principle was to articulate the voices of people who had no tongue. So they had young people sending in articles. Eg Malcolm Caldwell and Orlando Letelier. They developed a whole migrant workers conference. The TransNational Institute made AS a fellow, so he had some money. The magazine was now making enough money to pay another person. The Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone lent them money to buy a building in Leek Street. They could expand further. People like Basil Davidson came to lecture. There was a youth rebellion going on underneath all this, and their job was to articulate it. [15:23] Black was the colour of poverty. There were riots in 1981 and the government began to take notice. The IRR bought out a number of books for children. Herman Ouseley was at the GL Education Authority and bought books in bulk. AS wrote too, as a pamphleteer. ‘Race, Class and the State’ had a tremendous impact. They wrote histories of the communities who had come to the UK. Prejudice doesn’t matter unless it is acted out. [21:39] Racism is about prejudice. Racialism is an attitude. When it is acted upon it becomes racial discrimination. Like when it is instituted into the structures of society (examples). This injustice was approved by the state. IRR was bothered about the structures which were discriminatory. There was a Commission and the IRR brought out a book called ‘Police against Black People’ in 1979. The sequel was in 1987 and was called ‘Policing against Black People’. We all wear our passports on our faces. [28:50] Kenneth Baker, education secretary was enraged by the cartoon book, ‘How Racism came to Britain’. The ILEA sent it to schools. The IRR had adverse publicity. The IRR did not make white people the scapegoat. It became important when the racist training came from the USA to help the police force after the riots. It became a policy after the Scarman report. His analysis was that it was not institutional racism but individual prejudice that was the cause. The minorities suffered from racial disadvantage. Therefore they should be lifted up, with money. All the groups who did their own thing were now bought up with government grants. The money came with strings. The IRR refused to take money. Examples of how the different groups reacted. They all had a hatred of injustice. Kascadee and Harambee for instance. When you took money from the government you became an enemy of black people. [37:27] The subtitle of ‘Race and Class’ was ‘Journal for Black Liberation’. They were publishing articles from people all over the world. The library was the only one of its kind in the world. AS went about lecturing internationally. Locally Jenny did a lot of talking. She was in a woman’s group. She is Jewish and protesting against Israel. Hazel was monitoring the National Front. AS’s lecturing brought in more money. And he wrote a lot. Little pamphlets and interventions were of the time. And he wrote histories long before black history became a thing in its own right. Then they got money for special projects, from the Gulbenkian Foundation for instance. [43:28] 1981 was a watershed for the Thatcher government but also for the black communities. IRR had fought for so long against institutional racialism, but Scarman said there was none so they were back to race relations again. There was a scheme in the United States called ‘Racial Awareness Training’ RAT, and it became all the vogue, and now black people and white set up groups to train the police and others. It started with the premise that all white people are racist unless proved innocent. It was started by Judith Katz. AS was interviewed by the BBC, who was against Scarman for different reasons. Katz’s definition of racism was prejudice plus power. AS wrote a damning attack ‘RAT and the Degradation of Black Struggle’. Details. AS always tried to bring his feelings into his writings. Creative writing should be political and vice versa. He wrote a novel too. [50:27] They organised many seminars at this time. Incident showing the change from colour prejudice into cultural prejudice. There were other trends. There was a change on two levels, one to put money into the problem, and the other was at the cultural level. Going through slavery and imperialism, racialism has come through culture. The IRR did not want to personalise things. Another thing that came out of Scarman was how to change racial disadvantage by positive discrimination. It became another boost for the black bourgeoisie. The one time trouble makers were now part of the system, Trevor Philips for instance. [56:15] Racialism becomes culturalism. The groups all began to fight with one another for government money. They were officially broken up. Ethnicity was the defining principle. Channel 4 was progressive at the beginning and Colin Prescod made four films on Tiger Bay, Southall, Ladgrove Grove and Leicester. An earlier film made by an American was called Black Britannia. It was a watershed from which we are still suffering today. The beginning was the Scarman recommendations. The fight against racialism became a fight for culture. The transition in the numbers game gave the power to the local authorities. Bradford became predominantly Asian and the whites disliked it. It is very complex. The IRR kept saying that the government was at fault. This country has been a beacon of integration. We have become a mix of cultures. [1:03:21] In the meantime we were going into Europe as well. Liz Fekete did this brilliantly. The IRR are holding a conference today. Jenny had a letter published in the Guardian. The letter was about Angela Merkel’s statement that multiculturalism was dead, which is wrong because Germany never had multiculturalism, it had guest workers. They could become a citizen only by birth.

  • 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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