Yesterday, I tried to post a black square here – but WordPress wouldn’t let me do so without adding some text – which seemed to defeat the object of a social media blackout, a pausing of “the show”. I`m writing something now.
I grew up in South London during the 1970s. It was a violent place, where a punch-up was the preferred solution to any disagreement, and for some, what they liked to do for kicks. I saw people of all colours bash others who looked different. Whites on blacks. Blacks on whites. Blacks and whites on the Pakistanis. Anybody with any kind of accent was bullied at school. It was mob rule and woe betide the odd one out. By the time I was 14 or 15 the playground was segregated, and in “recess” our own race war raged. Fueled initially by white skinheads, who later grew their hair and became mods – I`ll come back to this – and then by black boys who’d had enough of being pushed around. My friends back then were 75% black. I honestly didn’t think about colour – unless I was cornered and surrounded – something I experienced from “teams” from both sides.
My white mates were working / criminal class. Bunking off to shoot pool or get tattoos*, sniffing glue, stealing – and burning – cars, breaking into pharmacies. So after school I tended to hang out with the black guys. We`d meet on the South Norwood equivalent of a “stoop” – take the piss – deal “the dozens” – and bond over a burgeoning love of reggae. Stephen John, Michael McCleary Gary Staples, and Declan O`Halloran. We`d sit on the wall outside Stephen`s Mum`s flat and swap records, tapes of “Rodigan On The Radio” – copy into our exercise books the vampires, space invaders, pac-men and rastas that lit up Tony McDermott`s Scientist LP sleeves. My lack of respect for “law and order” stems from those days – when with apparently nothing better to do the Old Bill would hassle my friends – give Declan stick for being a “Mick” and throw Gary in the back of the van for “packing” an afro comb.
I could never be a racist because of the music— no matter how many times I got “taxed”. This was an argument that I often had from the centre of a circle of Chelsea-booted, fish-tail parka-wearing, self-proclaimed “daddies”** – who collected Blue Beat and Northern Soul, but who’d also hound any black kid they came across**. “How can you love these records but hate the people who made them?” It was and is non-sense. I had a smart-mouth. Which wasn’t always clever.
It still makes me furious that none of my friends, black, white, or brown, were afforded any kind of opportunity. The system had no use for them. They weren’t cared for or helped. They certainly weren’t encouraged to dream. Most of them are in and out of prison, addicts, or dead. There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t realize how lucky I am. They all should have been given the chances I had. Even then I knew that colour didn’t matter, that we were all the same – poor****.
*Always tigers or panthers.
**Betamax bootlegs of borstal “drama” Scum were doing the rounds – which didn’t help.
*** Paul Weller would have been heartbroken.
****The powers that be will always want us divided – distracted. Employing the media to send us searching for someone else to blame – someone different – for our problems. Instead of focussing on viable alternatives and taking governments to task for their short comings and policies of self-interest.