John Humpreys’ ignorant of British Black Panthers
The Black Power Movement was not something distinct to the United States, black people across many nations were soldiers in the war against oppression and injustice. Even the 1970s UK saw a proud resistance movement by the British Black Planters that included all people of colour, not just black. But this all came as surprising news to Radio 4 Host, John Humphreys.
John Humphreys sat down in an interview with Farrukh Dhondy, a member of the British Black Panther movement, and John Ridley—12 Years a Slave writer and director of the new TV series, Guerrilla.
“When was that all happening Farrukh? “ Humphreys asked.
“Between 1968 and into the 70s... Blacks, Asians, Chinese, all sorts...joined that movement in order to get civil rights—”. ..said Dhondy
“—But you weren’t denied civil rights in this country... for a start, you could vote...,”Humphreys said incredulously...
“You couldn’t rent a room...I would walk down south Kensington after I came down to university , looking for a room to rent and they say ‘sorry its gone’ or ‘we don’t have Irish, Blacks, Asians, dogs.’..said Dhondy
John Humphreys was still very sceptical:
“Why didn’t we know about you then...I was living out the country for a large part of that time, most people weren’t aware, I think, of a British Black Panther Movement...” Farrukh quickly educated him:
“I think the Brits were made aware by all sorts of movements and things that we did. ..I think it was because of the agitation and propaganda that we spread and the interventions that we made in all manner of issues like housing, employment, strikes for low paid workers, schools, and so on..that it resulted in legislation, anti-discriminatory legislation. A lot of MPs will tell you today, as Diane Abbott did to me yesterday—that they wouldn’t have got into the Labour party and got to be nominated and be elected if it hadn’t been for the grassroots agitation before it...”
John Humphrys' problematic comments speak to a much larger issue in the fight against racism. It is reflective of how out of touch and tone-deaf people are to marginalized issues. Humphrys himself is a 73 year old man. He actually lived during a time when racism was more overt. So it was shocking to hear that he wasn’t aware of civil rights issues. This is also worrying because if a 73 year old white men was not aware of key civil rights issues during his time— then are young white people fully aware of the issues, today?
The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one. How can we end racism if white people refuse to acknowledge and even deny that it exists? For many white people, racism is seen as an overt, obvious, and easy thing to identity. If someone says the “N” word—that’s racist. If there is a sign that reads, “no blacks allowed”- that’s racist. These are all easy signals to read.
But people of colour have become very acquainted with how casually, covertly, and sneakily racism can actually exist. Racism is more than words and offensive language. It is systematic and political policies put in place to undermine the social mobility of some ethnic groups. Even so, while people of colour are given rights under the law - often our rights are completely disregarded and violated.
“ Just because people seem to have rights, doesn’t mean everyone is fully franchised. In 1971, there was the immigration act which seeked to turned people into partials and non-patrials and really divide people from where they came and largely along racial lines... Even now in this country and my country[United States], the assumptions of full franchisement, the seeming value that everyone has ...we can’t take it for granted that every single person had full franchisement in exactly the same ways...” said John Ridely.
However, John Humphrys went on to suggest that racism and civil rights was for the most moving in the right direction and being “handled”
“There is a difference between denying someone basic human rights and the sort of racism that is endemic in many societies...and has been for many years and we are gradually getting on top of it?“ John asked Farrukh, as if to suggest what people of colour go through is really not that bad.
Not doubt, there has been progress, but the progress we’ve had is not enough and won’t be enough until people of colour are treated the same as their white counterparts. And with the rise of alt-right movements, Brexit, and Donald Trump - we may actually be moving backwards. Now is not the time to become complacent.