May 31, 2007

The 'ever-widening hellhole, from the sound of Bow Bells eastwards, all the way to Essex'

Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking, having migrated from Islington to this east London constituency, has for some time now trained her fire on immigrants. Barking is a Labour stronghold, even though the racist British National Party won some seats there in last year's council elections.

I am unable to offer any answer to the question as to why Hodge made an anti-immigrant outburst in a recent article of hers for the Observer, entitled "A message to my fellow immigrants". She attempts to place us on the defensive in her first paragraph. "In our open, tolerant country," she writes, "there are, thankfully, few issues that remain taboo. But, motivated by the fear of both legitimising racism and encouraging the extreme right, migration is one."

This is absolute nonsense. Not a week passes in which immigration is not central to the news and current affairs agenda. Statistics and opinions abound. Predictions of numbers that will arrive in the UK are plastered across the pages of the press, adorned by commentators who, in large measure, tempt white people to vent their collective spleen against immigrants.

Hodge is the latest in a long line to encourage this tendency. With one sweep of the pen, she suggests that only white families in her constituency, and others nearby, "have lived in the area for three generations". She is wrong. Over three generations, black people have settled in the East End of London, in Tiger Bay in Cardiff, and in Bristol and Liverpool, too. As long as we have been here we have been the target of white racism, pointing fingers of blame at us for the misfortunes to which others are prey.

Thousands of seafaring men signed off at these English ports to settle and raise three generations. Ramadhan Hassan was one of them. He arrived from Zanzibar, married into one of the largest clans in Canning Town - the Watsons - and begat one Leila Ramadhan Hassan, who happens to be my wife.

Racism, as we know, is a disease that has deformed political thinking and social behaviour in the East End and beyond. Leila's mother talked until the last hours of her life about how badly she had been treated at Whitechapel Hospital, where she gave birth to her beautiful, bouncing baby girl. She was treated like the shit that was smeared on the blanket given to her when she and Leila were discharged.

She talked bitterly about the abuse thrown at her and her newborn daughter on public transport, in shops and along the East End streets. It was not the idea that we were taking "their" housing, Margaret, but "their" women. "They came to defile our women," is the cry that Margaret invites us to repeat. Racial assaults added to the misery heaped on black men, their women and their offspring. "Half-caste" was a term of racial abuse first coined in the East End of London.

Then Enoch Powell issued the clarion call for the repatriation of all immigrants. Workers at the East End docks where every male member of the Watson clan was employed took to the streets under the slogan "Send them back".

And there is more, much more, Margaret. The term "Paki-bashing" - describing the favourite sport of white, male workers - was invented in your constituency and its surrounds. The game was played after pub closing time, with the heads of Asians used as footballs. Next door to Barking, where the Ford production plant flowered, white workers managed to rename part of the plant "South Africa" because they kept the blacks and Asians confined to the assembly line.

That racist stench of decay that plagued so many white workers drove Mrs Howe and others to leave the East End for ever. We go back for funerals and family celebrations, though aware at all times that we are entering and leaving an ever-widening hellhole, from the sound of Bow Bells eastwards, all the way to Essex.

The housing issue has returned with a bang as whites move further east as a sign of upward mobility, and Asians follow in the same direction. Stories abound of whites getting together to prevent their kith and kin from selling to Asians.

Margaret Hodge avoids these proven examples, opting instead for the fables spread by the BNP. She is supping from a poisoned chalice.

New Statesman

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