Day to day, I forget that I have brown skin. Yesterday, the BBC reminded me of my ethnic background with its insensitive marketing of a show about Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. However, that doesn’t mean that I wish to ban it. Get me, a Muslim that doesn’t want to ban something just because it hurts her feelings! How awfully, uhm, British!
My Indian grandma never really settled in Pakistan; it wasn’t her home and she persuaded my granddad to move to England in the 1960s. I imagine they both felt British - all the men in their families had fought in the second World War after all, and the British government were encouraging them to move and start a new life.
Powell’s racist welcome speech was a reaction to their arrival and a warning about more immigrants that were coming from Kenya and the West Indies - our families were going to drown Britain in rivers of blood. The speech led to increased attacks on people of colour. Their businesses were firebombed, their children bullied and their neighbours stopped talking to them. My grandparents did not have the luxury of forgetting, from day to day, that their skin was brown. I wonder now if the BBC’s commemoration of the speech will lead to the same reaction. I will be fine, of course, as I live and work in a liberal bubble. I almost want a racist to tell me to “go home” because I have a little story to share with them that begins with the Jewel in the Crown. But the racists in my proximity are the shy guys that keep their opinions for their Sunday pub lunches.
However, there are men and women that live and work in communities where racial tensions are more prominent. It would be naive to think that marking the 50th anniversary of the Enoch Powell speech will have no effect on their lives, especially the ones in hijabs. Leave.EU et al are already frothing at the mouth in anticipation of the show about their past hero.
As a second generation Scottish Pakistani (thank you Grandma, for moving to Scotland), I feel best placed to comment on the BBC’s “Rivers of Blood” broadcast. Lord Adonis’ letter to the Ofcom chief urging her to cancel the show is a little excessive. Does Ofcom even have the jurisdiction to do such a thing? Since when did we ban shows that are marking the anniversary of a historical speech? It is a part of our history and although it makes me feel sad to think how it would have made my grandparents feel, that doesn’t mean that we should pretend the speech never existed. We all have the power not to listen to the programme - it really is as simple!
My issue isn’t that the programme exists and I agree that we shouldn’t judge a programme before it is broadcast. However, the way in which this show has been developed and marketed has been insensitive. Amol Rajan’s sensationalist tabloid bantz tweets were dreadful but he has managed to get publicity for his show, which is probably no bad thing for him. I note that a historian that took part in the show has since tweeted her regret in doing so. It is also disappointing to see the actor chosen to read the speech had defended Powell’s racism. It would almost be funny (if it was supposed to be funny).
It would not have taken much effort to find a more sensitive presenter, like the wonderful Anita Anand. If she would be too serious, then pick Meera Syal - I am all for making fun of Powell’s speech, which is pretty hilarious in parts (see the story of the guy who is so worried about immigration and won’t be satisfied until all his children are settled overseas). The speech was a flop. In one generation, we are twelve cousins: three are married to people of a similar ethnic background and everyone one else is not. Our story is not unusual.
Let’s not forget that Powell was sacked after making this speech. He thought he was en route to being prime minister and instead is remembered by most of us as a rubbish racist. I like this sad pathetic ending to Powell’s sad pathetic legacy.
My favourite story in Powell’s speech of fake constituents is the racist lady who lives in a seven-bedroom house, surrounded by scary black people, especially the ones that knock on her door to ask if they can use her phone to call their employer. She needs a rate reduction and the young lady in the public office tells racist lady that she is not eligible for a rate reduction and suggests she takes in a few lodgers. Racist lady tells her that she can’t because she won’t have black people in her house and the young lady says “racial prejudice won’t get you anywhere in this country,” so the racist lady went home.
God only knows what point Powell was trying to make but let’s pick out that gem of a young lady - she is now the granny of my mates and I love her. I meet her at family barbecues and we hug and we have a giggle and we dance the night away in rivers of prosecco.