Rave Reviews

Shukra, Kalbir, The Changing Pattern of Black Politics in Britain. 1998, Pluto Press, ISBN 0 7453 1460 0, pp144.

This is a long overdue review of an excellent publication by a lecturer in Community and Youth Work at Goldsmiths College Kalbir Shukra. However late the review, the issues confronted within this powerful book are extremely relevant to current debates within CYWU about the best way of pursuing our anti racist intentions and of increasing the involvement of black members.

Shukra looks at the history of anti racist and black organisations in Britain between 1955 and 1967, she considered ‘Black’ consciousness in the United States and its impact here. She looks at ‘ethnic pluralism and black perspectives’ and the origin of certain concepts of black organisation, then considers the history of black organisation in the Labour Party and key concepts of ‘Race’ class and social change. From her succinct survey of history she draws some conclusions for building more effective anti racist movements in the twenty first century. The one weakness in this history is Shukra’s analysis of the trade unions and anti racism, in general she overstates the historic problems and underestimates the successful and important work undertaken by trade unions in recent history in particular and of leading black members throughout the trade union movement. Strangely for a youth and community work lecturer she fails to analyse the role of black workers in CYWU since the early 1980s.

Throughout her study Shukra is drawn to conclude that theories and organisations that emphasise difference in fact perpetuate many of the deep seated problems of community relations. She is critical of the way in which the challenge of understanding racism and resistance has been substituted by the post modern pre occupation with the distinctive way of life of self defined identity movements, cultural or ethnic groups. She demonstrates how certain ideological trends, for example the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations at Warwick University reinforced “the differentiation of communities on the basis of the idea that culture separates ethnic groups, thereby replacing the notion prevalent up to the post-war period that biology differentiates people in the form of ‘races’. Whether separation us understood to be by culture or biology, the acceptance of inherited differences reinforces mythical racialised ideologies.” In general she concludes that “the emphasis on particularity not only militated against the construction of an integrated labour and social movement but also impacted on political objectives.”

She is constantly encouraging us to recognise that there have been many missed opportunities within labour movement history for embracing wider struggles in their totality and allowing divisions to be reinforced by divided forms of organisation. She shows for example how the formulation of black radicalism and black perspectivism and ethnic politics share important continuities. She argues that as well as being based on particularist ideologies, all of these strategies celebrate limited forms of consciousness. “They are limited in the sense that they represent only an understanding developed by a particular social group about itself in relation to the wider social and political economy and do not offer a holistic, liberatory vision of how the immediate interests of every group might be integrated.” Needless to say it is to this wider vision that her proposals for a new agenda relate.

This is another ‘essential reading’ book for youth and community workers. It celebrates and charts the brave struggles of many leading organisations and figures in the anti racist movement and particularly importantly reminds us of the pioneers in the twentieth century. It challenges many of the orthodoxies about black organisation prevalent within society and youth and community work and is therefore an extremely important stimulus to debate.

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