Black Star – Britain’s Asian Youth Movements

Monday, 25 November 2013


(Pluto Press, £17.50)
This is a vibrant, compelling history of the anti-racist campaigns of the British Asian youth movements (AYMs) of the 1970s and 1980s,
in which “black” identity was a political colour inspiring unity amongst all those struggling against racism.
Why did you write this book?
After 9/11, South Asians were framed within a traditional cultural-faith discourse. I wanted to represent a history which would present us as communities where politics was central to our identity. The AYMs were secular but the most important aspect was they were anti-racist and anti-imperialist and this understanding is crucial to young South Asians whatever their religious beliefs. AYMs also demonstrated when people stand together against injustice they will win and this is an important lesson for Muslims today faced with resisting anti-terror legislation.
What lay behind the slogan ‘black people must unite, here to stay, here to fight!”
It demonstrated these young south Asians were not trying to exclude themselves from society. But they wanted a Britain in which they were respected and treated equally and in which all individuals had the right to work on a living wage. The slogan highlighted unity amongst all black people which meant Africans and Asians, and even Chileans if they wished, because it was about a unity against racism.
Why did Asian youth find it necessary to organise independently?
Because racism was central to their experience, both as young people suffering street racial violence as well as discrimination by the state who framed them as “problems”. The left and trade unions meanwhile failed to address their own racism. Nevertheless, the youth were clear that the only real force in British society capable of fighting the growth of organised racism and fascism is the unity of the workers movement. They did not want to separate themselves from the left but to work with them as equals.
How did asserting “self-defence is no offence” help the Bradford 12 overcome charges of conspiracy to cause explosives and endanger lives following the police discovery of homemade Molotov cocktails in 1981?
The Bradford 12 was the first time the self-defence law had been used in the context of a community. Many of the key defendants had been involved in the anti-racist struggle. The cocktails were made because of genuine fears that racist skinheads were coming to Bradford to terrorise the Asian community and because the attitudes and previous history of the police in ignoring racist attacks showed they could not be depended upon to offer support. No cocktails were employed and defendants argued they had only produced them for self-defence, “should the need arise”. The case was won because there was a campaign and it was not simply a courtroom drama.
How important was state (local and national) funding in breaking up these once powerful grass roots organisations?
If you are struggling for a mother separated from her children and the law says all your appeal avenues are over then your independence means you can continue to pursue the case for justice as happened in the Anwar Ditta case. If you are struggling against police racism and corruption then you can name the police officers and their violence – as was done in the campaign to protect Gary Pemberton. It is also possible when appropriate to use direct action as a means of protest.  You can’t do this in state funded organisations.

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