Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Dread beat and blood

The dub poet and radical icon of black British resistance culture, Linton Kwesi Johnson, who appeared at the Barbican on 9 March, has his own take on the guns that are taking such a toll in black communities across the world. In Britain, he puts it down to an increasing materialism and the shrinking of collective political alternatives. And he questions why the police find it so difficult to deal with the supply of guns to those communities in the first place. ‘Why is it so easy for young people to get hold of these guns?’ he asks the audience at a concert that marks that start of his fourth decade of recording.

For people of my generation, many of whom cut their political teeth in the anti-racist mobilisations of the 1970s, LKJ is a symbol of much that was best about the left during those times – not the least of which was an openness to all cultures and colours and an utter determination to stand together against racists and fascists of all descriptions.

Some of dem say dey a nigger hater
Some of dem say dey a black beater
Some of dem say dey a black stabber
Some of dem say dey a Paki basher

Fascists on de attack?
Don’t worry bout dat
Fascists on de attack?
We will fight dem back
Fascists on de attack?
We will counter-attack
Fascists on de attack?
We will drive them back!

(‘Fight dem back’, from Forces of Victory, 1979)

My daughter Rachel was born within a couple of weeks of the huge anti-National Front mobilisation in Lewisham in 1977, at which I was knocked senseless by the police and carted off on a stretcher but more importantly the NF attempt to march was broken up and defeated. Her first demo (complete with ‘Babies Against the Nazis’ banner) was the 80,000-strong Anti-Nazi League march through east London, which took place 30 years ago this April.

These mass demonstrations and the campaigning that went on around them helped turn the fascist tide, and despite the recent electoral gains by the British National Party in places like Barking, the London into which Rachel’s son was born a few months ago is an immeasurably more open and tolerant city than the one that greeted her back then. Sometimes, it’s good to celebrate our victories as well as preparing for the fights to come.

We’re the forces of victory
An we comin’ right through
We’re the forces of victory
Now what you gonna do?

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