Out of all the places Britain First could have visited, I’m surprised they chose Northampton, writes Tre Ventour. They arrived, supposedly protesting the extension of a mosque. Nonetheless, they came here and tried to give me a leaflet. Yes, tried. I gave them one look and they knew to hop it. Whilst America has Donald Trump, we in the UK have to tolerate far-right groups like Britain First.
They are against multiculturalism, echoing the sentiments of Enoch Powell in 1968 – scared of living in a nation where “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” They are against Muslims, calling them extremists. Walking through Northampton Town Centre last Saturday, it was clear to me that the only extremism on Abington Street was that with which Britain First arrived.
When confronted, they said they couldn’t be racist because they had two Black members. There’s a term for this, we call it caste tokenism. These groups are offended by things that aren’t quintessentially British and are projecting their views onto others. Just because they hold these discriminatory beliefs they think everyone else should.
This Islamophobia is something we see time and time again on the news and in media. But anyone who knows anything about Islam or even has spoken to Muslims and / or has Muslim friends will know Islam is a religion of peace. Going to India and staying in a densely populated Muslim area of Hyderabad in 2016, my experience of Islam has been nothing but positive. Speaking to Muslims in Northampton, my experience has been nothing but positive. And Britain is secular. So these guys and their hate speech… it’s nothing but nonsense.
Britain First is pro-British Culture, and anti-multiculturalism. It views that as being against the “Islamisation of the United Kingdom.” However, protesting multiculturalism is also a protest against people of African-Caribbean heritage. It’s protesting people who were born here, whose families come from abroad. Those from the African continent, those from the West Indies – whose ancestors would have been slaves on plantations in places like Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana. It’s protesting Irish migrants, many of whom will not identify with that British label – a history that goes back to The Troubles as well as Queen Victoria and Famine. It’s the Hindustanis, the Polish and Eastern Europeans – Northampton, and by extension, Britain, is a multiracial melting pot. It’s impossible to go a day without hearing different languages and seeing different cultures on display. And I think that’s brilliant. It’s scope for education on how other people live. What have they got to say? What about their stories? What have they experienced? We can learn a lot from them.
You know this whole issue of tighter borders and security is ironic. Britain First is just one offshoot of this anti-immigrant, anti-multiculturalism mentality. We had Brexiteers create a campaign based on it. In the early stages of Brexit, when it was just a hypothesis, they used immigration promises to garner votes. And it’s really astonishing that a country founded by “immigrants” or “The Other”, that “immigrant” and “migrant” have now become dirty words. The debate goes on and it allows groups like Britain First to carry on with their hate speech under the guise of freedom of expression.
Free speech is one thing, but that doesn’t nullify the freedom from consequence. Free speech is one of our basic human rights. And yet, I don’t believe all opinions are equal. Hate speech is not an opinion. It’s a hate crime. It’s discrimination. It’s unlawful. When your so-called “opinion” hurts the existences of good and honest hard-working people based on preconceived notions against an element of someone’s culture (as what happened in Northampton on Saturday), that’s when I have a problem. That’s not an opinion. An opinion is “pizza is nice.” No, what you’re doing is taking part in discrimination, infringing on basic human rights.
And when we look at British history, there has not been a time since the Roman conquest when these shores have not played host to people from different races, religions, cultures and so forth. Even at school when we learn about tribes like the Angles and Saxons, (Germanic in origin), tribes who are always quoted in quintessential Englishness – the etymology of England means “land of Angles.” It’s pretty ironic, isn’t it?
Britain is a nation in the ruins of race and empire. This multiculturalism goes back to colonial times and even before the Acts of Union (1707). It goes back to Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Queen Victoria’s African protégé / goddaughter. It goes back to people like my great-grandfather Edison Noel, who worked on Northampton’s railway lines, as part of the Windrush Generation. Multiculturalism is in our historical links with the African continent, Australia and Asia. But it’s also the ascension of Stuart and Tudor dynasties marrying across borders. We are living in a multicultural society because of Britain’s dependency on “immigrants” and what “foreigners” had to offer. This country’s fate is entwined with them, and their descendants (people like me).
And after the Second World War, this “multiculturalism” soared. African and Caribbean ties to the Mother Country grew stronger (as did that of South Asia). My grandparents were raised British. They were taught Britain’s history, culture and traditions above their own. They were taught to be British without question. And what they did for this country has stood them well all their lives. Migration is as British as test match cricket. The rights to entry under 1948’s Nationality Act / open-door policy were seen as priceless if Britain was to remain the nucleus of which these other nations orbited around. And Britain badly needed them, just as Britain badly needs immigrants now. And old imperial attachments still bring new waves of people of colour from foreign shores.
My grandparents have been drinking tea at 4pm for decades. Like generations before us, we are redefining Britishness. If you really want to put Britain first, this is what Britain looks like. We are living in a postcolonial society, in the landscapes of a longer subtler history where the stories of multiracial Britain happened overseas, not just within the British Isles.
Britain First wants to keep Britain White (and British). But who is really British? They want us to live in fear of otherness. They want to divide and conquer. They are in mourning of Amritsar and Suez. Britain is a tinderbox and we aren’t our government. We can be united on the street level. We can put Britain first, the country I love with all its imperfections, the country how it is, not how others want it to be.