Breaking the ‘colour bar’: Len Johnson & Pearl Prescod

Breaking the ‘colour bar’: Len Johnson & Pearl Prescod

Fortnightly Bulletin

Written by: IRR News Team

IRR News 5 – 19 January 2023

Not only has PC David Carrick pleaded guilty to 49 charges, including 24 counts of rape against 12 women over an 18-year period, but FOI requests have revealed that more than 150 Met police officers are currently on restricted duties and under investigation over allegations of racism and sexual misconduct. Cases of police racism and sexism – and the way they are dealt with – are so often linked, as reflected in this week’s calendar of racism and resistance. (Yet another case involving a racist, antisemitic and misogynistic police WhatsApp group chat is noted.) The criminal justice section of the calendar also focuses on the excessive use of force against black people, highlighting the case of Godrick Osei, who suffered from depression and drug addiction and died in July 2022 after being arrested and restrained in a cupboard during a mental health crisis at a care home in Truro, Cornwall.

But the excessive use of force against people from a BME background is not just a matter of policing. The Justice Ministry has conceded that black prisoners are seven times more likely to have pepper spray used against them than white prisoners. The use of force and/or the failure to provide appropriate health care is a determining factor in the majority of suspicious deaths in police or prison custody. This is made clear in the IRR’s online information on custody deaths which covers BME, migrant and refugee deaths in prison, in immigration detention or involving police. This is an important resource with our updated list (2014-2022) reflecting Inquest’s pioneering research on Deaths of Racialised People in Prisons 2015-2022.

Also now published online and available to order, is the January 2023 issue of Race & Class which contains two crucial articles that excavate the life, work and activism of Black boxer Len Johnson and singer and actor Pearl Prescod. Historians Shirin Hirsch and Geoff Brown recount Johnson’s success in overturning the ‘colour bar’ in a Manchester pub in 1953 and place this history within the wider anti-racist politics of Manchester in the 1940s and ’50s. Whilst Joint Editor of Race & Class Jenny Bourne and coordinator of the IRR’s Black History Collection Anya Edmond-Pettitt challenge the narrative of an undifferentiated ‘Windrush Generation’ by tracing the life of Pearl Prescod – one of a generation of artists, performers and intellectuals whose contribution to the creation of a Black and anti-colonial strand in British culture in the 1950s and ’60s has been neglected. Also in the January issue is a timely intervention by Mark McGovern evidencing patterns of collusion in Northern Ireland.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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