The Institute of Race Relations is releasing a free download of A. Sivanandan’s landmark essay, ‘From resistance to rebellion: Asian and Afro-Caribbean struggles in Britain’, first published in Race & Class in 1981.
Detailing the resistance of black communities to the discrimination of the British state, Sivanandan reminds us throughout that acts of resistance are made necessary by the realities of everyday oppression. The pattern of black and Asian struggles in Britain, writes Sivanandan, ‘was set on the loom of British racism’. And resistance may not always take conventional forms.
With the ongoing and excessively punitive sentencing of those involved in last August’s unrest, we are hearing from the rioters in Tottenham that continual aggressive stop-and-search measures makes them feel policed against, not policed for. Sivanandan’s words thirty years ago are still as pertinent today:
‘a government which is not accountable to the people – a government which governs with the politics of the stick and the policies of a thousand cuts, which is anti-working class and anti-women and anti-youth – must have a police force that is accountable to it and not to the people.’
Politicians would have us believe that the unrest in 2011 was sparked only by the crass consumerist impulse of those involved. But, in a capitalist society, as Sivanandan wrote, ‘the line between politics and crime, after all, is a thin one’.
From the ‘acceptable exploitation’ in employment, to the ‘overt and sanctioned’ colour-bar on housing, to the police’s ‘nigger-hunting’, Sivanandan maps the history of state racism and the black and Asian struggles it provoked. There is a continuity of struggle which is important to recall and learn from.