THE EMPIRE STRIKES BLACK (AND BROWN)
On the Wiley – Jay Sean fans twitter beef
By Sukant Chandan
08 Feb 2011
My good brother Carlos Martinez has raised some of the issues surrounding the Wiley vs Jay Sean fans on twitter, addressing some issues in relation to Asian-Black relations in England which has been highlighted in this spat.
Like Carlos I am also South Asian, born in Chandigarh, in Indian Punjab. My family are generally not religious but come from a tradition of patriotism and militant anti-imperialism. And like Carlos, my house too does often smell like curry, cooking being one of my passions, and currently my home smells of Biryani (Sindhi-style). Once many white people cussed us for stinking like curry but now curry is a top English national dish, maybe a good parallel for the fate of the West in general whereby non-white especially Asian and Black people are taking an increasingly confident and larger and larger role in Western societies.
This being so, it’s saddening to see divisions between our communities through this twitter beef. Wiley has admitted in the interview with Bobby Friction on BBC radio that “I should have rose above it, but I didnt", in relation to what Wiley describes as a massive amount of racist bile in tweets from Jay Sean fans to which Wiley responded in kind.
What we need is unity between or communities. We need unity because our strength in numbers is our main strategy in overcoming the problems of housing, unemployment, drug abuse, and other social ills created and perpetuated by a system which is run by and in the interests of rich white men.
At the same time we might have to accept that our communities are not that united, and this issue between Wiley and Jay Sean fans on twitter has highlighted this for the first time I can remember to such an extent. While Wiley’s comments did not help the process towards unity, this whole episode has highlighted the challenges we have to overcome to get to that unity.
Having arrived in Southall in 1981, and lived there for the first part of my life it is clear to me, and anyone from this community, that anti-black racism is rampant. It is regrettable to see so many Asians denying, or downplaying, being very naïve, feigning ignorance or just in being in denial about this.
Furthermore, since the 1990s a worrying trend of divisions within the Asian community has opened up between mainly religious groups, and all the while the far-right racist provocateurs of the English Defence League fish for Hindu and Sikh (and Black) recruits against Muslims, and even one Gurmit Singh being their spokesperson.
Historical basis for Asian-Black tensions
Who is responsible for these divisions? It is the world champions of divide and rule: British government policies which started with the British Empire, but which continue pretty much the same way today in terms of a divide and rule strategy towards working class communities. Conflicts in Ireland, India and Pakistan (Kashmir), much of Africa, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan are just some places in which you can root these problems directly to Britain.
The British treated African peoples to many centuries of industrial enslavement, an act of genocide that costs anything upwards from 100 million African lives, and something that Britain to this day refuses to apologise for, but from which, like the looting of their other colonies, Britain enjoys the fruits of this barbarity.
The British in India were also brutal. The Amritsar Massacre of 1919 killing scores of unarmed protestors against British rule is for many Punjabis and Indians the one act that defines British rule in their country. While Churchill is seen as a national hero by many white English people, he is seen by most Africans, Arabs and South Asians as a genocidal maniac, who oversaw several millions of Bengalis starving to death in the early 1940s.
Nevertheless, compared to the treatment of Africans, the British in India built up a colonial administration, developed a policy of Orientalism (patronizing us culturally and politically) and claimed India as the ‘Jewel in the British crown’, i.e., they gave Indians relatively preferential treatment, but we were always colonized and oppressed peoples. The British also encouraged Indians to go to mostly east Africa, where again we were brought into a British colonial set-up which saw us as more privileged than the native Black African peoples. Shaheed Udham Singh, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Subhas Chandra Bose, Gandhi and Nehru are some of the great freedom fighters that united the Indian peoples to freedom
This systemic hierarchy and divide and rule was that much more effective as South Asians have up until today a profoundly racist caste system whereby darker peoples are lower down the order of things. Indeed South Asia has seen very light-skinned peoples (Arabs, Persians, Greeks, Mongols, other Central Asians, Portugese, British) invade, dominate and settle South Asia over and above the original peoples of the land who are very dark skinned. So this racist caste system has continued until today to wreak havoc amongst South Asians and has fed their anti-Black racism.
Historical British Colonial-inspired Divisions Live On Today
This dynamic of a poorer Black community in Britain compared to the Asian community, and the sense of superiority of Asians towards Black people continues to this day, and has been exposed by the Wiley twitter controversy. For that we should be glad, as we can look into this with a view of calmly and respectfully discussing the actual situation so as to move forward with better understanding and unity.
Actually relations between Asians and Black was better through the 1970s and 1980s as we were united in our fight against the far-right and far-right British government policies. Bobby Friction is of an older generation of activists and strugglers who failed to carry on this trend towards unity to the newer generations, reasons for the failures of Friction’s generation are multiple and cannot be gone into here, but this is an important discussion to be had. Also it’s worth bearing in mind that for several decades after the Second World War, Caribbean, Latin American, African and Asian anti-colonial freedom fighters were united. There is a legacy of unity that many of our parents know about, and is the history we can learn from.
Our challenges are made more difficult when Wiley failed to be sensitive to the religious differences in the Asian community, and in a time of gross state-sponsored Islamophobia and the invasion of several Muslim and Arab countries by the British and US governments, it is understandable that Muslims got upset and angry.
At the same time Wiley has made it clear that he was subjected to a barrage of racist abuse from mostly Asian Jay Sean fans and responded similarly. The point being that Wiley, like nearly every other Black person in England, knows from life experience the anti-Black racism of Asians, an issue which was taboo until this spat. Wiley made an apology of sorts saying on his twitter: “im sorry to all who feel offended i hope ur sorry back or else this sorry does not count” and “i apologised but showed that i will not be bullied into apologising if they aint apologsing”.
My personal opinion is that it’s unfair to ask Wiley to apologise when those who were subjecting him to racist abuse are not being asked to do the same, and that this anti-Black racism is hardly at all mentioned in the Asian-oriented media.
Asking Wiley to apologise without exposing the truth of anti-Black racism amongst Asians, and in turn understanding that this is to the benefit of a racist British government, just perpetuates the racist oppression of Black people and does not seek to bring together our communities on the basis of honesty, sincerity and fairness.
Moving Beyond Confrontation Towards Black and Brown Unity
Bobby Friction seemed to be narrowly representing his Asian audience when interviewing Wiley, but Friction should have perhaps stepped outside his Asian ghetto and challenged the unfair demonization of Wiley when Friction knows all too well about the extent and depth of anti-Black racism amongst Asians. Of course if Friction did this he might get a few words from his seniors at the BBC, the BBC being an integral part of perpetuating divide and rule and the demonization of Black and Asian communities.
There was however a truly wonderful exchange in the interview where Friction and Wiley momentarily found a path to understanding and unity:
Wiley: I know the oppression, I know what Asian older people went through in England, and what black people have been through in England.
Friction: And there’s an understanding there. I went through those battles in the 1970s
Wiley: I respect that Bob, cos surviving it and getting through to this day is a big step and not very easy. And for your race to rise in the world, to do better things, and get your kids to do better in school and owning places like Brick Lane, so you know I’m not racist.
Instead of Friction using this as a chance to advance a commonality of struggle against racism and poverty in this country for all our community’s uplift, Friction has instead stated on his twitter that he will not go ahead with part two of the interview whereby Wiley would raise and discuss the nature of the racist tweets towards himself from Jay Sean’s fans: “Don't think me & @WileyArtist need a part 2 now. He's said he'll abuse racists back with racial banter & I disagree. Period.” (Friction)
Perhaps Friction is sincerely turned off by Wiley’s attitude, perhaps he is putting the concerns of the Asian community over and above trying to positively address the many issues raised in this episode, perhaps there’s pressure on him from his seniors at the BBC not to go ahead with a part 2 as they fear meaningful unity between Asian and Black people?
Whatever the case, Friction’s response so far is disappointing as Friction is in an ideal situation to explore these issues between the Asian and Black communities with Wiley and others with a view help to contribute to the healing and process of unity between communities.
There is so much more to discuss on this issue, and this article is but one aspect of a many dimensional discussion around this subject. Sons of Malcolm, Beat Knowledge and our networks of cultural and social activists, who often focus on challenging white supremacy in our society, are ready and willing to help anyway which we can to have a respectful and honest discussion about these issues so as to strengthen our unity against racism and social ills. Indeed we are organizing events in April and in June this year in time for Tupac Shakur’s birthday which will bring together veteran and current Black and Asian activists, young people and also Grime, Hip-Hop and spoken word artists to explore these issues with a view of united social and cultural uplift.
[POST SCRIPT: Bobby Fritction has re-tweeted this article and has stated that a Part 2 interview with Wiley is not off the cards, which is good news.]