Race Relations

So finally a home victory and a very good goal to win the game too! Indeed there were GeordiesAFAencouraging signs throughout the second half of the match against Fulham that progress is being made, but am I alone in worrying how we would fare were Hatem Ben Arfa get injured or suspended. He had a lot of problems with his hamstring last season, so let’s hope that they don’t reccur again this season.

And an apology – of sorts from The Independent – for an unfounded racist slur against Newcastle United fans. The accusation was that Mike Ashley has been subject to anti-Semitic chanting, yet nobody else seems to have heard it.

This is of course not the first time that a liberal London newspaper, who usually are very fair-minded, has been unfair in this way. Back in 2010 a correspondent with The Guardian, a Chelsea supporter as it happens, told an outrageous lie, that Newcastle fans were singing racist songs while queueing up to get into St James’ Park before Andy Cole’s debut for the Magpies 20 years ago, before changing their tune, literally no doubt, after Cole apparently scored a hat-trick in the game.

Well, I stood on the Gallowgate End that afternoon and remember the game quite well. For a kick-off, if you can excuse the pun, the piece is inaccurate in that Cole scored one goal that afternoon not three, a well-executed finish into the Gallowgate End goal, after a neat turn in the corner of the penalty area.

More seriously, I don’t remember any racist chanting before, during or after the game. Why? Because there wasn’t any! What we have seen with these two stories is actually an interesting form of racism; anti-Geordie prejudice from inside the M25. Sadly this kind of nonsense is all too common. Yet what evidence is there that people in North East England are more racist than their counterparts in London?

Well a good place to start might be with the appalling murder in 1993 of Stephen Lawrence and the shocking racism displayed by the Metropolitan Police, which was supposed tio be dealing with the inquiry.  So did the murder take place in Benwell, or Blyth, in Walker or Washington? Was it the Northumbria Police Force which was found in the McPherson Report to be;’institutionally racist’? No, of course not. The murder took place in Eltham in SE London and it was The Met who was found to be such a racist Police Force.

It is also interesting that it was dockers from the docks of east London, along with Smithfield Market Porters who marched in support of Enoch Powell after his provocative and nonsensical ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968. Whilst it is true that workers at the Dunlop factory in Team Valley Trading Estate did down tools for a while as a show of support for Powell’s speech, the only march in Newcastle in relation to the speech was an anti-Powell march, which took place on the same afternoon that the league title was last won on Tyneside; sadly by Manchester City, not Newcastle.  It is also true that voters in some parts of London have been far more willing to elect openly racist candidates as councillors, than their counterparts in North East England.

Now let us be clear; the North East does sadly include people who hold illogical, ill-informed racist views and has for many years. However, in many respects the region has a very proud record of ANTI-racism. Back in 1792, as many as a third of the population of Newcastle signed a petition against the Transatlantic African slave trade with similar petitons all over the region, including small villages such as Staindrop near Barnard Castle. In the 19th century, Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave from Baltimore in the United States, went on to become an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln, but only because his slavery was bought out by a fund organised by supporters led by Ellen Richardson of  Newcastle.

The region also saw the generally successful integration of a large Irish community, certainly more successful than in Glasgow or arguably Manchester or Liverpool. This integration was cemented by the horrendous loss of around 70% of the Tyneside Irish Brigade killed and wounded on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, before they even got to the front. As has been noted, “two years in the making, the Tyneside Irish had lasted just 80 minutes as a fighting formation.” (R. Prior and T. Wilson, The Somme, p. 98-9)

Later in the 20th century, the great singer Paul Robeson was given a great reception in Newcastle on numerous visits, while the Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King was honoured with an honorary degree by only one university in Britain in his lifetime: Newcastle University on 13th November 1967.

Meanwhile in 1977, Muhammad Ali had his third wedding in the mosque in South Shields after again receiving a wonderfully warm Geordie welcome in Newcastle.  South Shields by then had become an example of good community relations across the country, after the successful integration of the Yemeni community there, arguably the first major Muslim community in Britain. Indeed David Bean described the town in The Guardian in March 1962, as a ‘study in integration’.  The story of South Shields was used as an example of how there can be good race relations, after the 1958 Notting Hill Riots in London…

To bring the story up-to-date the excellent anti-racism football charity Show Racism the Red Card began its life in 1996 in Newcastle ands is still based on Tyneside. The first two schools where presentations took place involving the likes of Les Ferdinand, Shaka Hislop and John Beresford were Westgate College and Gosforth High School in February 1996 – when Newcastle were about twelve points clear at the top of the Premier League.

More information about all these stories can be found at www.alivingtradition.org .

So, while there are obviously racists in our region, there is also a huge body of evidence to suggest that we are no more racist than people in London and arguably less so.  Indeed we have many proud anti-racist traditions, which we would do well to uphold and continue. It might also be well worth it reminding our friends in London of these traditions from time to time!

© Peter Sagar September 2013