TV REVIEW: Black Power in Britain

This TV Review first appeared in The Andersonstown News


I tend to resist TV programmes lasting more than an hour. Have I got 60 minutes or more to spend sitting gawking at something I’m less than mildly interested in?  But I do make exceptions, and BLACK P0WER IN BRITAIN (BBC2) was one of them.

The documentary looked at the sad story of black immigrants particularly in London. It started with the post-WW2 Windrush generation, those people from the Caribbean who came to Britain expecting a better life and met instead squalor and contempt.

But then the programme turned its focus to those blacks who weren’t prepared to turn the other cheek. Their thinking and spirit was fed by the rise of black power in the United States. As the Black Panther Stokely Carmichael said during a visit to Britain, instead of turning the other cheek when attacked by a white racist,  “We aim to break his arm.”

Britain had its own black radicals, notably  Michael X. He was Michael de Freitas, but after meeting black radical Malcolm X in the United States he changed his name. Michael X called for the killing of any white attacker of a black woman.

Then Enoch Powell, in his bid for leadership of the Tory party, made his ‘Rivers of blood’ speech in 1968. He predicted that continued black immigration would lead to conflict and bloodshed.  The other side of that particular coin was the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968,  when  US black athletes stood on the winner’s podium, head bent, clenched fist raised during the playing of the American national anthem.

In places like Brixton, the antipathy between police and black immigrants was intense. One elderly white man who’d been a policeman in Brixton back then, described watching an arrested black man being taken to a cell and given a vicious beating. “I didn’t join the police to beat people up, but I was a very junior officer. I didn’t do anything and I didn’t say anything.” There were tears in his eyes as he spoke.

Most of the memories came from elderly blacks, and their testimony was articulate and absorbing. The powers that be don’t like informed and intelligent people engaging in criticism (as Joe Brolly found out on The Claire Byrne Show  last week) and they were targeted.  

A subjugated minority, attacked by the police who were supposed to protect them, framed for crimes they hadn’t committed – the parallels with the experience of the nationalist community here were striking. With one major difference: the Black Power movement in Britain, after a few decades, petered out. Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to happen here.

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