Celebrate being black and English

Martin Amis (Report, 18 March) may still see white skin as a key attribute of being English, but I was born in London in 1950 of a Jewish mother whose family fled from the pogroms of 1880 and 1904, and a Nigerian father who served in the Merchant Navy during the war. I have considered myself English because I was born in England and know only English culture – I am not Scottish, Welsh or from Northern Ireland. It is racist according to law to treat someone like me “less favourably” because of the colour of their skin.

When I was the chair of a community group in south London in 2006, I managed, with others, to celebrate St George’s Day so that the BNPcould not monopolise that day with a racist march as they had done previously. The history of England should be celebrated and it should be inclusive of all of us born in England. From John Archer, a black Englishman who became mayor of Battersea, to Henry Sylvester Williams and William Cuffay, a leading Chartist, these men and many more unnamed black men and women played a significant part in the struggles of working-class people in England. Are they to be denied their place in English history because of the colour of their skin?

Linda Bellos
Founder, Black History Month in the UK


• Martin Amis does not speak for most people in England when he says that having white skin is still an important part of being English. The majority don’t share his view. A poll by YouGov found just 22% of people in England say it’s important for someone to be white for them to be regarded as English, compared to 74% for whom it is not important. The figures are even more striking when broken down by age. Those, like Amis, aged over 60 are more than three times as likely to consider “being white” as important to Englishness than 18-24 year olds; 86% of this younger group say being white is not important to being English. Amis’s version of Englishness may still ring true for a minority, but most people – particularly the next generation of English men and women – are proud of an inclusive English identity that reflects our modern and diverse nation.

Sunder Katwala
Director, British Future


• Has Martin Amis found the time to read at least a sentence or two by the late Stuart Hall? Or at the very least seen John Akomfrah’s The Stuart Hall Project (now available on DVD)? If not, perhaps he should, and then dig a little deeper in order to reflect on his (Amis’s) meaningless view that multiculturalism is “a luxury”, apparently some sort of soft altruism which cannot endure in “hard times”. Yes, Amis should definitely familiarise himself with the work and ideas of Stuart Hall, and chuck in some Foucault for good measure.

Bruce Ross-Smith


• As the European and local elections approach in May, the political agenda is becoming increasingly dominated by attempts to appeal to voters by drumming up racism and xenophobia. This vying by mainstream parties to be the most trenchant on immigration has even led the government to suppress the facts about the impact of immigration on unemployment. Leaving this discussion unchallenged is deeply dangerous. The scapegoating of immigrants for economic and social problems may be convenient but it is both false and leads to real discrimination and abuse of minority communities. For mainstream parties to get caught up in the slipstream of this destructive agenda will not raise their votes but instead plays into the hands of the more extreme exponents of this racist and xenophobic politics, whether the authoritarian, far-right variants like the BNP or the populist version of Ukip, which calls for an end to all immigration – whatever the economic and social cost – while promoting “little Englander” isolationist policies across the board.

Alongside the campaign against Bulgarian and Romanian migrants that dominated the tabloid media at the beginning of the year, hostility to Muslims also remains a constant feature. Very few voices have been raised against this dialogue of hate and prejudice. This is creating a dangerous slippage where anti-immigrant, xenophobic, anti-Traveller and racist views become normalised within the mainstream political debate. We have therefore decided to take the occasion of the annual UN Anti-racism Day to organise a counter-blast and celebrate our diversity and the contribution of all. The scapegoating of migrants and Muslims is a blight on society.  We hope that everyone who agrees with us will join us in Parliament Square, London, at 11am on Saturday 22 March (www.standuptoracism.org.uk).

Diane Abbott MP, Mark Durkan MP, Peter Hain MP, Naomi Long MP, John McDonnell MP, Mohammad Taj TUC presidentWeyman Bennett, Sabby Dhalu Unite Against Fascism, Christine Blower NUT general secretary Billy Hayes CWU general secretary, Mark SerwotkaPCS general secretary Len McCluskey General secretary, Unite Dr Tommy Tomescu Alliance Against Romanians and Bulgarians Discrimination Co-President Don Flynn Director, Migrants’ Rights Network, Jean Lambert MEP, Sally Hunt UCU general secretary,Chris Keates NASUWT general secretaryGed Nichols General secretary, AccordAndy Reid PCS national execMatt Wrack General secretary FBUMick Whelan Aslef general secretaryKingsley Abrams Unite executive councilAnton Johnson Unite London & Eastern Region LGBT committee chairIan Hodson National president, Bakers’, Food & Allied Workers UnionFarooq Murad Secretary general, Muslim Council of BritainZita Holbourne PCS NEC and national co chair Barac UKMartin Powell-Davies NUT national executiveAaron Kiely NUS black students officerDr Daud AbdullahSpokesperson of British Muslim Initiative (BMI)Shakeel Begg Imam, Lewisham Islamic CentreAbdullah Faliq Media and external relations secretary, Islamic Forum of EuropeDr Omar Hamdoon President of Muslim Association of Britain (MAB)Mohammed Kozbar Chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque (FPM)Canon Barry Naylor, Balwinder RanaSikhs Against the EDL, Dr Francisco Dominguez Centre for Brazilian and Latin American Studies (Middlesex University)Marisol GuzmanWomen and Family Commission Ecuadorian Movement in the UK,Hackney Refugee Forum, Sarah Isal Chair, European Network Against RacismDr Jennifer Langer Director, Exiled Writers InkYvonne MacNamara The Travellers MovementJuan C Piedra Ecuadorian Movement in UKPhien O’Reachtigan Pavee Advise Assist Direct,Veerendra Rishi Indian Institue of Romani StudiesDr Rhetta MoranMatron, RAPARSimon Woolley Director, Operation Black Vote,Lindsey German Stop The War CoalitionPaul Mackney Joint chair, Greece Solidarity CampaignMichaël Privot Director, European Network Against Racism (ENAR)Maurice Wren Refugee Council chief executiveJon Lansman Editor, Left FuturesKate Hudson General secretary CNDBob Archer Redbridge association president, National Union of TeachersGerry Gable Editor, SearchlightCathy PoundOrganiser, Trade Union Friends of SearchlightCllr Patrick VernonSouth London People’s AssemblyNick O’Brien We are Norwich,Andrew Burgin Left UnityHugh Lanning Unite Against FascismNick Long Lewisham Local Gov Unite branch LE/1183Raj Mandair National BAME Labour ExecutiveKevin Ovenden One Society Many Cultures,Michael Burke Economist, Glyn Robbins Convenor, United East End,Ulrike Schmidt We are Waltham Forest