Political Blackness in Multiracial Britain

Political Blackness in Multiracial Britain

Political Blackness in Multiracial Britain

Political Blackness in Multiracial Britain


One evening in 1980, a group of white friends, drinking at the Duke of Edinburgh pub on East Ham High Street, made a monstrous five-pound wager. The first person to kill a "Paki" would win the bet. Ali Akhtar Baig, a young Pakistani student who lived in the east London borough of Newham, was their chosen victim. Baig's murder was but one incident in a wave of antiblack racial attacks that were commonplace during the crisis of race relations in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s. Ali Akhtar Baig's death also catalyzed the formation of a grassroots antiracist organization, Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) that worked to transform the racist victimization of African, African Caribbean and South Asian communities into campaigns for racial justice and social change.

In addition to providing a 24-hour hotline and casework services, NMP activists worked to mitigate the scourge of racial injustice that included daily racial harassment, hate crimes and antiblack police violence. Since the advent of the War on Terror, NMP widened its approach to support victims of the state's counterterror policies, which have contributed to an unfettered surge in Islamophobia.

These realities, as well as the many layers of gendered racism in contemporary Britain come to life through intimate ethnographic storytelling. The reader gets to know a broad range of east Londoners and antiracist activists whose intersecting experiences present a multifaceted portrait of British racism. Mohan Ambikaipaker examines the life experiences of these individuals through a strong theoretical lens that combines critical race theory and postcolonial studies. Political Blackness in Multiracial Britain shows how the deep processes of everyday political whiteness shape the state's failure to provide effective remedies for ethnic, racial, and religious minorities who continue to face violence and institutional racism.


The people’s stories and struggles for justice described in this book take place in the London borough of Newham. Newham is situated five miles east of central London and is one of the thirty-two boroughs that, along with the iconic city center, make up the metropolitan area of greater London. Newham is bounded by the River Thames on the south, by the River Lea on the west, the River Roding on the east, and Wanstead Flats on the north. At the edges of Newham’s recently redeveloped western boundary is the site of the 2012 Olympic Park. the Westfield Stratford City Mall—the largest retail mall in Europe—is adjacent to the park and also the Stratford train, bus, and subway stations, which form a major transportation hub in the city.

These highly capitalized mega-projects, situated behind Stratford Station, were built at the former site of low-income public housing estates. the inhabitants of these dwellings had been “Travellers” who were categorized in the 2011 Census as “White Gypsy” and “Irish Traveller.” “Travellers” is a term that refers to the nonsedentary lifeways of this particular ethnic group and to other low-income residents strongly identified with the Clays Lane community, a place that no longer exists. This long-standing community was broken up and displaced through compulsory purchase, known as eminent domain in the United States, of land, homes, and small businesses. Former residents experienced considerable distress and loss in the relocation process (Bernstock 2014). As Penny Bernstock (2014:63) argued, “Residents found themselves in the way of a prestigious national project [and] the need to expedite the project meant that [residents] had to respond to a very tight and highly pressurized timetable” of two years.

Today tourists and Londoners from other parts of the city flock to the Westfield Mall, oblivious of this violent history that displaced a group of poor east Londoners. Furthermore, the vast majority of the other inhabitants of Newham have not benefited in any way from the Olympic redevelopment. On follow-up visits to my field site in 2013 and 2016, I was struck . . .

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