After 40 Years Here, Tom and His Wife Have No White Friends. Should They Integrate?

By Howe, Darcus | New Statesman (1996), May 20, 2002 | Go to article overview

After 40 Years Here, Tom and His Wife Have No White Friends. Should They Integrate?


Howe, Darcus, New Statesman (1996)


The term "asylum-seeker" is now easily interchangeable with "black" and "Asian". A friend of mine here in Brixton developed prostate cancer and had to visit a local hospital. He overheard the white receptionists referring to him as "one of those asylum-seekers overloading the NHS".

Tom Strokes, as I have nicknamed him, came here in 1961 and within a month was employed at British Rail, then left for Ford, where he worked until he retired. He was a shop steward and a Labour Party activist. His five children are all employed. His wife, also now retired, worked in the NHS from 1962.

I met Strokes and his wife at my local pub, which is almost exclusively black, as is the Pentecostal church they attend. They have no white friends, just as so many British whites have no black friends. They go to the Caribbean every other year for holidays among friends and family. But they got on reasonably well with the white people they worked with.

In every inner city, you will find similar people, who eat, entertain, dance, sing and dress in a distinctly Caribbean way. But ask them what is British culture and they will describe their own lives. They mesh well with the new asylum-seekers from Africa. Unless one wears a T-shirt saying "I am an asylum-seeker" or another saying "I was born here", nobody can tell the difference. …

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