Brian Richardson: Radical Lawyer and Anti-Racist Activist | Podcast Interview Transcript
Brian [00:00:02] I live in London, I'm London based, I'm a long-term anti-racist campaigner, a sometime writer. And for my day job, I'm a criminal barrister.
Rena [00:00:24] As the Black Lives Matter, protests erupt around the world, I sat down with Brian Richardson, a criminal barrister and anti-racist activist, now a leading figure in Stand Up to Racism. He has worked for the anti Nazi League and has been involved in the Campaign for Justice for the Grenfell community as a barrister. Brian has only ever done defence, standing up for some of the poorest and most marginalised individuals in society. He is with Nexus Chambers, led by Michael Mansfield, a titan of social justice campaigns in the UK. Brian has authored books including "Say It Loud: Marxism and the Fight Against Racism"; "Tell it Like It Is: How Our Schools Fail Black Children"; and "Bob Marley: Roots, Reggae and Revolution". Brian also happens to be my partner, and there has never been a better time to interview him. The death of George Floyd has not just prompted global protests. It has also sparked conversations about racism in workplaces, on social media and closer to home. We sat down to discuss exactly what racism is and where it comes from, how Brian sees racism play out in the criminal justice system, and why the current debate around statues reflects our future as well as our past. And as with every episode of Future Heist, there are resources and action points for activists. This is Future Heist conversations with people making change. My name is Rina Niamh Smith.
Rena [00:02:14] I want to talk about their Black Lives Matter protests that have been happening around the world. They've obviously been massive in many countries. Why is this happening now?
Brian [00:02:23] Well, I think obviously the immediate catalyst has been the killing of George Floyd, the 46 year old man, by a police officer in Minnesota on 25th May. I mean, that incident was so brutal that I think it created an understandable wave of anger. If you think about it, this something truly, incredibly harrowing about watching a 46 year old man crying for his mum and gasping, "I can't breathe" while the life is literally crushed out of him for, it was, to be precise, eight minutes and 46 seconds. And of course, it isn't the first time that we've seen or heard on film a man crying out these exact words, "I can't breathe" as he's wrestled to the ground and throttled to death. You may recall that exactly the same thing happened back in 2014 when Eric Garner in New York City, who, you know, the supposed crime he was committing was was selling loose cigarettes. He was wrestled to the ground. He was gasping, "I can't breathe", and he died at the hands of the police. In fact, this is a very brilliant piece of music by Terence Blanchard, the Grammy Award winning composer, who usually writes the score for Spike Lee films that was written in 2015 that commemorates that particular incident. So I think that's the immediate catalyst. But in a sense, it's a lightning rod for a wider fury and anger, particularly, I think, about police brutality, because, you know, probably that phrase "I can't breathe" will have been said dozens, perhaps hundreds of times, because these incidents do happen all the time. Over eleven hundred people died at the hands of the police, a disproportionate number of whom are black men and boys every single year.
Rena [00:04:32] So, as you say, these problems have existed for a long time. Incidents like what happened to George Floyd. It's not the first time it's happened. And it's created an outpouring of anger and sympathy. And there's been some people have described it as a as an awakening. Why is it now? Do you think that it's having this worldwide reaction?
Brian [00:04:54] Yeah, well, I mean, certainly, in the States, there's been a build-up towards this. There have been other very recent, very horrific deaths, I'm thinking, for example, in this case, a woman, Breonna Taylor, who was 26 years old, who died at the hands of the police in Louisville, Kentucky. So I think it's it's been the catalyst for a revival, of course, of the Black Lives Matter movement that first emerged back in the mid 2010s.
But I think alongside the specific issue of police brutality, you have the pandemic, the Covid 19 catastrophe, really, which is having a hugely disproportionate impact upon black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, both in terms of people dying and becoming more and more impoverished as the lockdowns are imposed. And instead of support and sympathy and help for people to to survive and to get out of it, people are being once again pathologised. And black communities are being blamed for the problems themselves, told that it is because of underlying health conditions, because they don't socially distance, because they flout the regulations that are being imposed. And I think, therefore, partly what we're also seeing is a rage and fury against that endemic structural racism that exists not just in America, but across the world.
Rena [00:06:32] So it sounds like between Covid 19 and racism, more generally, there's a link here, which is poverty. Poverty is causing huge deaths amongst the working class and particularly amongst black and minority ethnic people. And it's also a catalyst for racial issues. Why would you say that's true?
Brian [00:06:53] Absolutely. I think I think I think that is absolutely the case. I think that that is I think fundamentally it's the reason why people have erupted onto the streets, as you say, not just in America, but elsewhere. I think that the you know, here in Britain, there's been a whole series of protests and people have been expressing rightly their solidarity with George Floyd and all of the people in the States. But people have also said, remember the people who have died in police custody in this country - over 3,000 since 1969. But people are also reacting with anger and fury about the impact that Covid 19, is having - you rightly say, Rena, disproportionately upon people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities - but not exclusively. The majority of people who are becoming seriously ill and dying in this country are white, working class people. And I think what we're seeing is people saying that we are not going back to business as usual and this is over.
Rena [00:08:05] Donald Trump has called on governors in America to come down very strongly on protesters, but also looters, who he's lumping together in the same category. Some states have used a very brutal crackdown. Why do you think Trump's response has been so violent to these protests?
Brian [00:08:25] Well, you're right. I mean, Trump - there was there was inevitably Tweets. There was a leaked phone conversation. And then there was a press state press conference where he said the governors have to start dominating, I think was the phrase that he used. Otherwise, they would be run over and made to look like jerks. I think an extraordinary, though this may sound to people in Britain, that before the pandemic, Trump thought that he was guaranteed to win the next presidential election, I think especially when it became clear that his opponent was going to be Joe Biden. But then came the pandemic and his leadership. You know, he's been exposed to some of these completely out of his depth, you know, incapable of leading America properly out of the crisis. His management would be considered laughable if it wasn't the fact that it's cost over 100,000 American lives. And I think that what you've seen, therefore, is it merely sounds a slightly flippant phrase, essentially a triple whammy. [00:09:39]You've seen the fury about racism erupting onto the streets. You've seen the wider health crisis of Covid 19. And you've seen will almost certainly be an economic catastrophe and depression. And suddenly, Trump's re-election hopes look far worse than they did. And in those circumstances, he's chosen to react in the only way he ever has done, the only way he knows, which is to ramp up racism, sow division. And he hopes cement his political base that way by scapegoating black people. The political left and so on. That's why he talks specifically about professional anarchists, antifa and so on, because he hopes the good old working class white people, as he sees them, will rally around him, rally round the flag and rally around his law and order agenda. [57.6s]
Rena [00:10:38] Is that why there's been a focus? Do you think, on property? I know that a lot of the criticism levelled at the protests, especially from, say, white communities who are possibly not familiar with or touched by problems of racism on a personal level, if you can make that generalisation, there's been concern around the looters and the damage to public property. We've seen that in the UK as well with there with the damage to to public statues. Do you think that that focus on property rather than the violence that's happened against people from the police? Do you think that's in order to sow division between people?
Brian [00:11:19] Well, I think you're absolutely right. And it's worth remembering, Rena, that the I mean, [00:11:26]the current wave of protests is being compared to those that erupted in 1968 in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. And it's worth remembering as well that at that time there were huge uprisings around the Vietnam War. Massive protests on the street around that, as well as, of course, the the birth of things like the Gay Rights movement, fights for Women's Liberation and so on. And it's worth remembering that the incumbent president then was a Democrat, Lyndon Baines Johnson. His opponent, Richard Nixon, adopted and adapted what became known as the Southern Strategy, which was specifically aimed at grabbing what had previously been Democratic voters and winning them over for the Republicans. And so and this is, you know, this similarity with this whole thing about, you know, protecting property and the American way of life. He specifically, Nixon, attacked hippies, who was supposedly privileged layabouts smoking dope, hanging out festivals, enjoying free love and so on. And he is really looking at with the political left and attacking them while supposedly good old white working class boys, GIs, were dying in their thousands, sacrificing themselves for the freedoms that these other people were enjoying. And so that was the strategy that Nixon adopted and it succeeded for him. He won the 68 presidential election. Trump is gambling that a similar approach will work for him. And that's why, you know, there was this specific naming and labelling of professional anarchists Antifa, you know, that he he's pointing at the people who are organised, who are demonstrating why people showing solidarity with their black sisters and brothers, pointing those people out as being completely anathema to the American way of life. [131.7s] You know, I think that that is what we're seeing here. It's worth noting that there is a huge gamble. Deploying troops in a domestic setting basically means that you are getting black and white, working class young men usually to train their guns on their own sisters and brothers. That's an incredibly incendiary situation.
Rena [00:14:07] Is there a chance that that won't work? Is there a chance that this strategy of extreme violence, which has attracted so much criticism around the world that it won't work for Trump any risks as its next election?
[00:14:20] Absolutely. And I think in two ways. Firstly, there is a very real possibility that it will spark further huge upsurges on the streets, huge mass demonstrations, protest with everything that can be associated with that. That's one thing. And secondly, even in electoral terms, it's not guaranteed to succeed. It's worth remembering that the last time the 1807 Insurrection Act was used was in 1992. It was used by George Bush Senior, the then president, to try and put down the 1992 Los Angeles riots which erupted in the aftermath. This sounds like a familiar story, doesn't it? Those riots erupted when the police officers responsible for the brutal racist beating of Rodney King the year before in 1991, they were acquitted. That's when the L.A. riots erupted. Bush invoked the 1807 Insurrection Act then didn't succeed for him. He was a one term president. He lost that November election to Bill Clinton.
Rena [00:15:31] There's been images of police taking a knee with protesters. Now, many have criticised this as a publicity stunt. And you can see why the police might make such a cynical move. However, is there a chance that police officers might feel the stirrings of solidarity as they take their knee with protesters about this atrocity?
Brian [00:15:51] I think undoubtedly the killing of George Floyd was was so brutal that inevitably some police officers will think that's disgusting, and don't want to be associated with that. And of course, and I know this from my own professional experience here, if you like, that there are people who join the police thinking that they're serving their community, that they're doing good, that they really are there to protect old people, to protect the vulnerable, as well as, of course, protecting property. And so, of course, on an individual level, some people will react like that. And, of course, it is interesting, and I think this is one of the very interesting things about America, is that you look everywhere and it seems as if almost every police chief is a black man. The police chief in Minneapolis is a black man. That is a measure in some ways of how that the strategy of the Civil Rights Movement to break open some electoral spaces for black people to move into positions of power and responsibility had some significant success. But what it highlights, and I think this is really the fundamental point coming back to your question, is that simply having a few people in the top in top positions - black faces in high places, if you like - doesn't solve the problem because the problem with the police is not simply the attitude of individuals like Derrick Jovian. It's about the role that they play in society. Their role is to uphold law and order and to protect property. Who is law and order? Is it whose property are they protecting? It's that which serves the interests of the rich and powerful, not the poor, the marginalised and excluded.
Rena [00:17:55] You're right these these murders have been totally shocking and in fact, the murder of George Floyd, the matter be unattainable. The murder of so many black people at the hands of the police has been linked or has been described as the modern day equivalent of lynching. And you have to ask when you read these stories how the police think that they can get away with it when we live in a supposedly civilised society. Which leads me to ask why, in your view, is racism? Where does racism come from?
Brian [00:18:25] Well, I think I think there's a couple of great points and a couple of great questions there, really. I mean, firstly, it raises the question, are we actually living in a civilised society? And I think it takes us back to the question about what is racism, because we can all recognise a racist thug who holds out abuse at people or who act individually in a horrific and violent way, often know perhaps even a murderous way towards people from black Asian minority ethnic communities. And obviously, those experiences of racism for those people who are the victims of it is especially horrific and harrowing. But it's not the most common and it's easy to identify. But that isn't the most common experience of racism that those of us from black Asian minority ethnic communities experience. You know, in some ways, what happened to George Floyd highlight in its most graphic form the systematic and structural nature of racism. You know that he for the supposed crime of parent, passing off a counterfeit twenty dollar note, get brutalised in that way, choked to his death. And I think what it highlights, therefore, is that what racism is really all about is a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle of oppression, that starts, and it's from cradle to grave. It starts right at the beginning, where people are born, the communities that they live in, the education that they receive, and that the discrimination that people face in the education system, the disproportionate criminalisation of people from black communities. A third of young men in America are somehow caught up in the criminal justice system, either in prison on parole, awaiting sentencing, and so on. Extraordinary figures - the worst levels of employment, a lack of promotion and so on. That is the the structural, systematic, institutional racism that is really at the heart of the system. And that highlights a couple of things. First, you know, why does it exist? It exists because it serves the needs and the interests of the rich and powerful. And because there is that level of inequality and marginalisation and exclusion, it does beg the question of whether we really are living in a civilised society or not. I would argue that we're not.
Rena [00:21:25] Yeah, it seems to me there's two ways of looking at it, isn't there? Because there's the question of resources and people are looking at our history very closely, especially because and just recently, statues have been defaced, statues of people who have been previously lauded and there's been statues around the world defaced, people who had racist connexions, connexions with slavery, racist views, et cetera, such as Winston Churchill. And so, historically, if we look at who is rich and powerful, there's a history of shoring up of resources. I think about this when I walk around the really beautiful grand streets of West London and you see all those resources that were that were taken to make Britain a rich country. It was literally a system of looting, imperialism as a system of looting, where people went around the world and stole not just resources and not just materials like gold, like diamonds, like cotton, but also people were were stolen as well. And and the system of slavery was literally, you know, an empire was created on the backs of people who were horrifically stolen from their land and treated in an just extraordinarily abusive ways. And so you can see racism in terms of white people's place in the world as being in positions of power, shall we say. But then there's another way of looking at racism, isn't there? Where ongoing people are divided by racism and people are, as you say, held in place. I mean, I was learning recently about the way that slave holders in the British Empire used to divide slave groups by the colour of their skin, literally between light and dark, and then give them different privileges. And this system of divide and rule and you can see it, happen in other colonies as well. In Ireland, there was divisions between Catholics and Protestants, and it was a way to, as I understand it, divide populations and make sure that those people wouldn't have solidarity between themselves and rise up against their oppressor. Would you say that's would you say that's a fair understanding?
Brian [00:23:33] You're right, Rena and more what you've just highlighted there really is the the changing nature of racism. Racism had its origins in slavery. Slavery was the the means by which capitalism really emerged as the new and dominant economic system and it was built upon slavery - it is not prejudice towards outsiders and so on. It is not to say that it didn't exist before. It's not to say that pre capitalist societies were wonderful, equal egalitarian societies. Of course they weren't. But racism is a specific form of oppression did not exist. It developed with capitalism and it developed precisely because slavery, the use of slaves was the means by which the early pioneers of capitalism gained their and developed and cemented their wealth. And you're absolutely right that in so doing, they stole absolutely everything from slaves, you know, even their identity. My surname is Richardson. What is that come from? And it's also absolutely the case that in order you know, that to cement their power, they necessarily had to divide people because it wasn't automatically the case that people would oppose each other, would act in a dog-eat-dog look after number one way often. There were acts of solidarity and rebellion and of course, one of the one, one of the greatest books I've ever read is CLR James is the Black Jacobins, which talks about the slave revolt in Saint Domingue, what became Haiti, that successful slaver revolt. And he wrote that precisely because he said, that hidden history of people who fought back, it's unwritten. And he wanted to write that. So, you know, that the slavers had to use all those kind of means to divide people. You're absolutely right. And, of course, but slavery doesn't exist in the same way that it did at that time. People talk about modern slavery and it is a horrible and far too widespread phenomenon. But slavery doesn't exist on anything like the scale that it did three or four hundred years ago. But clearly, as we're discussing, racism absolutely does because it continues to serve the needs and interests of the rich and powerful. They know that there is a potential for solidarity and unity by people from black and white communities. We see that brilliantly in the demonstrations that are taking place. They need to break that solidarity because they need to continue to reinforce their power, wealth and privilege. And racism is one of the key means that they use to do that.
Rena [00:26:46] Those were stories of of slave rebellions are very powerful. And I think it's interesting how we don't learn, you know, in Britain, we don't tend to learn about the slave uprisings. We learn about the slave trade in economic terms. We learn about how people were traded for other things. We learnt about them - and oh, yes. And also, it was very bad and there was a lot of suffering. But it's interesting how we don't learn about those uprisings. And I would say as well that that explanation that you've just given, I feel really also explains other aspects, historical aspects of racism, such as eugenics, this idea that white people are a master race and that the reason why they have exerted dominance over other races is because of an intrinsic superiority in terms of their genetics. And that's an argument that has raised its ugly head again recently with coronavirus. People have been dying in black and Asian and minority ethnic communities more because of genetic deficiencies. What do you think about that argument?
Brian [00:27:48] Well, I think you're absolutely right that there has been a revival of these kind of scientific racist ideas, in fact, even before the Corona virus crisis. We saw that kind of thing happening. You may recall that there was a very controversial conference on intelligence that was being hosted by University College London a few years ago. One of the people attending that was Toby Young, who's been a senior government advisor on education. When the news came out that that conference was taking place, there was a huge uproar. And I think he may even have been cancelled. But I've also very recently bought two books in particular that struck me. There was Angela Saini's book called "Superior: The Return of Race Science", and one by Adam Rutherford, a geneticist called "How to Argue with a Racist". And the very reason why they produce those books was precisely because they could see that there were people who were trying to revive these kind of ideas. Of course, they're not so crude as to say that white people are superior. But they argue that there are clearly differences and differences which, behind their hand, that indicate or show the superiority of white people and ultimately why people shouldn't mix, why there should be this hierarchy.
Rena [00:29:12] And those are ideas that really were founding principles of the British Empire. And it's those kind of arguments that it's been exposed that Winston Churchill had about the the superiority of white people. A lot of people are engaging with ideas around racism and anti-racism for the first time because of the death of George Floyd, and the outraged that it's caused. And I've seen a lot of discussions around the idea of white privilege. That's to say, the idea that as a white person, I have a privileged position in the world. And this comes from the blindness to the experience of racism. So in order to rid the world of racism, we as white people must make ourselves aware of our privilege and make room for people who are not white. And I can certainly see how there's an element of truth in this. Certainly, I haven't experienced the kind of racism that you if how many other black people would have experienced. What do you think about the argument around white privilege and other limitations to it?
Brian [00:30:13] Well, I think you're absolutely right again, [00:30:15]that there has been a huge and widespread discussion about it in the aftermath of the uprisings. And I think actually that the starting point is a positive one, because it's one that stems from a determination to identify to call out, and to challenge racism. And if you think about it, there's there's a there's a common sense notion to it because as you say, as a white person, you don't experience racism. And so, therefore, I think it's a natural reaction to think, "Oh well, if either experienced racism, somehow I must be a beneficiary and therefore I must do something to shake off the privilege that I have as someone who doesn't suffer racism". And I think that it has led to some very positive and practical things that people have done. So on the protests for examples. I've seen some white people both saying and actually doing this in practise, well, I'm less likely to get grabbed, attacked and brutalised by the police. So I should put myself on the front line. I should stand ahead of the black Asian and minority ethnic people who are more at risk than me. That is an understandable enough and a sympathetic notion. And and the practical effect of it has been to bring people out onto the streets together. That's fantastic. So, you know, I think the starting point of it is a good one. But I think if you think about it more deeply, it's a great place to start, but I don't think great place to finish because and in a way, it goes back to the earlier discussion that we had and, perhaps some catechist caricaturing it and putting it slightly too crudely. But I think that it ultimately focuses narrowly on the notion that these individuals are the problem, and that individuals have to change their attitudes and behaviour. And of course, it's right that people do need to think about and if necessary, change their attitudes and behaviour. It's important in that sense. But it doesn't get to the heart of the of the matter, which, as I've suggested, is that racism doesn't stem from individuals, but from those at the top of society, those who exercise power, control and influence over everybody else. And I think that in turn exposes a wider problem, which is that ultimately, I think what you end up with, with the white privilege argument is the notion that white people have to give up something that they supposedly benefit from that black people don't have. And of course, yes, it's true that if you're white, you're less likely to be excluded from school, more likely to go to the more prestigious universities, more likely to get that job, more likely to get a promotion, less likely to be criminalised. But that's hardly a privilege. That's in some ways, it's just the way that society functions, that things are distributed. But I think if you look at on a more specific level, you can see how that argument falls down. Let's consider the current pandemic, Covid 19. And yes, of course, we know that hugely disproportionate numbers of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, not just in Britain, in America as well, are becoming critically ill and dying. Astonishing figures. Thethe first 100 doctors, I think, were black or Asian. That's an incredible figure. But even with that massive disproportionality here in Britain, the overwhelming majority of people, I don't know what the percentage is 70, 75, 80 percent. The majority who will be becoming critically ill and dying will be white. That's not a privilege for them to be suffering as well. And so I think a too narrow focus, not that it can't play some role in bringing people to a realisation of the role that they need to play in the fight against racism, but too narrow a focus on the idea of white privilege. I think ultimately hamstrings the struggle because it doesn't challenge, and doesn't attack the people who really benefit the people at the top. You know, they would love to see white people further down the chain giving up some of their money, some of their access to healthcare, because it means that they, those people who really benefit, don't have to give up their power and wealth. [311.7s]
Rena [00:35:28] I think that's a really powerful argument that as as well as considering the role that we play in society at having a macro view rather than a micro view of the social system and seeing the way that the haves benefit massively from the have nots as a whole, whatever background they come from. And that idea that they would rather that people further down the chain give up privilege. I mean, I've seen a lot of companies make donations to Black Lives Matter charities, causes, funds, et cetera. But I've seen other companies asking their followers and asking other people to make donations. And I think that that's slightly a limited response because you're asking ordinary people to to put their hand in their pocket.
Brian [00:36:20] I've been on all - to date, there's been three huge demonstrations in London and a whole series right around the country of smaller, more socially distance demonstrations - and I have been hugely inspired and encouraged by the breadth and diversity and the solidarity on display on those demonstrations. And that, for me, is the most important thing. And, you know, the question about white privilege is part of the debate and the discussion that people are having on those demonstrations and on the platforms that have been sparked by these protests. And I think it's a good thing. Ultimately, I think we want to develop into not just a moment, but a movement and a movement that involves everybody who wants to be involved.
Rena [00:37:16] I agree that this is not an issue that white people are shut out from. I think that there's parallels here with the women's liberation movement in that a lot of the time, even amongst the left feminist issues are seen as something which women you know, you go to these meetings that overwhelmingly women and they're discussing and you have all kinds of very complex and very interesting and nuanced arguments around what can be done. But what's really missing from that room is the men. And I often think that in order for equality to have to be achieved, there is a role that, of course, men can play. And you look at the statistics around not just domestic violence, but things like housework and things like that. Yeah, I definitely agree that it's been really inspiring to see the variety and diversity of people supporting this movement.
Brian [00:38:07] And just I mean, if I can just comment on that, actually, because, you know, like some of the first things I got involved in and that made me politically conscious were obviously anti-racist struggles. But I remember as well, [00:38:22]when I was at university, there was a huge campaign around, I think it was called the Alton Bill. A Liberal MP introduced a bill to restrict abortion rights. And there was big debates on the campus. I was all about, you know, you know, whether men could be involved and so on. And of course, it's an issue for all working class people, I think. Of course, women who have babies. And so women should have the right to determine what they do with their own bodies. But women live in families with partners, with different sexualities and genders and so on. And it is an issue for all of us. [40.6s]
Rena [00:39:04] Absolutely. I want to ask then thinking about the systematic nature of racism and the institutional nature of racism. You're a criminal barrister. Have you seen evidence of institutional racism in the criminal justice system?
Brian [00:39:22] Well, absolutely. And in fact, I think it's an issue not just for the criminal justice system, it's an issue for the justice system as a whole. And it's also an issue for the legal profession as a whole. Let me just give you a couple of examples. Certainly, within the criminal justice system, there is overwhelming evidence that black Asian minority ethnic people are discriminated against. A couple of years ago, I think it was 2017. David Lammy, who at that time was - he had been a minister in the previous Labour administration - but was now a back but backbench MP. And he was actually asked by David Cameron, because he's an MP in tottenham he's a black MP. He was asked to do a study into the criminal justice system and his report, it's called the Lammy Report, identified overwhelming discrimination. So, for example, you're much more likely to be charged with what's called indictable, the more serious offences. Youre interestingly, actually, I think the study showed that you are less likely to be convicted of those indictable offences. I think what that highlighted was the fact that the people who had been arrested and charged had been wrongly arrested and charged in the first place, which is a measure of the discrimination that happens even before people get to court. But if you are convicted, you're much more likely to be sent to prison and sent to prison for longer. That's a measure of how things operate in the criminal justice system. And Lammy's report didn't even focus on stops and searches. He wasn't asked to consider the question of stops and searches, but that has historically been one of the biggest bones of contentions that people in black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have had about the way we're treated. In fact, it was Sir William MacPherson himself admitted that when he wrote the 1999 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report, the primary reason why he was forced to acknowledge the existence of institutional racism was because of the contributions that people made constantly at that inquiry about particularly stops and searches and the huge disproportionality that there is. Just on the question of the legal profession and and that discrimination happens in all areas, the family courts and so on, I'm not an expert in those, but when I speak to colleagues about it, they say exactly the same thing,. The legal profession as a whole, I think it's quite interesting because if you look at criminal law firms, say solicitors, or indeed you look at the criminal bar, you see quite a lot of people who are from black Asian minority ethnic backgrounds. And that, I think, is in a way, it's a consequence of struggles that we fought in the past for representation, for access to universities and so on. However, the further up the chain you look, at the people who are senior barristers, Queen's Counsel, you look at the benches and look who the judges are, the senior judges, or indeed, if you look at other areas of law, the more prestigious areas, the more profitable, well-paying areas. And you see it's much more white. And of course, it's much more male as well.
Rena [00:43:11] Have you seen evidence of your clients suffering from discrimination as a result of first of all, there that discrimination that David Lammy did a report on or from the lack of representation of black people in the legal profession?
Brian [00:43:28] Well, both. But it goes back really, Rena. One of the reasons I was inspired. Is the wrong term persuaded to become a barrister because of the work I did around school exclusions. And I remember in particular a quote that has always stayed with me, Sir Martin Narey, who had been the Director General at the Prison Service, and latterly he was the chief executive of Barnardo's, so had a kind of handle on the question of young people and prisons. And he said the 13,000 young people permanently excluded from school each year may as well be given a date sometime down the line to join the prison service. I think he said that back in 2001. That it absolutely still the case today that there is a very, very direct exclusions to prison pipeline. Kids who are excluded from school, and therefore, because they are excluded from school, they are going to be out on the streets. That inevitably means they can come under the watchful eye of the police because they're not in school. They also, of course, come under the watchful eye of those people who do want to try and exploit them, recruit them into gangs who are selling drugs and stuff like that. Now, of course, we have to be careful because it doesn't happen to every single child that is excluded. And in a way, I would pay tribute to parents, families, teachers and so on who do an incredible job to look after and nurture our children. But it does happen all too often. And so many of those young - it's because of the discrimination that they experience right through their lives - that they end up getting trapped in the criminal justice system. I cannot remember, and I have practised for over a decade now. I can't remember the last time a client of mine and what living and working in London, a hugely disproportionate number of my clients are young black men. I can't remember the last time I represented someone who hadn't either been excluded from school or who didn't have learning difficulties, or in many cases, both. And I remember talking quite recently and indeed he wrote an article about this, one of my mentors, when I was doing my original training as a barrister, a guy called Michael Turner QC who's got over 35 years experience, and he does regularly long murder trials, for example, in the Old Bailey, often involving people involved in gangs and so on. He told me, and he wrote in this article, he can't remember the last time that he represented someone who hadn't been excluded from school. That really is a measure of just how deeply rooted it is, I think.
Rena [00:46:33] Yeah. And do you think there are also signs of poverty as well? I mean, we're talking just an earlier about the return of race science, and the right wing arguments for the reasons why black people don't achieve as much. But what's the real reason?
Brian [00:46:48] [00:46:48]Well, I was listening to Gary Younge recently, the former brilliant Guardian journalist, now Professor of Sociology at Manchester University. And I think Gary put it extremely well. He said that there is there is an interrelationship between race and class. The reason why black people are disproportionately poor is because they're working class. And that's why they're on the frontline as transport workers, cleaners and so on. That's why they're catching Covid 19. It's because they're poor and therefore having to go to work or they live in the poor, impoverished areas of our towns and cities. But there are huge numbers of working class white people who are in that situation as well. And therefore, people describe it as an ethnic penalty. You can't simply just kind of strip away all of these things and say, oh, it's just about class. You know, even if you are you know, you're working class and you're black, your predicament is likely to be worse than that of an equivalent white person, if you like. So there is what we call an ethnic penalty. But that doesn't mean to say to go back to our earlier discussion that the white people living in poverty, having to go to work and catching Covid 19, unable to socially distance because they don't have nice gardens and nice houses. They don't benefit from that. And that's why I think it is so important to talk about class unity and black and white working class people coming together to challenge the power and authority of the people who really do benefit. [122.1s]
Rena [00:48:51] And I suppose you can see that in the legal profession as well, that there are plenty of working class people who suffer, you know, as a result of poverty and as a result of being working class. And they also don't benefit from the criminal justice system as it is. But as you say, there's this ethnic penalty. There's an extra level of oppression meted out against people who are not white.
Brian [00:49:19] Yeah. And I suppose, in some ways, you know, my practise will as I say, the overwhelming majority of my clients are young black men that in some ways is reflective of where I live and where I work. If I were to go to Hertfordshire or Windsor, where I was born, the majority of people going through the system there are probably young, white working class men.
Rena [00:49:53] I know you've seen the film 13th, the documentary film. I wonder what you think about the very powerful argument in that that equates the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex, as it's called in America, the system of prisons and how they operate and seeing it as a continuation of slavery. That people cannot be forced to work unless, according to the 13th Amendment, they are they're a criminal. What do you think about that idea that historically we can see the way that black people are treated by the criminal justice system as a continuation of historic attitudes towards black people?
Brian [00:50:35] That's a great question. And that is, as you say, Rena, that is an absolutely brilliant film, which if people haven't seen a word of Ava DuVernay's film 13th, I would strongly recommend for Netflix. And recently following on from that, she's made a brilliant is a dramatisation of a story of a group of youths, actually, who were wrongly convicted of a horrible rape that took place in Central Park, and she's told their story. I think it's I think you're right to say that is part of a continuing story. It's a changing story, of course, because as we've discussed, slavery in the way in which existed when America first became a huge economic power doesn't exist in the same way. But there is there has been that continuation of a belief by those in power and authority that black lives are cheap, that they're expendable, and they can be used, abused and disposed of. And that's exactly what you see with 13th with huge numbers of, again, primarily black men being incarcerated and it being felt, well, why don't we make some use of these people? Let's exploit them. And that's exactly what you see happening, and it is an absolute disgrace.
Rena [00:52:05] How did you first get involved with activism Brian? Was it racism as an issue which brought brought you into being active?
Brian [00:52:15] It was really in terms of being active. The mid 1980s was a pretty tumultuous time in British history. So you may be aware, for example, that in the mid-1980s from 84, 85, there was a year long miners' strike, which created massive divisions in society. And we had the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, calling the miners "the enemy within". And that was literally on our TV screens and in our newspapers all of the time. I was an A level student at the time. And so I was I was bound to look at those things and begin to question what society was like. But it didn't make me active. I lived in Windsor, I wasn't living in the mining areas. I wasn't really coming into contact with people who were actively political. So the most that I would do was watch it, shout at the TV and that kind of thing. Then I went up to Manchester in 1986 and [00:53:18]Manchester, for quite a period of time, had been regarded as one of the more active university campuses in terms of student politics. Now, that wasn't the reason I went there at all. But I couldn't help but be influenced by that, seeing people involved in activity. And so then specifically, there was an incident in 1988 where two horrific murders of sex workers that occurred in part, which is right near to the main university campus and right near to where I lived. And I remember originally, the police responded to that by appealing to people in Moss Side, which is the predominantly black part of Manchester, very close to the city centre, and therefore very close to the part where the murders had taken place. The police initially responded by putting out appeals to the community to come forward and help them to solve the crimes. But then within a very short space of time, that had turned to smashing down people's doors, dragging people out in the middle of the night. And what people regarded as being overly aggressive and oppressive policing. I remember that a demonstration was called in the very same with. I think it was or we may have assembled in Moss Side, but with marching to it with Park. And so I went along to that demonstration and it was very interesting. I suppose you can say that from there. In terms of me, the rest is history. [100.2s]
Rena [00:55:00] I know that you worked for the anti Nazi League in the 1990s. Can you tell me about that?
Brian [00:55:05] Yes, again, that was a very tumultuous time. The Anti Nazi League, as you know, originally existed in the was established in the 1970s and ran through until the early 1980s. And at that time, the anti Nazi League and its sister organisation, the cultural movement Rock Against Racism, were challenging the rise of the National Front, a very serious rise. They were beating the Liberal Party into fourth place in local and national elections. They seriously thought that they were going to make a major breakthrough on the national political stage, and they were beaten back by anti-racist organisations and campaigns, including at the heart of them, the Anti Nazi League by the early 1990s. It was clear that the successor organisation to the National Front, the British National Party, were beginning to make serious inroads on local estates. They'd spent a couple of years with the strategy of building up their influence by getting involved in community campaigns, and that culminated in them winning a council seat in Tower Hamlets in East London in September 1993. And that was just a few months after the murder of Stephen Lawrence in south east London. And Stephen's death wasn't the first or sadly the last in that part of south east London. It was clear that you had a significant increase in racist violence, which was fomented by the BNP. They had an active presence. They had what they claimed was a bookshop. In reality, it was their political headquarters in Welling in southeast London, the area where many of these attacks and some of the murders had taken place. So you had both a significant increase in racist violenc, and an electoral strategy that seemed to be working for them. So it was in those circumstances that the anti Nazi League was re-established and I was an active anti-racist campaigner. I was known to people in Manchester and Leeds where I spent some time. And so I was asked to come and help work at the Anti Nazi League.
Rena [00:57:38] That's very interesting. What are other major campaigns have you been involved in, or which campaigns have you been involved in in a major way?
Brian [00:57:47] Well, we had at that time we had massive campaigns. First of all, to make sure that the BNP lost the won council. And see, it may seem like very little now when you consider that over the last 10 years, they've had they won a number of council seats and for a period of time, they had some people in the European Parliament in the leader that the British National Party, Nick Griffin, the then leader, he was a member of the European Parliament for a period of time. So it may seem now as if then winning one council seat in East London was small beer, but it was a huge thing at the time and it was a massive campaign to challenge and oppose them. And it was a successful campaign. And amongst the other things that we organised, we revived the idea with the huge carnivals that took place in the 1970s from the carnivals were fantastically important because music has always been one of the things that brings young people together. Music, obviously, in itself is something which fuses different styles, different traditions, different cultures, and so has always been fantastically important. And so bringing that mix together in carnivals and quite deliberately taking as they had done in the 70s and 80s, you would have punk, you would have reggae and doing exactly the same kind of thing. Punk, reggae, rap music, bringing all of these things together. Getting young people together was hugely important because it can help to transform people's lives. And so we did a lot of that kind of work in the 90s that was hugely important. Sadly, as we're discussing, racism clearly hasn't gone away. And in some ways has revived massively over the last few years. So it's been necessary to recreate- you can't just recreate the wheel, to create new organisations. Currently I'm involved, for example, in Stand Up To Racism. Some of the work that we're doing to challenge fascist organisations, for one thing, but also institutional racism and to support things like Black Lives Matter, a campaign against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and a whole range of ways in which racism manifests itself.
Rena [01:00:18] We'll come back to Stand Up To Racism in a second. I want to ask, first of all, when you became a barrister, was that a continuation of your activism or was it a break from it?
Brian [01:00:31] It was it was very much a continuation. Interestingly, Rena, I'd always I think when I first went to university, I had toyed with the idea of studying law then. But ultimately, I think really I just wanted to have a good time. So I felt I could I could get onto a history course. And I learn from doing my course, but I did. I just wanted to immerse myself in what was a hugely exciting city, which Manchester was, there's great music, great culture at the time - and still is. But I also learned a lot about myself and grew as a person, so I have no regrets about that. But I think over the decades, really since then, we've had this kind of nagging thought in my mind about whether or not I could go to the bar. And then what ultimately was the catalyst was having worked at Race on the Agenda and done work that followed on from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry looking institutional racism and some of the practical ways in which we could try and challenge it. I got to the stage where I thought the support for those kind of initiatives was running out. And certainly the funding for these kind of initiatives was running out. And I had to think to myself, okay, what's your next step? What's the next thing you can do? And it was at that stage that I thought, why don't I see if I can go to the bar? And play in whatever small way I can some role in representing people who look like me and challenging some of the discrimination that they face. So I suppose that's really what's behind my journey to the bar.
Rena [01:02:31] You said a moment ago that the rest is history. Of course, you studied history at university. Statues of Winston Churchill and Edward Cost and in Bristol have been defaced or demolished recently on Black Lives Matter protests. You've spoken about the need to be critical of statues in the past and the idea of decolonising statues. Certainly ones which celebrate a history of racism. Some would say that statues are inanimate objects and they question how much impact a statue really can have. And I suppose as well, coming at it from a legal perspective, as a lawyer, there's arguments around the criminal damage to public property as well. Why should we, in your opinion, consider the campaign to remove statues with the racist history?
Brian [01:03:16] Well, you look at what's happened since those incidents occurred, and it is clear that the people who were involved in pulling down the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol or defacing the Churchill statue in Parliament Square in London, they have provoked a real debate about the role that people who were slave holders, about the role of people who were colonists, about the the actual attitude of people like Churchill. They have provoked that debate. The fact that, for example, [01:03:50]Sadiq Khan has been saying that in London, the city that he's the mayor of, that he now wants to have a debate and a discussion about whether it is appropriate that the statue should remain. The fact that Robert Milligan was pulled down from his plinth in Canary Wharf, that has shown that the people who have been involved in the Statues Must Fall movement. The people who pulled down those those those statues have got a very real debate going. And I think the point is, of course, that why do we learn about history? Why is history taught? It's because people want to present a certain view of what happened in the past in order, of course, to influence what we do today and what we do in the future. And so I think it is entirely right that we should be discussing exactly what the role was of Winston Churchill or exactly what the role of Cecil Rhodes, whose statue stands high above Oriel College in Oxford. And there was an incredible demonstration in Oxford about that statue. I think these are really important debates. Looking further afield, South Africa, I've had the privilege of travelling to South Africa and spending some time with activists over there in the last couple of years. And a good friend of mine, Rehad Desai, has made a fantastic documentary film called Everything Must Fall that had looked at the movement to decolonise education in South Africa. And amongst the things that they exposed is the fact that, for example, Cape Town University is built on land that was bequeathed by Cecil Rhodes and the Rhodes Foundation. Where did his wealth come from in the first place? His wealth came from butchery, from murder and pillage and destroying the livelihoods, the lives and the prosperity of black people. And so those people who were campaigning and demanding that the land be given back to them, that they'd be given reparations. I think they're absolutely right. And that is precisely that debate and discussion that those people who've argued about the statues have generated and provoked. So it's not simply about inanimate objects. It's a real debate about our history, about the present and about the future and about the kind of world that we want to live in. [163.5s] I'm sorry to go on Rena, but it's worth mentioning as well, you think of the United States and you may recall, I think it was about three years ago now, there was these demonstrations by racists, the racist right to protect the statues of Confederate generals. And then one of the cases in Charlottesville, there was an a protest by anti-racist demonstrators and one of those young white working class woman, Heather Heyer, was mown down and killed by a self professed fascist. Again, these are contesting history. And it's worth noting, of course, that those statues of those generals, Donald Trump, amongst others, of course, were saying "oh, it's a tragedy, that our heritage is being destroyed in this way. Our beautiful heritage is being destroyed in this in this way". That even part of a beautiful heritage in most of these statues were deliberately erected in the decades after the civil war. And when the Jim Crow system of segregation was being established, in order to try and present this unified sense of history and the contribution of the great Southern leaders to American history and the American dream,.
Rena [01:08:06] I mean, some people have said that the we shouldn't be judging historical figures by modern day standards. Do you think there's a deliberate celebration of violence interacting with statues?
Brian [01:08:19] Well, I don't think it's a deliberate celebration of violence in some ways, actually. It's an attempt to to sanitise and present those people as figures of peace and harmony and people who brought prosperity to the world. And it's interesting that, like [01:08:42]Churchill literally rewrote his own history. Churchill was a writer and a historian and a journalist wouldn't say. So he wrote his history. And actually, Churchill was considered for a long period of time to be a very dangerous person, something, you know, someone whose ideas were considered wild and way out and who shouldn't be anywhere near the levers of power. I think once he then became the war leader who is celebrated for rescuing Britain from the clutches of the Nazis, it only latterly that, you know, partly by his own hand, he's been presented as the greatest leader that Britain has ever had. And his memoirs are preserved in the cabinet. War rooms and statues are erected to him. But people forget the reputation that he had before. And so that people in the the you know, the movement to decolonise, they don't say, as I think is often crudely said, that they just want to whitewash all. Perhaps we should blackwash history, they say we want to discuss the whole history. Yes, let's discuss Rhodes. Let's discuss his entire role as someone who sought to colonise so much of southern Africa. Let's discuss the whole of Churchill's history. So discuss him taking on the Nazis in Germany. Let's discuss also the fact that in 1943, this great war leader was responsible for denying food to people in Bengal and that the consequence of that with millions of people dying in the Bengal famine. So, yes, let's have a discussion. Let's discuss these figures. Let's discuss the whole of their legacy, not just the legacy that they would like to present to us. [121.7s]
Rena [01:10:44] I suppose it reminds me of the History Boys quote, to remember is to forget. And history can be seen as a as a tool of propaganda. And so, for example, I brought up before the way that slavery is taught in in schools. And yes, of course, the human cost is is considered, but it is also taught in economic terms. And I suppose by looking at their entire contribution, it can expose the emphasis that we put on certain historical figures. So, you know, Cecil Rhodes being celebrated as somebody who brought wealth to the empire more generally and his and the suffering that he causes is forgotten. And that's the sort of social justice arguments and around that. I want to ask again, though, as a as a barrister, what's your view on the idea that this is damage to public property? Surely as a barrister, you can't condone that kind of damage.
Brian [01:11:41] Well, obviously, you're quite right. As a barrister, I can't encourage people to do things that are going to get them into trouble. But I'm reminded of what Angela Davis, the one of my heroes, the great black American activist than an academic said, and she was interviewed. It's a brilliant interview on there's a film called The Black Power Mixtape, which people should watch. And she was interviewed by a journalist and was asked about this question of violence and people fighting back and attacking the police or property wherever. And her answer was to say, how dare you ask me that question? Obviously, I'm not saying that to you. But what she then went on to say was compare the everyday violence and oppression that people experience through poverty, through marginalisation, through exclusion, through being brutalised by the police, by being denied opportunity and the suffering that they experience systematically on a day to day basis. And or you look at imperialist wars and the suffering is imposed on people in foreign lands. And you're comparing that with a few people knocking down statues or trying to drive oppressive police out of their communities. You can't make that same equivalence. There is no comparison between the two. And that, I think, was an incredibly powerful thing for her to say. And I think that that's absolutely right, that, you know, you cannot compare the violence of the oppressed with that of their oppressors.
Rena [01:13:36] I think that's a really interesting point, because we can think as well about the visual impact of media here. And certainly we have seen how the TV cameras show in close detail the acts of violence and especially at the protests. And even though on the audio they say, oh, most of the protests here were were peaceful. They show up close the violence. And, of course, that's what you know, images are far more powerful and they stay with people. And that has a greater impact, I think, which I think plays into people's fears about social breakdown, which the rich and powerful used to coerce them to supporting the system as it is. As you say, there's violence in the system of capitalism and TV cameras are not normally there to show police brutality, to show immigration officers tearing down people's doors or the aggression which is the daily lived experience of poverty. Having said that, of course, social media has had a role to play in what's happened recently, you know, capturing on tape the murder -f or capturing on camera phone - the murder of George Floyd. And that's helped shed light on what's traditionally not been broadcast on television. And it's got me thinking recently about the work of the rapper Lowkey. He a British rapper with Iraqi heritage, and he asks what is terrorism? And explores in one of his songs the idea of state terrorism. So the word terrorism is usually associated with individuals who carry out acts of violence against Western democracy. Terrorism means ruling by fear, ruling by terror, literally. It means subjugating people to violence to coerce them. And that is exactly the role of the police and the army in society. And as George Floyd was murdered, we have Trump adding antifascist organisation Antifa to the terrorist list in the US. So you see in plain sight this contradiction between the state using terror to coerce people and also using the label of terrorism to devalue the arguments of their opponents. What do you think about that?
Brian [01:15:43] Well, I think that's right. I couldn't put it any more succinctly or eloquently than you have. And as I think Lowkey quite rightly says and again, it's it comes back to this thing about some sort of moral equivalence, doesn't it? And, you know, it's interesting, isn't it, that a couple of observations. I think it's absolutely right that because of the advent of, if you like, citizens journalism and ordinary people filming and presenting these things, I think that has had an impact. And to some extent, it has forced the mainstream media, if you like, to add those caveats. Most of the protest was very, very peaceful. And that's important. That is very important, but it has meant as well that we've seen an alternative view being presented. And and it's and it has forced - not just in terms of the documentary stuff, but it's forced in terms of drama - the mainstream media to portray a bit more of what goes on on the ground. And so, for example, just a couple of days ago, I watched on the BBC, there was a brilliant dramatisation of one of the stories that that was captured in the Windrush scandal. And, of course, you know what happened with the Windrush Scandal. That atrocity was exposed by a combination of some journalists, including Patrick Vernon. And as it happens, the Guardian journalist, Amelia Gentleman, who wrote an incredible series of articles and a book. But it was also, of course, as a result of community campaigning and an uproar of anger on the streets, which, of course, culminated in the resignation of Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary; a report being written; and the promise, not yet the delivery of compensation to the Windrush generation, but it could. And just to go back Rena, to when you talked about the protests, some of the things that are striking is they were home in on people taking trainers or iPhones or wherever. But I remember, for example, when Hurricane Katrina happened in America and I think it was 2005, what people were taking? Nappies, children's clothes. These are people who are incredibly poor and have nothing. And in fact, the violence that the system which drives them into that level of desperation and they're just taking back some of what they should be entitled to in the first place is a sense of that, isn't it?
Rena [01:18:44] Absolutely. And I'm thinking, as well as their examples, more close to home as well, for example, and the 2011 riots, but also Grenfell and the horrible experience that did that whole community went through as a result of the building being sanitised for static purposes. What do you think about that?
Brian [01:19:09] Well, absolutely. You know, that is one of the most visible, vivid and horrific examples of exactly how the system operates, because you're quite right. You know, the people who lived there and who had complained about the conditions that they were living in for years and were not just ignored, perhaps even worse, they were considered troublemakers by the local authority and others. And then when the tower was engulfed in flames, precisely because on one of the richest pieces of real estate in the whole of England, this was an eyesore for the posh rich people who lived there, and therefore, it needed to be covered up in. It is something that made it more flammable so that it didn't look quite so bad for them to look at. It is astonishing and an absolute disgrace. And it's a disgrace that the people who live in Grenfell, lived in Grenfell, haven't got justice.
Rena [01:20:23] Absolutely. I want to talk now about how people can get involved in activism, how they might be able to support even what you do, if not personally. How can people support the campaigns that you were involved in?
Brian [01:20:40] Well, Stand Up to Racism is one of the main campaigns that I'm involved in. Fighting racism, as we can clearly see, is one of the most important things that people can do. Partly because racism is a is a scourge that we need to fight against and destroy. But I think fighting against racism also creates the kind of solidarity which allows people to question, think about and organise against all forms of oppression. You know, I'm not for fighting against racism, but ignoring sexism, homophobia, transphobia. We need to fight all of these things. And I think that getting involved in something like stand up to racism because it's about unity. We want all of those people involved. Create the space in which you can have those kinds of discussions. So certainly I would encourage people to get involved in stand up to racism and other community groups like that. But it's inspiring to see so many people doing that at the moment. What we want is when it stops trending on Twitter and so on, people to stay involved and to build upon these kind of positive things. And as suppose as well, more broadly, you see in, for example, the the local action groups have been set up around Covid 19. It's amazing to see the really creative solidarity that people have shown, making masks and gowns, distributing food, checking on their neighbours. That's the kind of society that I want to see when we come out of lockdown and so I think the message that we have to send now is that we are not going back to business as usual. We've got to continue the organisation that we've seen and we've got to continue the struggle for something radically different.
Rena [01:22:51] Do you think lockdown's had an effect on everything that's happened this year? And I ask this because I feel that there's been some people have called it an awakening and other people are frustrated, by the way, an awakening, because, of course, it's been happening for a long time. But there's been an increased consciousness, shall we say, more generally about these issues. And there's also been an increased sense of community amongst people. I think that both of those things have come out of the lockdown. They've come out of people festival having more time to read into research. And not everyone's been lucky. There's been a lot of people who, of course, haven't had more time. There's been a lot of people whose wages are now under pressure and who's living standards are under pressure because of the pandemic. It's possibly sharpened their view of society as being unequal.
Brian [01:23:43] Well, of course, we can't underestimate the negative and damaging impact that it's had on people in so many ways. People's mental health. I think there will be no doubt that they will have been an increase in, for example, domestic violence because people are simply unable to escape from the confines of the living spaces that they're in. And so, you know, children not being able to go to school. And we know that that will have a disproportionately detrimental effect on black children and upon working class kids. So we can't underrate them. And, of course, that if you look at the headline thing, the number of people who have suffered become critically ill and have died. So it's incredibly negative effects and people will be incredibly worried about their future prospects if they're losing their jobs and so on. But you're right that the flip side of that is that we've all had an opportunity to reflect upon and to think about who matters and what matters in life and in society. And so, for example, in the series of weekly claps for carers that we heard will have had an incredible effect in terms of cementing solidarity. And people claim the fact that first people thought about the National Health Service and thought about who makes up the National Health Service, the biggest employer in the country, over a million staff and a hugely disproportionate number of whom are nurses, doctors, support staff and so on from all around the world, as has always been the case. People are thinking about who runs the transport networks, who cleans our streets, and a real sense that the key workers are not the bosses and the bankers, but the ordinary people. That has been hugely important and made people think about the environment. And so I think that and you work as well. People have not just seen these things on their screens are now on the streets, but will have had more time to read and to think about and educate themselves about those things. So those things are very positive. Of course, some of that was happening before the lockdown. You'll remember that last year, there was a massive wave of demonstrations around the climate change, people like Gretha Thunber, Extinction Rebellion. So I think some of that stuff we had been seeing happening already. I think I hope at least that there has been an acceleration of it during the period of a pandemic.
[01:26:33] Many people are looking out for resources that they can use to educate themselves around the issues that we've discussed today. Do you have anything you can recommend, something people can watch or listen to to further explore the discussion?
Brian [01:26:48] Well, the thing to watch is we've already mentioned that I think the Ava DuVernay documentary 13th you should definitely watch. And if I'm right and if you look up the film any way, the other one will come up. I think it's called When They See Us. Is the dramatisation about the what happened to the boys who were arrested in Central Park. Reading? I would always recommend the autobiography of Malcolm X, and it's an incredible story of how someone transformed himself. But having read that, Malcolm never got to read the autobiography. He narrated it to Alex Haley, but was assassinated before we actually came out. So he never read it, never had an opportunity to correct what he may have thought was wrong. I would also highly recommend the book by Manning Marable. I think it's called Malcolm X A Life of Reinvention, which with the benefit of 20, 30 years longer after Malcolm's death to reflect upon him. Manning Marable kind of updated the story. Definitely read that. Angela Davis, Women Race and Class is a fantastic book. And also for me, one of the great books is CLR James's the Black Jacobins. So definitely read and watch those things. I'm a great lover of music, and so there's loads of things to listen to. I think last week was apparently the fiftieth anniversary of when Marvin Gaye started to record his greatest album, What's Going On, which was a real examination of American society in the 60s and early 70s. So definitely that. Aretha Franklin, another one of my heroes. So definitely the stuff Aretha wrote and recorded. I love Public Enemy and I love some hip hop and rap music. So certainly Public Enemy Fight the Power, Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Bob Marley. I love Bob Marley, incredibly important for the Caribbean community in particular, in the 1970s. And so, you know, I've actually written about Bob Marley. And so almost any of his albums Catch a Fire, Burnin, Exodus Uprising. Great albums. And I love jazz as well. And the greatest jazz album is Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. So there are a few things to keep people going.
Rena [01:29:41] Thank you. And you've also written about yourself or rather edited a book with other anti-racist activists, called Say It Loud. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Brian [01:29:52] Yeah, we wrote that back in 2012. I think it was. And there were I suppose the biggest motivation was this for those who are interested and were already engaged, there was often quite a lot that you could find in that you could read about black American history, about Martin Luther King, about Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement. And that is incredibly important stuff. We should read that history. I read that history. And I'm always looking for new angles on that history. But we were conscious of the fact that there is a black British story to tell a story about pioneers in this country. People were involved in the Chartist Movement, for example, people who were involved in the fight against slavery, who weren't just William Wilberforce. There were people who pioneered bus boycotts in this country, the Bristol Bus Boycott in this country. People like Claudia Jones, who pioneered the Notting Hill Carnival, Olive Morris, you know, fantastic young anti-racist activist about whom one of the council buildings here in Brixton is named. People like Jayabin Desai who led the Asian women in the Grunwick Dispute, a very important strike in the mid 1970s and the struggles of the anti Nazi League rock against racism, the Stephen Lawrence enquiry and so on. And we wanted to tell that story to eliminate that history and make that history available to people here as well. So that, for example, when you have Black History Month celebrations and that something that is quite controversial these days, you're not just talking about Martin and Rosa, but you're talking about Jayabin, about Claudia, about Stephen Lawrence. That was the real motivating factor behind that book.
Rena [01:32:02] Yeah, it's a very good book and I think it's a very good introduction to anyone who hasn't really read anything about racism in a while. And it also, of course, presents a Marxist analysis and brings into the issue of class and the issue of racial unity as well. Finally, this has been a privilege and a pleasure to sit down with you. I just want to ask if you have any final thoughts for anyone who is looking to get involved in anti-racist campaigning.
Brian [01:32:32] Well, it's been a pleasure to sit down and discuss this with you. Thanks for giving me the opportunity. Rena, just one thing I have to say. I was talking about music. You have to watch, if you haven't listened to it, Jimi Hendrix's performance of The Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock is absolutely amazing. I would say that, you know, people who are listening in to this podcast are listening in because they're interested in people trying to make change. That's what your podcast is about. So they've already taken at least the first step of trying to get themselves informed. I would say, having taken those first step. Get involved. Stay involved and be part of the change that you will see.
Rena [01:33:21] Thank you for your time. Wonderful place to end. Thanks very much for your time.
Brian [01:33:25] Thank you.
Rena [01:33:31] Future Heist is recorded and produced by me, Rena Niamh Smith with original music by Benjamin Tassi, artwork by Fleur Beck and sound editing by Gibran Farrah. Ben Weaver Hincks is our podcast consultant and Charlotte Watts, our social media editor. You can find original illustrations for Future Heist by Charlotte on social media. Follow us @future_heist on Instagram and Twitter or Future Heist podcast on Facebook and YouTube. You can find a transcript for this episode on on renathejournalist.com/podcast. Special thanks to Chloe Vasseghi. And if you like this episode, please subscribe and tell our friend.