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Chinese whispers

ON THE BEAT: Police keeping an eye on carnival revellers

IT’S NOT clear what Air China is advising tourists to be wary of when visiting what it describes as ‘generally a safe place to travel’ - London. We know that it wants them to ‘take precautions’ when ‘entering areas mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis….and BLACK people’. But we don’t know what they are telling their passengers to be afraid of. Very, very afraid of.

On the one hand it could be robbery. They advise their tourists not to go out in these areas alone at night. Sound advice surely for some of those areas mostly populated by white people - Eltham, Chingford, Islington, Camden Town? Perhaps more pertinently, China Town in the West End of London. You’re as likely to get mugged or robbed blindly there as you are to be robbed and mugged blindly anywhere else in London are you not? Especially of your mobile phone that you’ve got to your ear casually having a conversation like you’re in your private domain.

On the other hand, and much more cynically, Air China insinuates from its travel advice that it is not safe to go to these neighbourhoods if you’re a woman on your own. Are they saying that the likelihood is greater of a sexual assault in areas ‘mainly populated’ by Indians, Pakistans and…. BLACK people?


We need to know. Because if that’s the case, never mind Chinese “females”, we need to protect the Indian, Pakistani and BLACK women living in these areas as much as anyone else.

What we do know from this travel advice is that Air China (I’m giving the other billion Chinese the benefit of the doubt) don’t even regard us as having some heritage or identity. We are simply BLACK people to them. Indians and Pakistanis are regarded as people with a national heritage and origin, whereas for Air China we are simply BLACK. We are not African or Caribbean, we are just one big, dark-as-the-midnight-sky mass of people to be feared and avoided.

Initially of course, I was incensed as I suppose you were when you learned of this. If there was ever a chance of me flying Air China, I can assure you that there is no longer. For one thing, I fear that so keen are they to protect their Chinese passengers from us that I wouldn’t put it past them to reserve a special corner on their flights for people who are Indian, Pakistani or BLACK - a special corner on the wing of the plane.

But now that I’ve calmed down and I’ve had time to reason the whole thing through I have to laugh and wonder whether or not we’ve brought the whole thing upon ourselves.


For one thing, we don’t write our own narratives. Other people do. And no matter how much we defy all odds by building a beautiful, loving, thriving, surviving and succeeding community out there, there is nothing we can do to get other people to accept and acknowledge that. We are always undermined by somebody who knows nothing about anything coming and making people afraid of us. Very, very afraid of us.

WARNING: The offending message in Air China’s inflight magazine

This was particularly evident in the aftermath of the recent Notting Hill carnival, from which the only news story that emerged was that there was a couple hundred arrests. After all WE (yes, WE the BLACK people of this country, Air China) had once again, put on Europe’s best street party and invite all the white folks and Chinese folks along to it for free, after all of that, the only news story to come out of the carnival was a couple hundred arrests.

To be honest, I’m not even sure that a couple hundred arrests is a news story any more. I’ve been a journalist all my life and what is regarded as news is something people haven’t heard before and might come as a surprise to hear. Telling me there were a couple hundred arrests at carnival is like telling me there were nine arrests at the latest Black Lives Matter protest at City Airport.

It serves no more purpose to tell us that there were a couple hundred arrests at a carnival than it does to tell us that the council’s noise pollution people came down to turn down the volume at a Jah Shaka dance.And what gets me is that they don’t even give you a racial breakdown of the arrests made at carnival. And because we are not in control of our own narrative, everybody knows already that when there is good news - carnival belongs to all Londoners, Indian, Pakistani, WHITE, BLACK and…YELLOW (sorry to put it in a language that Air China understand) and of course when there is negative news at carnival, it is a BLACK thing.


So 200 arrests is interpreted by everyone as 200 black guys selling weed or taking knives to stab up each other, whereas the truth of the matter is that there is probably a lot of white ne’er-do-wells amongst that number, not to talk of those white guys too pi**ed to realise that they shouldn’t be pi**ssing off a policeman.

So give us a racial breakdown of the bad news from carnival if you think it’s important to overlook the hundreds of thousands of black people who have volunteered a few million man/woman hours to put the gig on in the first place.

The impact of all this is that Chinese tourists won’t be coming to carnival. That’s maybe no biggie. But that they won’t be coming to Brixton, or Tottenham or Stonebridge or Croydon or Thornton Heath (if these areas can be described as Air China would do as areas ‘mainly populated by… BLACK people’ to spend their tourist yuans in our shops.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but am I the only one who feels that once again, those who would like to see us fail and go under have found another injurious way to undermine our people, our culture and our businesses.

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