PRIORITIES: Lee Jasper cajoles the audience
THE BLACK community has fallen victim to the "X Factor commercial bling bling lifestyle" where people spend more on weaves and Sky TV than on their children’s education, according to political activist Lee Jasper.
The national co-chair of Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts (BARAC) was in Birmingham to support a city orientated campaign to get more African Caribbeans involved in protests against government cuts.
He was joined by speakers: Maxie Hayles, former chair of the Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit (BRAMU); Desmond Jaddoo, founder of Birmingham Empowerment Forum; political activist Christine Hemming, who spoke about the effects of the bedroom tax; and social entrepreneur Marcia Lewinson, founder of Women in Today’s Society (WAITS).
Jasper told the meeting at The Drum arts centre, chaired by Ajay Dattani, that he made no apologies for sounding so strident, criticising people for "buying things we don’t need to impress people we don’t know."
Touching upon the example of the Woolich murder of a soldier by young black male religious fanatics, he warned that his own generation could be the one that leaves the worst legacy because we have become "too steeped in commercialism, fighting with each other like crabs in a barrel."
“I hate to say it, but Woolwich will not be a one-off. The more our kids rot on the edges of society, the more vulnerable they are to these religious fanatics.
'FIGHTER': Maxi Hayles
“Garvey used to say that black people never know themselves until their backs are against the wall,” he said.
“We are so far back we have cement in our spinal fluid.”
At the start of the meeting he had called for a minute’s silence to remember teenage anti-fascist Clement Meric, who was beaten to death in Paris last week by neo-Nazis.
He warned that the ugly face of fascism was rearing its head again across Europe in reaction to the harsh economic times.
He added: “We have survived the greatest crime in human history – slavery. It’s in our DNA – others died for you so you need to stay with the struggle.”
Jasper paid tribute to his old friend Maxie Hayles, who he called "a redoubtable fighter" who if he was ever in "a dog-fight in the trenches" there would be no better man to help him.
Hayles called on people in Birmingham to join the BARAC challenge, quoting Malcolm X who said: “Tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
GO VOTE: Desmond Jaddoo
He also urged people to take part in the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, which will be held in London on August 31.
“As a black community we are playing 400 years of catch-up. We need affirmative action and positive discrimination because it is still not a level playing field,” Hayles said.
“We as a community are still disproportionately affected by cuts made by the local authority and central government.”
Jaddoo urged the community to register to vote and get involved politically in order to stop being taken for granted and overlooked.
“They can dismiss us because we are not contributing. We held a demonstration last year when Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore chose not to include any black councillors in his new Cabinet,” he said.
“We had 35 demonstrators, yet how many people turned up to celebrate Jamaica’s 50th anniversary in Birmingham on August 6?
Jaddoo advised attendees to "clog the system" with letters he had prepared protesting at the impact of the bedroom tax on the community.
Hemming added that the community must make sure they are treated as "citizens", not "subjects" being "subjugated" and controlled.
Lewinson said she could give many real life examples of people’s lives being crippled by benefit cuts and how the slashing of legal aid had seriously affected the lives of women suffering domestic violence.