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'The legacy of enslavement and colonialism still affects us'

GRINDING DOWN: When Bob Marley sang someone will pay, did he mean the BBC at a tribunal?

I ALWAYS knew there would be hell to pay. There always is when you find yourself knee-deep in complexities of an unjust system.

Like Bob Marley sang, “someone will have to pay for all this innocent blood that is shed every day, children mark my word...” That, of course, is not a Bob Marley original.

He acknowledges his sources, as anybody who doesn’t want to be accused of plagiarism does. “It’s what the Bible says,” he continues, “me no know how we and dem ah go work it out... me no know.”

And truly, me no know, either. After all these years of fighting against oppression we are still being treated like we are the last of the enslaved.

The youngers don’t feel it like we do. Or if they do they don’t understand it like we do so it doesn’t affect their psyche like it did our parents and their parents before them and their parents’ parents’ parents.

And, of course, I don’t need to tell you, that’s our ‘inheritance’ – a scar that our generation carries every day. The legacy of enslavement and colonialism.


That’s why we haven’t (my generation, that is) achieved much in this country. We have barely achieved anything... near our potential.

We rail against it every single day but that niggling feeling that the white man may be superior still rankles. That is what our parents bequeathed us. Even when they knew in their hearts of hearts that nobody was better.

Nevertheless, when you are a mere pawn in a system that grinds you down every day, you realise that you are insignificant compared to the organ grinder and all its kind. For another thing, our parents having plonked us in these so-called British Isles from yute, if not from birth. We have been so divorced from our origins that we don’t have the bottle to pack up and leave even when we reach senior citizenship.

Where are we going to go if we do – Africa, the Caribbean? Where? You see we have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, unlike our parents who were able to repatriate with a tidy little nest egg (in African/ Caribbean terms) back to where they could emulate the down pressor that they had seen and observed over these parts, by emasculating the poor and needy the way that we are continually emasculated over this side.

All of this is by way of saying, you’ll never guess who is taking the BBC to an industrial tribunal. No, not me, what do you take me for? Do you honestly think I have time in my life to do that?

That’s not me, but a predecessor of mine – Alex Pascall. Those of you of a vintage and resident in London in the 1970s might remember him. He used to host a programme called Black Londoners on Radio London, as it was then. It was a mix-up show of interviews and music and whatever else from a black perspective was thrown their way.

It was an alright programme back in the days when there was nothing else going on for us on radio, apart from the late Tony Williams’s Reggae Time, on the same station, and which the late reggae broadcaster shared with David Rodigan on alternate weeks.

The long and the short of it is that Alex Pascall is claiming historic institutional racism when he got the job that every other black person in Britain would have gnawed their toes off to get a sniff of. In dem days, outside the World Service, there were virtually no black radio hosts.

Pascall says he was thrown in the deep end without a rubber ring and left to sink or swim by having to learn. He was forced to present and produce. The kind of thing I do on a daily basis in the same job at the same Corporation. Resources are finite – in fact, they’re tight. But it’s not like we have to go down a calming.

In fact, didn’t our parents teach us that we have to work twice as hard, but that it will make you stronger and keep you in your job because you’ll be better than the white competition? And they were correct, I’ve learned a lot about the business by having to do things myself.

I would go so far as to say that I know the business of radio broadcasting as well, if not better, than any other contender.
But that’s just me. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea to have to go and make your own coffee. I get that.

It would have strengthened Pascall’s case if, at the time, he had left the BBC in frustration.

As it turns out, his programme was axed and the world moved on. What saddens me most, though, is that at the age of 81 and having maintained a certain dignity, Alex Pascall is comparing his treatment at the BBC to the way the Windrushians have been treated.

I wouldn’t got that far. I know who feels it knows it but, with all due respect, presenting at the BBC is not and never has been a persecution.

There is a sense, of course, in which we have all been treated shockingly in this country in one way or another and, yeah, as (arguably) the last “enslaved” generation, we took it. We shouldn’t have, but to expect sympathy for your treatment as you fixed interviews with Bob Marley or Muhammad Ali is a stretch.

And then there is the question of remuneration. Mr Pascall says he was short-changed compared to his white counterparts. I’m not sure that he will have much of a leg to stand on.

Notoriously the BBC pays whatever your agent can squeeze out of them. Not a penny more and, if your agent is any good, not a penny less.

The celebrated barrister and solicitor Dele Ogun – of the Genesis Project and author of that excellent history of Nigeria, A Fatherless People – says Alex Pascall has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding with his claim. Not least because the tribunal will be less than impressed at the 40 years it has taken for Alex to see the light.

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