Racism and the Chinese community

Morecambe and lies
The deaths of 21 Chinese cockle-pickers who drowned at Morecambe Bay in February this year threatened to go the way of other similar tragedies to befall exploited migrants in Britain – reduced to the oblivion of statistics.

However an unlikely person, David Eden junior, director of the Liverpool Bay Fishing Company, exposed the truth. The Chinese cocklers suffered daily racist attacks, and after he hired them, three weeks before the tragedy, he and his family began to receive death threats. In the weeks before the tragedy, British cocklers threatened to boycott firms that bought Chinese-picked cockles; they doused Chinese produce with diesel and destroyed it. It was to avoid the British racists working as cocklers that the Chinese braved bad weather conditions and the incoming tides on the day of the tragedy. Gina Tan, a Morecambe Bay resident who personally knew all of the victims, claims the survivors were ‘treated worse than animals on that night’. The only people to be charged by the police, after weeks of investigation, are not English, but three Chinese survivors of the tragedy.

British racism
The historical oppression of the Chinese working class by British imperialism is the basis for their oppression in Britain today, as exploited workers and victims of racism. Social, health and welfare needs of this community have always been very low on the agenda of British imperialism. As laundry workers in the past or now as restaurateurs, they have faced attack either by the racist police, or by vigilante thugs whose activities the police frequently ignore or condone.

As Min Quan (MQ), the Chinese branch of The Monitoring Group notes, there are those ‘who believe that race crimes against the Chinese community and police misconduct are isolated incidents. Contrary to this belief Min Quan’s casework experience has demonstrated that such problems are common occurrence.’

Britain’s 400,000 Chinese community is employed mainly in the catering industry, is overwhelmingly working class and, due to decades of discrimination, largely self-employed. There are approximately 11,000 Chinese catering establishments, usually family-owned, with high levels of female employment. The community is thinly spread throughout the country, often in isolated pockets, and therefore more vulnerable to racist attacks. These attacks not only take place in catering shops, but also in the streets and in homes.

In February 2000 a survey of Chinese catering establishments by MQ found 31% had suffered physical attacks, 56% racial abuse and 58% ‘refusal to pay’ problems. Police often ‘trivialised’ or were ‘indifferent’ to Chinese concerns. Further, ‘racial harassment and violence against the Chinese community is widespread...across the country... Many of the victims...have faced racist violence for many years but with nowhere to turn to for support and help.’ Under-reporting of racist crime is highest in the Chinese community. 20% of physical assaults are never reported to the police, because up to 50% of victims felt ‘the police would not help or would be sympathetic to the perpetrators.’ When the police bothered to turn up to incidents, they often did nothing and made very few arrests, from which even fewer actual prosecutions resulted. In some instances they arrested and cautioned the victims.

Racist attacks
One story in particular highlights the tragic reality of experience for Chinese migrants in Britain. Mr W ran a takeaway in Brent, west London, and since 1999, suffered an ongoing campaign of racism from about 20 ‘hooligans [who] demanded free food and drinks, played football inside the shop, shouted racist abuse, damaged the furniture, smashed the window, stole the delivery bike, [and] ...cash box three times and ferociously assaulted staff... Mr W reported the incidents to police [but] received little attention and no justice [and] soon after gave up and suffered in silence.’ On 2 August 2003, a youth grabbed the cash box and ran. The police were informed, a name, address and description provided. He was asked to call if he saw the youth again, which he did two days later. While he was on the phone to the police, the youth smashed the front window and ran off. When the police arrived, they had to be told the name, address and description again. They advised him to replace the window by claiming on his insurance. They then left. Later that evening, as Mr. W waited outside his shop for the window repairmen, ‘a group of approximately 15 hooligans...all armed with wooden sticks or metal bars with the perpetrator at the forefront’ attacked him chanting ‘fucking Chinese, kill him, kill him’. (MQ Newsletter, October 2003) Mr W ran but was chased and cornered. He fell by a tree, as the gang continued the assault, kicking, punching and smashing him with the sticks. He soon lost consciousness, was taken to hospital, where he was treated for ‘a broken rib, shattered elbow, a cut in the lower chin and multiple bruises.’ The attackers then returned to the shop and smashed it up. The police did not contact Mr W in hospital, nor was an officer allocated to the case. ‘After MQ’s intervention the case was allocated to a part-time officer who works at the station one day a week.’ A full statement was finally taken from Mr W on 14 August, ten days after the assault, and the CPS decided not to prosecute the two people arrested due to ‘material inconsistency’. (See www.minquan.

It is important to realise that this is just one incident of thousands that occur in Britain every year. The Chinese have always been part of the special oppressed layer within the working class, and the scale of the onslaught on them is increasing. The only way to defeat racism is by fighting its foundation – imperialism.

Charles Chinweizu

FRFI 180 August / September 2004


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