“As a young Rastafarian I was taught not to hate, and it wasn’t in my nature to hate – after all, we were listening to music that was all about peace and love and bringing people together. We wanted to be living examples of how people could live together, but we knew that if we did nothing we would be killed on the streets. We knew that the National Front was a Nazi front, so our slogan became “Self-defence is no offence”, and we meant it. To defend ourselves in local communities up and down the country, black and Asian groups organised self-defence groups. These were people who would spring into action, defending (when possible) anyone who was attacked.”
In his fascinating and moving account of growing up as a young black kid in the West Midlands (and later London), Benjamin Zephaniah outlines the harsh realities of learning to deal with both the cops and the fascist street gangs that plagued British cities in the ’70s and ’80s. Poet and author Zephaniah documents his experience of those who fought back, from Red Action to the Sari Squad, and how neo-nazi groups like the National Front morphed into the British National Party – itself then eclipsed by the rise of the English Defence League.
Zephaniah’s memories – extracted in the Guardian – are taken from his introduction to Angry White People, Hsiao-Hung Pai’s ground-breaking investigation into the English Defence League, out now. Described by the Independent as ‘an enlightening, thoughtful and intelligent study in what makes the far right tick, their political strategy and aims, and how they build support for them’, Pai spent time attending EDL demonstrations and hanging out with members in order to build this compelling examination of the group.
Earlier this week Pai was joined by journalists Owen Jones, Ash Sarkar and Daniel Trilling at the London Review Bookshop to discuss a wide range of issues related to the book, including the deprivation of the UK’s former industrial heartlands, the spread of antisemitism and islamophobia across Europe, and issues of race and class. Their panel was livestreamed, and the lively discussion can be viewed below.