Does RAAS Know How to Get It?
By COLLINGWOOD AUGUST
MICHAEL DE FREITAS founded the Racial Ad- justment Action Society (RAAS) about nine months ago. But it was the White Paper on immigration in August which gave the movement its impetus. In the face of a government which they feel has let them down very badly, coloured people in Britain are developing a unity that simply wasn't there before. Mr. de Freitas says: 'It is heart-rending that the only country, ' apart from South Africa, that has written race discrimination into its statute book in our age is Britain. Any law that favours foreigners rrom the Continent and Eire against Commonwealth citizens, whose only mistake was being born with the wrong colour, can only be interpreted as race prejudice. We need more people like Fenner Brockway to hang their heads in shame.
`It's not quite correct to say I started the move- ment—it started me. You see, during the. 1958 troubles in Notting Hill Gate I was standing outside my house .talking to three friends—they were white. I was running gambling joints then, because I, too, have done this sort of nonsense, when a policeman came up to me and told me, "Move!" This made me angry, and I asked him, "Why?" "You are causing an obstruction." I asked again, "Am I the only person you can see? What about these people I'm talking to? Don't you see them?" He went away and soon there was a squealing of brakes and I was bundled into a police car. My friends were left alone. When I came back from the cells there was this meeting of black people in a basement. Somebody was saying how we should collect money, get a lawyer, see our MPs and all other manner of funny whatsits. So I said, "Can I say something, please?" [De Freitas is a shy man who shuns publicity, but tends in the presence of friends to be ebullient as a kind of overcompensation.] They said, "Speak on." So I said, "Look, we are being beaten by nigger-
• baiters and we think we can stop them by collect- ing money and by carrying silly placards and doing all other kinds of whatsits. I don't think that's right. Why don't we get ourselves iron bars and hit them back? But you must under- stand—I'm a peaceful person and this fighting business isn't up to my speed."' (De Freitas says this so naturally and dispassionately that you cannot help believing him.) He went on: 'When I'd finished, the whole house was with me. We went out and got our- selves some iron bars—and there was peace in Notting Hill Gate. . . . I'd die if I ever thought any white man could hit me and I couldn't hit him back. You see, when I walk down the street and I see a gang of white hooligans, I think to myself, and I suppose every black man thinks the same, "This could be one of those things we read about—Young Hooligans Attack Black Gentleman Without Provocation." Dear God, I know one thing—if they hit me I'd hit them back. Black people must regain the self-respect they lost so long ago. Look at what Malcolm X did for the Black Americans—he taught them self- respect, in spite of what the papers have to say about him.
`But I'm wandering off the point. As I was saying, the movement started me. But I used to think I could work through the Labour party. Just before the last elections, a man I admire and can't ever refuse a favour introduced me to a Labour MP. They told me he had a small majority and could I help by swinging the black vote.
`So I campaigned hard and he came in with an increased majority. After the elections I phoned him about starting a youth centre in his constituency to take our boys off the streets. He said he was busy. So I left my number with a message for him to ring me back when he wasn't busy. That was nearly a year ago and I still haven't heard from him. I suddenly dis- covered that all white people are the same. In fact, it never once entered my head [putting both hands on his head in frustration] that I would ever despise the Labour party.
`At the next elections we are fighting seats like North Kensington, where the black vote has some significance. North Kensington has 11,000 black voters out of 57,000. We are putting up a black candidate there, and we'll fight hard for those 11,000 votes. If necessary, we'll pack Notting Hill with black people. After all, it's already a ghetto. The white man made it into one and he'll have to unscramble it.
`It's not true to say we are secretive about the total membership of RAAS. At this stage it would be pointless to talk in numbers. We have set ourselves a target of 250,000 members and when we've got that we'll announce the next stage of our programme.'
At a reasonable guess the membership has now reached the 60,000 mark. I have seen the membership forms coming in at a rate of between 100 and 200 a day. Abdullah Patel, the vice- president, works so hard travelling round the country that it is difficult for news to keep• up with him. He is a bitter man who left Bombay with a BA in History, but who says he has
ever got a decent job in this country. He has seen to it that several teams of 'field workers' are touring the country in an intensive 'grass roots' campaign for membership. I toured the Midlands and the North with him and Roy Sawh, the national organiser.
We went into the offices of wealthy Indian merchants, the back-to-backs of Pakistani factory workers, hospitals, the homes of middle-class doctors, digs of West African students, Pakistani restaurants and West Indian clubs. All the people we spoke to were pleased to join RAAS. TYpical of the bitterness was the otherwise jovial Indian doctor who said to me, 'What do you mean there's little discrimination in this coun- try? What would any of my patients say if I told them: "Madam, you are only a little Pregnant"?'
A Pakistani weaver spoke haltingly and a bit too correctly: 'I am sorry to have to inform You that I shall soon be leaving for home. But let me assure you that 1 shall be leaving the c.,work with a very good party. Recently, I mean this morning, I united with a person who in- formed me that two of my countrymen were stabbing one another with knives in the street. We must not do that kind of thing. We must all Come together into this movement.'
A teacher said: 'Wilson is a political humbug. But that's only natural, the English have always been humbugs.'
A Nigerian student, obviously a law student, said: 'This organisation first came to me on the basis of a rumour and I did not attach much credence to the rumour. But I am happy the rumour is true. Can I sign my membership form immediately? Please give me more forms for my friends.'
The campaign is concentrating in the North and the Midlands, where 'the people are Workers' and fortunately still 'eager to better themselves.' In a few weeks it is being transferred to an area of 'social misfits.' In London, Notting Hill Gate and Bayswater have been tightly or- lanised. Brixton and South London are next Ott the programme.
RAAS does not charge membership fees, only voluntary contributions. 'Just because a man hasn't got five shillings, are you going to turn him away? He came to you in the first place because he has no money,' de Freitas argues. Lack of funds, however, is holding up publication of a serious newspaper' for black people.
The organisation has a slogan that might sound familiar at Transport House: 'Black Men Unite. We Have Nothing To Lose But Our 'Tars!' The manifesto sets out the following Points:
We pledge ourselves to:
I.Guaritntee by all means possible the human rights of all coloured peoples in Britain. (RAAS makes a fine distinction between 'civil rights, which our brothers in America are fighting for,' and 'human rights, which we in Britain are fighting for.'] 2. Re-examine the whole question of our iden- tity as Black men. 3. Protect our religious, social and cultural heritage.
4. Help to promote trades and industries in order to establish and consolidate a strong economic base.
5. Establish a centre for physical, educational, social, and cultural activities.
6. Create co-operative housing projects so that every man's right to decent accommodation can be assured.
7. Strengthen our links with the Afro-Asian- Caribbean peoples in our common fight for the freedom and dignity of man. ,
In pursuance of this programme, a blouse and a shirt factory have been opened in Notting Hill Gate; during the Courtaulds strike in Preston, RAAS was on the scene almost immedi- ately with financial and legal help and advice; there is a cultural centre in North London. 'Contacts' is a keyword. These contacts get jobs for. unemployed people, accommodation for evicted tenants, money to stranded people, help with fines in deserving cases.
`RAAS is the voice of the people. I am the interpreter of what the people have to tell me,' says de Freitas. 'That's why I like to listen and do what the people tell me they want. People like Malcolm X have had a great influence in my life. I always listened to what he had to say to me.
'I am an embarrassment to people. I've always been. I was an embarrassment to my mother. I ran away from school at twelve and went to sea. That's why I haven't got any of this fancy educated talk that our people don't understand. What do I mean by fancy talk? Well. I went to a meeting of CARD the other day. Edric Connor, the Jamaican actor, was there and he addressed
the meeting: "You all have invited me here and I sat and listened to everything you said. I am giving you the last chance now. I will tell you how this problem must be solved. You must petition the Queen to adopt a black baby." That's educated fancy talk. But I was saying I am an embarrassment. I'm very proud to be. But if anybody gets rid of me it doesn't matter. I have already created thousands of other embarrass- ments. Nobody can stop us now. I am popular with the people, they kiss me, they fall at my feet. But this is not what I like. They must not confuse me with RAAS, or make. me more important than RAAS.'
'People who say I am a racist must be crazy,' de Freitas says. 'If the Jewish Board of Deputies is racist, then I am a racist too. If Harold Wilson, who looks after the interests of the white people, is a racist, then I'm a racist too. RAAS can't have white members--that's for a fact. The black people must now learn to do things for them- selves. It is stupid to expect white people to do things for us. If any whites want to help, fine; they can do so by telling their own people to stop being so bloody-minded to us'. They tell us if we don't like it here we should go home. But this is home to us, we were all born under the Union Jack, you know. We will stay here, we have as much right as the next man to be in this country.
`They say we should integrate. What does that mean? From what I've seen of their world, I don't want to integrate with it. All we ask is to be ourselves and left alone. When these people come to our countries they live exactly the same way as they do in England. They don't integrate with us. Why should we integrate when we come here?'