ISince Azeem Rafiq testified about the racism he faced within Yorkshire County Cricket Club, people of color across Britain have been brought in to share their own accounts. But there is something distinct about Rafiq’s testimony, which reveals how Yorkshire fits into the national imagination and how South Asian Muslims in Yorkshire have historically been positioned as outsiders.
When Rafiq spoke about being physically stuck and having red wine poured down his throat when he was 15, I thought about how that action mirrored the logic of a whole range of policies and top-down processes that have been violently forced on people of color. .
For example, in response to the arrival of migrants from the Commonwealth after World War II, 11 local councils adopted a policy of âbusingâ immigrant children to attend schools elsewhere so that they did not represent more than 30% of the class. Three of the 11 councils that adopted this policy – Bradford, Huddersfield and Halifax – were in Yorkshire. Billed as an âintegrationâ project, the buses were quickly referred to as âPaki busesâ by locals, and children were educated in separate sections of buildings. This illustrates the paradoxical message that still haunts us today: While we order you to integrate, we will continue to label and punish you as strangers.
At the time, the “problem” was that immigrants did not speak English. Later, in 1988, the issue would be re-articulated as that of a cultural backwardness tied specifically to Islam, in light of images of Yorkshire Asians burning Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. In 2001, the media invoked such images again when they reported on the riots in Bradford. The government’s scrutiny would explain the unrest as the result of “parallel lives” – suggesting that South Asians were living “outside” the “rest of society”, rather than seeing police brutality and fascist violence, or decades of deindustrialization and unemployment, or racist labor and housing markets.
After 7/7, in 2005, the narrative of Yorkshire’s Asian Muslim population (the two terms have blended together since the war on terror began) solidified when three of the suicide bombers turned out to be from my hometown , Leeds. After so many decades of positioning Asians in Yorkshire as a threat to the nation, the location would be seen as sufficient explanation for their violence. Multiculturalism was declared a failure, and Muslims in South Asia were seen to require surveillance at all levels – now blatantly through the Prevent strategy and the fight against extremism, which criminalizes our identities in every public institution. . Entire towns of Yorkshire would then be castigated by Islamophobic and racist stereotypes. Think of Rotherham and you think of the âgrooming gangsâ; think of Bradford and you think of documentaries like Make Bradford British.
To fully understand this racism, we need to delve deeper into the social and economic forces that have shaped the Asian people of Yorkshire. British colonialism, exploitation of the working class and racist border legislation can all shed light on the distinct manifestation of racism that Rafiq, and all of us, are familiar with.
Yorkshire’s textile factories and iron foundries were first built during rapid industrialization in the 1800s, by merchants whose money came from the slave trade, in which they traded looted goods elsewhere against human beings on the West African coast. Profits from slave labor were invested in new technology, such as locomotives, which were then exported to help loot other settlements (trains from Leeds were sent to Sierra Leone) or raw materials that were made into cloth, which the colonized countries were forced to buy. .
In 1832, Indian weavers petitioned parliament complaining that British fabric imports, along with excessively high taxes on Indian fabric exports, were undermining their industry, causing many to quit their jobs and ultimately , to simply export raw cotton that Britain spun and resold. for them. The industrialization of places like Yorkshire was built through the deindustrialization of India.
These same processes provided the conditions that led my grandfather to seek work in the Punjab countryside in the 1960s. When he emigrated to Bradford, as many people did, my grandfather worked in the factories that contributed to the impoverishment of his native country. Like others, he worked the most unwanted shifts – Pakistani men sometimes made up all of the night shifts in combing wool, for example.
Many were given whitewashed names by bosses who couldn’t bother to give them individuality – our family had their own uncles “Tony” and “Peter”. Hearing Rafiq mention the names “Steve” and “Kevin” given to cricketers of color demonstrates the continuity of this legacy of dehumanization. Our communities have not created “parallel lives”: instead, we have always been excluded as cheap labor to be kept out of sight.
Ironically, the long-term settlement of families in Yorkshire is the result of racism itself. The Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962 was intended to close Britain off to black and brown migrants by introducing the need for “work vouchers”, which made them more difficult to migrate despite being citizens of the Commonwealth. Instead, it was often easier for dependents to permanently join family members already here because they were forced to choose between this separation or a long-term separation. In addition, the construction of the Mangla Dam in the Mirpur region in 1966 created a reservoir that flooded 288 villages, displacing 111,000 people. The UK government clung to the move as a cheaper source of labor, offering people work permits for factories in the Midlands and Yorkshire. Seventy percent of the British Pakistani community today finds its roots in the region. South Asians are here because of exploitation, racist border controls and colonization.
It’s no surprise that the cricket world is reeling from Rafiq’s testimony. Taken in the larger historical context, Yorkshire County Cricket Club has done nothing but hold the fort. But it is a fort of white supremacy and empire. And while Yorkshire may have a specific history, this is not an anomaly in a nation built by the resources, labor, migration, and lives of colonized peoples.
But there is another lesson we can learn from racism in Yorkshire, and that is the legacy of resistance – through the Asian youth movements in the 1970s, the Bradford 12 self-defense in the 1980s. and anti-racist demonstrations against fascists. These working class movements of people of color independently mobilizing and building solidarities to fight imperialism and racism remind us that real change never came while waiting or relying on the powers that be. . Repainting the dividing lines on land built by empire and racism is not enough. We have to overturn the whole area.
This article was last modified on November 21, 2021. An earlier version incorrectly included Blackburn in a list of Yorkshire towns.