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Going Back - Simon Pottinger
Added by Alexandra Simonon on March 22, 2006 12:02:15 PM.
Going Back - Simon PottingerGoing back over my political development, few phrases are so redolent as "why don't they just go back to...?"

My adolescent anti-racist impulses lead me into many Bradford playground arguments of this sort. I don't want to paint the wrong picture of racial integration in 70s West Yorkshire however - this was not a daily occurrence but certainly regular enough for me to develop some pretty routine and effective angles of attack.

It was also subject to a certain degree of racist fashion. For example West Indians were generally better tolerated in these juvenile repatriation debates, probably down to their greater integration into the sporting teams in which I played. Fellow music lovers also had the wealth of black music to influence them, especially Hendrix amongst
the circle I sat in bedrooms listening to endless rock albums with.

That aside, there was often an argument involving race about to happen. Frequently this was not about race of course, but sparked by some other perceived slight in which a final "why don't you just go back to Pakistan" signalled the end of hostilities. ("But I come from India" being the equally final counter).

"Why don't you just go back to ..?" therefore either became a precursor to an verbal fight about race or signalled the end of an argument where casual racism was chucked in with the kitchen sink.

It is an argument I have had many times since, in recent years largely related to asylum. Strangely those responses leant as a teenager, carried forward in the ANL and rounded in student politics in the 80s remain much the same. (Being told, less politely to "go back to Russia" was also a feature of these times with a different history).

I imagine that this is not a unique story. I also find it hard to imagine that Ken Livingstone has not shared some of this experience.

Now I have no intention of calling Ken either racist or anti-Semitic. I find his views on Israel questionable and in the same territory in which left anti-Semitism flourishes.

His recent censure over the Finegold incident hardly left him covered in glory either. Moreover his response to the latter demonstrates a disturbing lack of humility and reflection. Nonetheless I would still not make such accusations.

Why then is he using a phrase most on the left would associate with an incipient confrontation with a racist or one used by a last chance saloon bigot?

Simon Pottinger