"What a differerence that fifty years in time makes; even in England, which I consider to be one of the most civilised, most tolerant and the least racist of countries in the world today. You know, no one is born racist and the best illustration of that fact is the innocent interaction between a child and an adult of different ethnicity. Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that a black-skinned person is no more or less likely to be racist than a white-skinned person and similarly, an immigrant or a native of this country.
I lived on Windybank Estate, Liversedge and worked in the dyeworks of Harrison Gardners during the early 1960s. This decade was probably the most racist decade that I have ever experienced in England. It was a time when to be a black man was to feel the slave shackles of white constraint still tightly fastened around one's ankles. I can vividly recall signs in the windows of lodging houses that boldly said, 'No blacks, Irish or Dogs!' Some Working Men's Clubs refused to admit non-white members and the only consolation we could hold as a Nation was that we weren't quite as racist as was our American brethren across the Atlantic Ocean.
For the most part of the 20th century, the white American made non-whites sit at the back of their public buses, made them attend non-white schools to be educated, made them use different toilets and drinking fountains to those of white Americans, forced them be treated in different hospitals and refused to serve and accommodate them in high-street shops and hotels. Meanwhile, back in England our country would have been unable to function without the immigrant worker. Without their presence to staff our hospitals, clean our toilets and drive our buses etc.etc, England would have ground to a halt.
On my 18th birthday in November 1960, I became the youngest textile shop steward in Great Britain. I worked at the firm of Harrison Gardners at the time. Since Harrison Gardners had first opened during the earlier century, its proud boast of the elder son, John, was that its workers had never taken strike action. This was indeed a rare thing to boast about during a time of daily wild-cat strikes around the rest of the country; particularly in the docks, mills and factory yards. During my term as shop steward, a vacancy which had been advertised was answered by a West Indian immigrant. The management refused to hire the man because of the colour of his skin and to their credit, all of the men and women downed tools and came out on strike when their new, 18-year-old shop steward asked them to. While the strike only lasted a mere five days and the West Indian eventually decided to not pursue the vacancy, an important principle had been established in an otherwise racist country at the time. I will always remain proud of those men and women of Harrison Gardners who were prepared to buck the trend and defend the rights of the non-white person. Most of the employees of Harrison Gardners at the time lived on nearby Windybank Estate.
At the age of twenty years I met and befriended a man from Pakistan called David. After a few weeks, I invited David out with me and a group of male drinking friends. When some of my mates at the time learned of David's origin of birth, they refused outright to be in his company. I recall giving up around half a dozen white friends and keeping David in my group of companions.
I have often wondered why I never thought twice about the colour of a person's skin and have concluded that it's because of the nature of my mostly positive experiences with people of different ethnicity during childhood years. When I incurred a serious traffic accident at the age of 11 years, it was an African surgeon who operated on me and saved my life.
Sometimes however, my experiences have not always been positive. I recall as a Probation Officer in Huddersfield during the 1980s, one of my colleagues behaved unprofessionally with a client and when I asked and expected her to correct her inappropriate behaviour, she refused to do so. This was around the time when the whole of the country was scared stiff of whatever they said or did if the other person was of non-white complextion. The female colleague in question had one parent of African origin and the other of white American extraction.
The upshot was when she refused to correct her behaviour, I reported her to the Senior Probation Officer and took out a grievance procedure against her, but he (presumably being too fearful to reprimand her and do his job), refused to deal with this highly-charged situation. So I took out a grievance procedure against my senior also. In accordance with service protocol, that grievance was investigated by the next officer up the hierarichal scale who held the post of Assistant Chief Probation Officer. Like his subordinate, the Senior Probation Office, he also refused to act so I took out grievance proceedures against him also, and then the Deputy Chief Probation Officer and finally the Chief Probation Officer of West Yorkshire.
I know that I was the only Probation Officer in the country ever to have taken out grievance procedures against every level of officer between main grade and Chief Officer. The tribunial took almost six months, cost tens of thousands of pounds and eventually found that, 'Although my Senior Probation Officer did wrong in what he did, it didn't matter if what he did was wrong, as long as he believed at the time that what he was doing was right.' The probation Service had effectively endowed its officers of Senior scale and above in grievance procedures with the right of 'infallibility' in their judgement in order to avoid dealing with a non-white officer who refused to correct her unprofessional behaviour. My non-white officer was never required to apologise and went about her daily business.
This incident occurred a few months after the West Yorkshire Probation Service had run its compulsory racist awareness training courses. Every serving Probation Officer in West Yorkshire of all rank had undertaken a week's course in 'Racist Awareness' at Wakefield. The course was run by a staff of non-white American personnel and their opening line was, 'Whatever you believe yourself to be, if you are white then you are racist.' While such a bland statement would never be acceptable on any similar course today, at that time every white professional person in Great Britain, but England particularly, was running scared of putting a politically correct word out of place,
Since that time society has moved on a great deal, but during my work and contact with many Jamaicans in Falmouth, Jamaica at the turn of the New Millennium, I was to see many incidents and attitudes of racism in reverse practised by the black-skinned person towards the white person. Similarly, for a number of years until recently, any British person who expressed any public view which questioned the right of an open-door immigration policy that conflicted with the politically correct politicians of the time was quickly branded 'racist.'
'Racism' is an inappropriate form of discriminatory behaviour which is carried out between black and white people, black upon black people and white upon white people. This is something that I have always believed and it is a belief that I feel can be easily historically backed up. It is a belief that I defended back in the days when political correctness ran rampant over common sense and is one which I will live and die with." William Forde: March 5th, 2015.