Bernie Bares his Soul
Black Perspective: The African Reparations Movement
seems to have been quiet for some time. Can you update us on its progress?
Bernie Grant: The African Reparations Movement is quiet because we choose to keep
it quiet. What we have decided to do is to develop the Movement in terms of its knowledge
and its research in history before we open it up to mass membership. We are currently
working on a number of areas. For example, we are getting students to research the various
aspects of enslavement and colonisation. We are also looking at the question of artefacts
that have been stolen and brought to this country and other parts of the world. We have
picketed the Museum of Mankind for the return of the stolen Benin bronzes of Nigeria. We
have chased the Abuna chalice which was stolen from king Theodore's palace in Abyssinia in
the 1830s. We have located the Benin Bronzes. We are also looking at the structure of the
organisation. We have got the students' section, we have the women's section, we have the
section of people that deal with music and we have got the management committee. We have
got to be cautious because of the way that people are infiltrating Black organisations and
smashing them up. We are making sure that our foundation is solid before moving forward.
We are also of course liasing with other countries. There is the question of the legal
case against the European countries including Britain. Recently American lawyers have
filed a suit against the American government for many million dollars for years of
slavery. We think they have jumped the gun ahead of us and they should have waited until
we are ready so we can pursue this jointly. We should be trying to liase and work with
them; but we are not yet ready to take this step. But the work is going on behind the
Black Perspective: Is this the time to fight for reparations? Some people are
arguing, for instance, and with plausibility, that many parts of Africa are still ruled by
dictators, kleptomaniacs and puppets of those who are supposed to make the reparations.
Shouldn't we first put our house in order before we fight for any compensation, lest the
compensation be plundered by these dictators?:
Bernie Grant: You are absolutely right in that at the moment, there are certain
undesirable governments in charge in Africa and we would not trust the reparations
movement with them. This is a major problem. The reparations should be for the African
peoples and not just for these governments. What we are therefore looking at is finding a
way of getting as a board of trustees, ordinary but trustworthy people whom we of African
descent can have some confidence in. They would be able to oversee the reparations on
behalf of African Peoples throughout the world. If a government then applies to that body
to help with their work, that body can consider it. But there is no way that we would
agree to have them bring mistrust to this movement. Some governments are okay but others
are not. Part of the reason why we are working quietly is that we have been having
discussions with a number of organisations, including Jewish people who have been down
this road before. We want them to advise us as to how to go about setting up this trust.
Black Perspective: The picture we have been receiving from the mainstream media is
that the ARM has, in recent months, shown signs of cracks, thereby losing the confidence
of the people. How do you react to accusations - for instance, from former members of the
movement - that you adopted a dictatorial style which they were not willing to accept?
Bernie Grant: What we have to understand is that there are people who come into
organisations and try to take them over or want to run them in a way that is not for the
common good. Now, I always say that I am an elected representative. I am a public person
so I have to behave in a very circumspect way. I will not be party to, and I will not be
part of any slackness, any disorganisation or anything else like that. If it is not done
properly I would not be involved. If anybody doesn't like this, let them leave. Let them
set up their own reparations movement. This is the test.... let us see whether anybody is
prepared to follow them.
It is very interesting that people who have not previously been able to lead any
organisation are suddenly objecting about not only how I have been running these
organisations but also about how other people are trying to build this movement. I am
ready to take up a debate on this issue with anybody. If your magazine is willing to
organise one, I will be there to defend my stand.
Black Perspective: Can you explain the recent break-up of a number of black-led
anti-racist organisations while the mainstream ones largely appear to be devoid of such
Bernie Grant: Well, you see, this is what is happening. This is what I have been
saying. There are a lot of Black organisations that have reached a certain point and then
they disappear. That has been the history of the Black movement in Britain. This is not
the case in the United States where many Black organisations have been able to carry on.
But in Britain, movements that we have been trying to set up in the past reach a certain
point and then somebody or some group of people come in and destroy it. Including the
Anti-Racist Alliance. And if you are an investigative journalist and you check on the
personalities involved, you will find that the people who have caused the problems in ARM,
are the same people who have caused the problems in ARA, the same people who have caused
the problems in S.C.O.R.E, the same group of people come in to destroy the organisations.
Whether they are doing it for their own benefit, for political benefit or whether they are
doing it on behalf of some other agencies is a matter that we have not been able to
discover. But what we have to notice is that this same group of people always turn up when
you try to run an organisation in a way that will be beneficial to the people. Which is
why we have had to adopt this low profile. I don't like it but we have to do that now. We
have to set up certain mechanisms to protect the organisation from self-destruction. The
situation is very serious. We need to be able to try to understand why we have this
ability to self-destruct.
Black Perspective: There have been other accusations levelled against you, for
instance, on your role in the S.C.O.R.E (Standing Conference on Racial Equality in Europe)
deadlock. You were reported to have changed the locks of the organisation's headquarters
after you disagreed with your replacement - Basil Bollers - at S.C.O.R.E's annual general
meeting. Can you explain what the disagreement was about and how it is being resolved?
Bernie Grant: What has happened is ... I can now tell you the whole story. I
discovered that certain people within the organisation were manipulating the annual
meeting. They were trying to get rid of certain other people including myself and bringing
in certain other organisations that were not affiliated to S.C.O.R.E.. While doing so, out
of about 180 organisations affiliated to S.C.O.R.E., about 150 of them were disaffiliated
- without the permission of the organisation - by these people who were organising the
annual meeting. They are Kingsley Abrams the policy officer, and Mike Rahman the secretary
of SCORE. I saw what was happening and tried to get them to change what they were doing.
They refused. I and the other officers met and decided to postpone the Annual Meeting from
the 16th of July this year (1994) until the activities of these people were thoroughly
investigated. They refused to accept the executive's decision and went ahead to hold an
annual meeting. They wiped off the computer records...
Black Perspective: They wiped the computer records...
Bernie Grant: Yes, they wiped off the computer records so that we could not contact
everybody. So they went ahead with this so called annual meeting - just two of them alone.
All the other members of the executive were not present.
At this fake annual meeting a new executive was elected, with Basil Bollers as the
chairman. So I and the other members of S.C.O.R.E. held a meeting. We suspended Kingsley
Abrams for gross misconduct, pending an investigation. And we suspended Mike Rahman from
being the secretary of the organisation. Now they decided to carry on and they said that
they were score. We said that we were S.C.O.R.E because we were the majority. So they
started causing a lot of mischief. They sent out a lot press releases attacking me.......
We went to the Commission for Racial Equality, the Churches Commission for Racial
Justice and the Rowntrees trust - who are the main sponsors of SCORE. We went to them,
explained the situation to them and they agreed that they would recognise us as the proper
S.C.O.R.E.. They decided to set up and independent enquiry to look into the matter, to see
who was right or wrong. Both sides agreed to be bound by the findings of this enquiry. The
enquiry was 3 independent people. Last week they made their report which concluded that
myself and other members of the executive acted constitutionally and properly when we
postponed the annual meeting because of the way in which the secretary and Kingsley Abrams
behaved in this matter. They said that they were wrong and we were right. Basically that
was the finding of the enquiry. The so-called annual meeting that was held was declared
unconstitutional. Unfortunately, they went on to say that everyone should stand down and
new people should control the organisation. We are discussing this with them at the
This so-called secretary Mike Rahman, and Kingsley Abrams, these same people were right
at the heart of the ARA problem. They were the people who were against Livingstone and
Diane Abbot and made Diane resign. They were the ones who supported Marc Wadsworth. And I
tell you from bitter experience that these people don't have the interest of the Black
community at heart. They have their own interest at heart and they are out to seek
powerful positions for themselves. If they see any Black person in any position of
authority, they make it their duty not to support the person but to try to bring them
down. And I can tell you that they will not succeed.
Black Perspective: Is there any document from the S.C.O.R.E enquiry available to the
Bernie Grant: No, there is none because we agreed that the enquiry would be
confidential. The reason that I have decided to tell you this is that having lost, they
(Abrams and Rahman) are now going to the press and feeding them with a lot of
misinformation. But basically they lost.
I would think that in a week or two's time, the document will be available for the
Black Perspective: How do you reconcile you status within the ARM with the reports
by the mainstream media that last July, on BBC Radio 4's "The Psychiatrist's
Chair" you praised the British colonisation of many black countries? You were
reported by the Daily Mail as having said Black people are lucky to have lived under
British imperial rule rather than be governed by other European powers. Many Black people
are still at a loss as to the point you were trying to make. It appears that you were
glorifying colonisation. Don't you think you should not concentrate on what you consider
the "positive" parts (if any) of these institutions that we are now fighting
Bernie Grant: Well, as usual, with these people, they take what you say and chop
out bits of it then they present to people something totally different from what I said.
What I said in the programme was that all the colonial masters were a disgrace. They were
all very bad. They stole our things, they killed a lot of Black people and ruined us
etcetera. I said that however some of them were worse than others. The Portuguese in
particular were very very bad. The British and the French were not as bad. And you can
tell from the state of the former French colonies. Now this is a totally different thing
from what was reported. I can not always make one statement which explains exactly what I
want to say, without expanding. What they are doing is leaving out the qualifications that
you make and report just the bits that make you sound as if you are saying something else.
That is really typical.
Black Perspective: What do you think is responsible for the friction between the
African and African-Caribbean communities and how can we overcome these problem?
Bernie Grant: I think that we have to work at it. We have to let people know the
truth of the situation, because historically, people of the Caribbean have felt that they
are better than Africans and I think it is right to say that some people in Africa feel
that the Caribbean people are just descendants of slaves and all that. which is nonsense.
This is a situation which was created by the British. We have to work out ways of working
together. People of the Caribbean feel somehow that they are better than people from
Africa because of the fact that perhaps they are near to America and are jumping and
jiving and so on but all this is nonsense.
We have to work at it, and that has been done in the past.. Walter Rodney tried to do
it, Marcus Garvey, and so on. But then I think that things are getting better now because
a lot Caribbean people go to Africa, Africans and Afro-Caribbeans meet to discuss racism
etcetera. I am very optimistic for the future but we can't just assume that it will go
away. We have to work at it.
Black Perspective: What is your impression of Police Commissioner Paul Condon? Can
Black people trust him?
Bernie Grant: I will never trust any police commissioner, to be frank with you. But
I think we can work with him. I think that these people in high positions have a stake in
ensuring that Black people are separated and are dealt with in a different way. I am not
saying that Condon is one of them but the establishment generally wants this to be case.
But what I can say with Condon is that he seems to be more open - than other Metropolitan
police commissioners - to consultation and listening to us. He seems more sympathetic. I
believe that there is an need for the police to be an impartial force. Whether they are
going to be allowed to do it by the establishment, the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister
etcetera, I don't know.
Black Perspective: What is the relationship between you and the people you once
called "white middle-class types, would be Kinnockites" in your constituency? Is
the threat of deselection by them still hanging over your neck?
Bernie Grant: (laughs) You never know what the position is in politics. The
situation always changes. Suffice it to say that I have recently been on very good terms
with my management committee. We have accepted that in the past we
might have been hasty in some of the things we might have said but I have a very good
working relationship now and I don't have any problems at the moment. The next selection
will be starting early next year or so and we will see exactly where I stand. But I am
confident that the rift has been healed. Perhaps part of the reason for this is the
departure of the said Mr Kinnock. Tony Blair is rounder, more approachable and easier to
deal with. I know I do not agree with him on some issues but we can disagree in a healthy
manner. I know that he does not indulge in the kind of Kinnock-style witch hunting.
Interview and Photos: Victor Amokeodo