Friday, 17 June 2016

Great Britons captured in black and white retell a story that must not be forgotten

Last night I was privileged to attend the official launch of Syd Shelton's Rock Against Racism exhibition in Bradford.

For those that don't know, Rock Against Racism was a groundbreaking movement in the mid 1970s formed by musicians and political activists to fight racism through music.

Syd Shelton’s striking black and white images capture a pivotal moment in British politics and culture, fashion and music.
As the exhibition notes state, 'legendary performers including The Clash, Sham 69, Misty in Roots, Aswad, Pete Townshend of The Who, X Ray Spex, Elvis Costello, Tom Robinson, and The Specials were captured by Shelton in gigs and towns across the UK.

Rock Against Racism (RAR) grew out of the xenophobia of the UK in the late 1970s. Right-wing politician Enoch Powell was stirring up racial hatred, and the fascist political party The National Front was gaining support.

It was a different time, racial discrimination was rife, and the split was very obviously between black and white.

Terms like 'Wogs' and 'Pakis' were openly used, and violent unprovoked attacks were commonplace.

Sounds horrific doesn't it?

Hard to believe our country could be so horrible only a generation ago.

But what sparked the RAR movement rocked my world yesterday even more.

As Tom Robinson, special guest at the opening last night explained, "Rock Against Racism came in response to Eric Clapton’s bigoted racist rant at a concert in Birmingham in 1976, when he urged his audience to ‘get the foreigners out’ and ‘keep Britain white’."

Tom recited Clapton's hateful drunk diatribe in full to the gathered audience. It was truly shocking to hear.

Clapton, a highly regarded musician, one of the best guitarists of his generation, made famous for his covers of black music like Bob Marley's 'I Shot the Sheriff' had not only uttered those vile incendiary words in the late 70s, but has reportedly also never once sought to apologise for them.

The shock of being 41 years old and ignorant to that fact, at a time when a local Yorkshire MP is viciously attacked and apparently killed for reasons of hate, and just days before the nation votes on whether it wants to be an inclusive welcoming society or one that seeks to close its doors, turn its shoulder, and look the other way, reminded me of the power of imagery, art and music.

Evocative images can help to change society and break down prejudices.

As an industry though, where is our version of Saatchi's famous racist brain?

As brands are we doing everything we can to celebrate diversity?

Under the slogan ‘Love Music, Hate Racism’, Rock Against Racism staged marches, festivals, and over 500 concerts throughout the UK. They brought together artists and audiences of different race, mixing musical styles and youth tribes – rudeboy and skinhead, punk and reggae, two-tone and ska.
Shelton says, "I hope the exhibition shows that you can change things and you can actually take a stand, even in the most difficult of situations."

He's not wrong.

Important stories should never tire of being told. Particularly ones that point out our similarities not just our differences. 

After all, we're all descendants of immigrants aren't we. Every single one of us. 

Our ancestors moved, they wandered, they resettled, they integrated.
They sometimes conquered, they invaded. They even enslaved ffs.
And now we dare to look down on others.

The only difference between 'us' and 'them' is when we choose to close the door.

Think on 'Great' Britons. Think on.