I had a blog put up for today but I took it down and replaced it with this because something so dazzled me that I had to share it with you. (I’ll put it up again as a Burn’s Night Special on FRIDAY.)
Last night I watched Storyville: Sing Your Song It was a one and a half hour biography of someone whose voice and smile I knew as a child and who as it turns out is one of the greatest men of our time. Only I was not aware of all the things he has done — not just for African Americans, but for humanity.
Back in the fifties when I was born, Harry Belafonte was making a stance for mixed race television and stage performance and eventually, marriage. He made a point of using swimming pools and white-only hotel entrances despite the possible consequences. He drew in friends, big names, Charlton Heston, James Garner, Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, from the entertainment world to the cause of equality. He brought the cause of African Americans before JFK and Bobby Kennedy and worked side by side with Martin Luther King (that part I knew). He stood his ground even in the face of the Klan. He was part of a movement that helped bring students from a newly independent Kenya to America for education and one of those was Obama’s father. In the 80’s he used his voice again to raise millions for people starving in Africa and he supported the struggle to free Mandela and he is still working.
Towards the end of this programme it becomes clear that the struggle has a way to go. The ‘criminalisation of the poor’ they called it (and what colour would most of those poor be?) “Incarceration is the new slavery” was the cry and Harry said, “We blinked.”
It’s true. Every RIGHT that has ever been won can be lost again in the blink of an eye because those people who would deny us our rights, never seem to blink. And it is not just a struggle of race, this incarceration of the poor, it is a socialist struggle. Those who fought for the rights of women and workers, would be appalled at how much ground we are losing today. The NHS is under threat. The Trades Union Movement has been declawed and workers will be at the mercy of employers one more. The poor of our society are being hit hard be austerity whilst the rich prosper.
Cameron’s BIG Society tried to get people who are unemployed to volunteer to work — for nothing! Give me another word for ‘working for nothing’ please… Hands up? Of course it’s not if you ‘volunteer’ under the entirely misleading idea that that will make you a ‘valued member’ of his BIG Society. Trouble is our socialists seem unwilling to take the part of the people — not much profit in that I daresay! When did they join the Ferengi? It seems poor people are a problem, disabled people are a problem, retired people and old people are a problem.
And don’t for a moment mistake Political Correctness for a change of attitude. It is a mask. Beneath its smug exterior, the attitudes of wealth and power prevail. They may shake your hand and smile but a label is a label is a label. And it is so easy to label people and to label oneself — in fact language is all about labels. Once labelled you can be kept an eye on, disenfranchised, ghettoed, incarcerated, whatever…
What would I know about labels? a tirade againt Scottish people from a taxi driver who thought by me accent I was Scottish… cat calls because I was ‘ginger’ …quite a bit of stick about my height, ‘shorty’. Then of course when you are from Northern Ireland… plenty of labels there. And I was even asked by someone once why I want to teach ‘the remedials’
Sooner or later every label becomes pejorative and then it just gets changed to a different label (one only has to look at mental health to see this– we used to call it mental Illness) but the thought beneath it may remain unchanged and that is why we must not blink and that is why international socialism matters.
We need to make HUMANITY our cause. He will be 86 on March 1st and his eyes are open wide. That is what makes Harry Belafonte, for me, one of the GREAT MEN of our time.