Racism Rife in Birmingham, Says Ali Campbell

Neil Connor, Birmingham (UK) Post, March 24, 2008

The Birmingham born-and-bred singer, who recently left the chart-topping reggae band after raising concerns about its business affairs, said it had inherited “segregation and racism” from America.

He nostalgically looked back to the inner city Birmingham of the 1980s, describing it as the “exact opposite” of the current climate in which youths from different racial groups fight each other.

Campbell said he was proud of the mixed ethnicity of his former group, which he claimed was a uniquely Brummie concept. But he said that integration was a thing of the past in the city as a whole.

His comments were rejected by the city’s head of equalities, Councillor Alan Rudge, who said Birmingham had an “enviable” situation in terms of race relations.

Tensions with a minority of people in ethnic communities were caused by youths looking up to celebrities as role models, particularly in the music business, said Coun Rudge.

Campbell, who now lives in Dorset, said: “It’s all changed in Birmingham now you know. The hip hop generation have inherited segregation and racism because that’s what America is.

“It’s the most segregated country in the world, and the most racist country in the world. It seems to me that the kids of today hang round in all white or all black or all Asian or all Somalian or all Russian groups, all the same race, and they all wear hoodies and they all fight each other, which is the opposite of what we thought was happening in the 80s.”

He said UB40 were influenced by the blues parties they attended as teenagers in Balsall Heath, echoing those in Jamaica. In Birmingham these parties evolved into racially inclusive garden parties.

The group produced its first album, the 1980 release Signing Off, in the garden of a bedsit in Birmingham. He said: “In the 80s the blues parties that included white people sort of turned into garden parties in Birmingham, in Moseley and Balsall Heath, but that’s all gone—unfortunately.”

He said he did not blame hip hop music for the breakdown of multiculturalism but voiced his dislike of the attitude that was promoted by the genre.

“The misogyny and the race issue is always number one on the lyric,” he said. “It’s not the music, it’s the things that come with it like the gang culture and the segregation. It’s so American and it seems that the new generation of kids they all hang around in groups of their own type and it’s a real shame.”

Birmingham City Council claims to have taken great strides in developing race relations since the Lozells riots in October 2005.

Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey), the local authority’s cabinet member for equalities and human resources, said the city was racially harmonious because of the grassroots work of his officers.

He said: “I would question what Mr Campbell knows about the racial situation in Birmingham. In the last few years, when I have been involved in equalities, I believe we have moved forward better than any other city in Europe in terms of bringing people together.

“Our policy is to make sure that those who consider themselves a separate group are actively involved with what happens in the city. It would be foolish to think that there is still not lots of work left to do but we are in an enviable situation.”

Coun Rudge also said music would always have a hold over youngsters but he blamed the “cult of celebrity” for many of society’s problems.

Asked if Mr Campbell’s industry was causing alienation among the country’s youth, Coun Rudge said: “That is what I am saying.

“The cult of celebrity has caused a lot of the country’s problems. People think it is easy to achieve celebrity and it is not. I think there are plenty of examples of good role models to be found in the community, such as the local imam, or the local priest.”

Another member of UB40—keyboard player Michael Virtue—only days ago followed Campbell in severing his ties with the band. It followed the shock departure in January of the singer who blamed management difficulties for his decision.

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