By Felicity Collier in Britain:
Memories of movement that rocked racism to its core
Wednesday 21st December 2016
Reminiscences of RAR: Rocking Against Racism
1976 to 1982
Edited by Roger Huddle and Red Saunders
FOUR decades on from the birth of Rock Against Racism (RAR) more than 60 organisers, activists and musicians involved in the movement are reunited in this book to share their experiences of a pivotal moment in history.
The late 1970s Britain saw the racist National Front gaining support in elections. Despite their extremist intent, aided by Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher’s inciteful comments in the media, their numerous marches were regularly given police protection.
There was an increase in racist attacks on the streets, some of which claimed people’s lives, and rioting. Police harassment and brutality were rife and massive cuts to the NHS, housing provision and wages added up to a bleak picture.
To counteract the prevailing pessimism, the book’s editor and RAR founder Roger Huddle felt that: “if given a purpose, both black and white would unite against the overriding threat of the nazis.”
A united front — not just of young music fans but teachers, firefighters, miners, bus and rail workers — was born.
Memorably, RAR mobilised 80,000 people in London’s Victoria Park in 1978. “The media say the crowd came for the music. No, they came to march and chant and to rock against the NF and racism,” Huddle recalls.
Gigs across Britain, from punk to reggae to ska to soul, “mashed up the NF in a rub-a-dub style,” and fanzines like Temporary Hoarding came on the scene.
“We had to educate ourselves about the history of racism,” says its co-editor Lucy Toothpaste, who also seized opportunities to open up a dialogue with bands to challenge sexism.
Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha, a teenager in the 1970s, says that RAR gave her the confidence to find a voice and “made me feel part of something bigger.”
The exuberance of the RAR gigs paved the way for the 200,000 who turned up for the Artists Against Apartheid concert on Clapham Common in 1986 and it was a movement that Steel Pulse’s Selwyn Brown sees as seminal.
“Even with the struggles that exist today, we can still proudly say we live in a multicultural society. Rock Against Racism played a major part in achieving that ideal,” he says. This book is invaluable in documenting the experiences of those who helped make that happen.
Rock Against Racism are looking for memorabilia of any kind from 1976-82 for their archival website. If you’ve got anything to donate, please contact Ruth Gregory by email: firstname.lastname@example.org