with Chris Mullard
in Hampshire in 1946, Chris Mullard arrived in Newcastle in the mid-1960s
after a brief spell in London. He studied, worked on the buses and became
in 1968 the first full-time worker for the Community Relations Commission
(CRC) in Newcastle. In 1973, he published Black
which described itself as one of the first books to have been written by a
Black writer, born and raised in the UK. Shortly afterwards, he was forced
to resign from the CRC. Mullard later taught at Durham University, and
published several books, including Racism
in Society and Schools (1980) and Race,
Power and Resistance (1985).[ii]
He now heads Focus Consultancy, an organisation that promotes diversity in
the workplace. It is one of the largest organisations of its kind in
Europe. This interview covers the period from 1968 to 1973, when Mullard
worked as a community activist in the North East.
did you work with in your campaigns?
My natural base was quite narrow. Caribbean people saw me as Caribbean, but I wasn't. I had been born here. I was outside the immigrant communities. The number of African Caribbeans anyway was just in the low hundreds, in the whole North East. One friend, Rocky Byron, I knew him through Carnival. He was an entertainer, a dancer, worked in factories and odd jobs. He's still going, 75, active in the community, forming groups. In the 1970s, he worked as a security officer for Deloittes, and then for Richard Harbottle. There were other individuals, independents, and people from the Sikh community, like Dashin Singh. He was the Secretary of the Gurudwara, off Elswick Road. He was always behind us. Dr. Pindi Naru also brought in several Hindu individuals.[iii]
of the religious organisations were upset. They were politically opposed
to anything that smacked of radicalism. Their instinct was to merge and to
assimilate. They saw my concerns as being separatist, opposite to their
interests. I was too militant and radical. They were conservative in that
sense. My strategy for dealing with the radicals was to win individuals,
to turn theirs into a quite opposition. The two key individuals in the
Islamic community were Zafir Khan and Mohammed Haq. They oscillated
between fierce opposition and some support. They saw that what I was doing
was in their interests, but as a group they were withdrawn.
Rafferty started as a traditional labour man, a Clause IV socialist. He
became the Labour agent for Gordon Bagier MP.[iv]
Then he was Secretary of the Newcastle Council of Social Services. That
was a voluntary association, distinguished both from the Christian
movements, and the local authority, more structured, bureaucratic ways of
working. The Chair of the Council of Social Services was Richard
Harbottle. He was very different, more of a Liberal Tory in the Heath
tradition. He became a Chartered Accountant, I don't know why, after
reading History at University. Richard was at Trinity Hall, where his best
friend was a Trinidadian, Reggie Duma. He spent time with this sort of
crowd. He was very much influenced by the old school of historians, he had
an extraordinary sense of injustice.
people wanted an Asian person involved in leading the organisation. But
the politics of ethnicity worked against that. There were large Muslim,
Sikh and Hindu communities, if any one had been appointed from any of
these groups, the other two would have complained. I had no allegiance to
any of the groups. That helped to neutralise opposition. And who else
would they appoint? That was important.
were opposed to me because they saw me as radical. Their strategy was to
keep their heads down. My own strategy was to expose racism, to be
deliberate about exposing racism. I knew all the black authors and all the
black figures. My critique emanated from an understanding of the Community
Relations Councils. I knew they worked as a buffer organisation, a sort of
why did you apply to work for one?
CRC was a massive effort on the part of the state to undermine the mass
movement. The British reacted to that anger and organisation, to buy off
the leadership. They offered status and salaries. But I was a bit smarter
than most of my colleagues who worked in the CRC business. I believed we
could use the structures to deliver radical objectives. Sometimes you have
to use the discourses in order to effect the change. I did feel one could
do that. My own kind of activism required a different kind of knowledge.
How did you get involved from the bureaucracy? We could not deliver from
on the street. We lacked knowledge of bureaucratic organisation. How do
they deliver management and control? How do they place limits on the
struggle? We needed to get closer to that. Also, I needed a job! I was
writing a bit, but it hardly paid for the bedsit. I did need work. That's
why I knew the power of buying off a radical. It's quite a powerful thing.
there any protests against your appointment?
Gray disliked me. He was a Conservative and head of Newcastle Council at
this time. I was a Black Marxist, like [Cedric] Robinson.[v]
My theoretical concepts tended to see everything in terms of the class
struggle, with black issues as a large part of it. The world was – and
is still – divided into white and black, the haves and the have-nots.
The media was opposed, even the BBC. Councillor Bennie Abrahams disliked
me. He was in the Labour Party. Abrahams was a local businessman and a
Jew. He was in control of race relations in the North East. But his deep
Zionism pushed him towards Conservative positions on race. Plus I was just
twenty-four, which was far too young for the post. So my appointment
produced side issues, towards the idea of profession. In life, you have to
climb up ladders, but here was some Young Turk, suddenly in charge of
Community Relations. I was challenging relationships of age and authority,
ties that go deep in the North East. Luckily, coming out of the streets, I
didn't have to learn any cynicism about liberalism.
I became very friendly with Mike Neville, the anchorman for BBC
News in the North East.[vi]
Michael Partington played a similar role at Tyne Tees. I set up a
supporters' club, for people who wanted to contribute to the work of the
CRC. Geoff Ridden was the deputy editor of the Newcastle Chronicle.
I invited him to edit the CRC newspaper, Gambit.
Soon, we had a professionally produced newspaper. The Chronicle
even agreed to print it for us off their presses, for free. I had to
allow opposition to emerge. Once it did, I went in to neutralise their
ability to act.
Gray and Abrahams worked to reduce our funding from the council. They
tried to exercise their will, but we had a countervailing power. We
received private donations from businesses and foundations. I was able to
secure a salary of £900 a year. Our supporters' group at its height
provided more than £200 a month, more then enough to pay for my salary.
Brian Roycroft was the head of Newcastle Social Services. He began to
deliver support from within the council.[vii] Gordon Squires was the
Head of Education. We delivered in Education. Then the Director of
Housing, all the problems of housing in the West End, they all came to us.
did you achieve in your time at the CRC?
We set a lot of templates. We can claim ownership of a politicised model of community development. We were moving away from casework to a politicised notion about power. We took seriously the entrepreneur model, before anyone had coined the phrase. Social partnerships? We didn't have any choice. We had to raise money. We organised sponsored walks. We contributed to social legitimation. Lawyers and professionals wanted to identify with us. We were the first Community Relations Council to identify the problems correctly and not to hide behind labels. The issue was race, not friendship. It was about the superiority of one group and the inferiority of another. We pioneered what people later called Race Equality, hence the name the Race Equality Councils. The CRC's were something less, 'give them a cucumber sandwich'. We used the media as part of our strategy. We were raising consciousness of the issues, taking smugness off the body of the North East.
We wanted to break down the models that South Shields was the
answer. There was a lot of smugness about that. But the people who settled
in the town experienced discrimination. Local shipowners would hire the
crews, they'd hire people for 9 months and then dump them, not pay them,
deny them halal meat. Through working with the community, we could impact
on the consciousness of people. We deconstructed notions of Geordyism and
North Eastism, repackaging them in terms of anti-racism. That was the
beginning of it.
Jeremy Beecham was my age then, he had just become a Labour
councillor. He stood out against Abrahams. Late he became leader of
Newcastle council. His consciousness became infected by what we were
doing. A lot of our thinking has informed the later discussion around
ideas like institutional racism. Long before Macpherson, we were grappling
with the same idea in practice and called it that.
went home exhausted but thinking tomorrow is another chance against the
onslaught of today. I believed in what I was doing, in new ways, new
very little about the roots of your ideas.
that time, I just couldn't talk about my background. My father was a US
airman born in Jamaica. He lived in the US and then came over to Greenham
Common. He met my mother, a white Hampshire lady. She was a peasant girl,
really, the daughter of a farm labourer. She didn’t know what to do with
a black child, born out of wedlock. Her parents told her to gout and find
the father and come back without me. The community officer told her that
my father had flown off, and was probably dead. So she abandoned me at
Newbury rail station. I was left with the name Christopher Paul written on
me. I was brought up in an orphanage, surrounded by a number of black
kids. We were all gathered together, all in the same predicament. All our
consciousness fused together. So I grew up with a very strong sense of
The whole experience of being black, an orphan, I felt I had been
marked out as inferior. But I learned ways of coping with it. At school,
there was cricket, rugby, and athletics. Certain masters would protect me,
provided I excelled. Others were keen to see me excel at sport, provided I
kept out of the classroom. But still each year I came top, and that gave
me something. I came to London in 1960, when I was 16. I lived in Notting
Hill and became a legal clerk. The firm was motivated by a sort of
Christian benevolence. I took my A-levels here, was given an offer to
Cambridge, but knew I'd have all the same problems all over. I chose
Black Britain was an attempt to come to terms with all that
history. Some of the pain and hurt that you do see in the book was an
attempt to connect back to that part of my childhood. These were things
that it took me years to confront. They're not in the public domain. In
the book, beneath the facts, there is an emotional underpinning. I guess
it's one reason why I found it hard to connect to some of the people in
the North East. I wasn't talking their story. My experiences were outside
their experiences. I guess that's been part of the story of race.
does race matter so much? We don't amount to more than 10 percent of the
population. Why are we so significant? I think part of the answer is that
we mirror the horribleness and inhumanity of white society. We remind
white society of the horrible things that were done in the name of
whiteness. They see in us the devil in themselves. That goes deep down in
[i] C. Mullard, Black in Britain (London: Allen and Unwin, 1973).
[ii] C. Mullard, Racism in Society and Schools: History, Policy and Practice (London: Institute of Education, 1980); C. Mullard, Race, power and Resistance (London: Routledge, 1985).
[iii] Pindi Naru is now a journalist on Radio Cleveland.
[iv] Bagier became the MP for Sunderland South in February 1974.
[v] C. J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
[vi] He now works for North East tonight.
[vii] Brian Roycroft was the Director of Newcastle Social Services from 1971 to 1993. See T. Philpot, 'Brian Roycroft: Charismatic social services director with a passion for justice', Guardian, 31 May 2002.