Britain should not think it’s above the racism seen in the US.
Robert Winder, in his very Britishly titled book ‘Bloody Foreigners’, tells the enthralling story of the rich tapestry of the thousands of foreign people and ideas that have settled and shaped Britain ever since mankind tracked into Europe from Africa. Our medieval architecture was created by the French; our royal family has German blood in their veins; our banks and shops are Jewish; our language a concoction of Germanic and Latin (with a sprinkling of Indian and American). Our food is anything but British, with tea from China and curry from India. A quintessentially English song of royalty was composed by the German George Frideric Handel. The book speaks of how the Empire stood shoulder to shoulder with us in the trenches of the First World War; and alongside us against Hitler. It was they who came here to help us rebuild our charred cities and bombed out buildings. It was Britain which soldiered on alone against Hitler and Nazism. The story of the Second World War is one of an epic struggle of freedom and tolerance against the forces of racism and oppression. Britain couldn’t possibly be a place of racism and intolerance.
Perhaps this is the reason many Brits scoff at the Black Lives Matter UK movement. A Buzzfeed report on the July 2016 Black Lives Matter march in Birmingham pointed to a dismissal of the issue. After all, the UK isn’t like the US. The brutality and social struggles minorities face in the US aren’t like the ones minority groups in the UK face. Britain couldn’t possibly be as barbaric and unwelcoming as that.
However, Mr Winder makes the point that British people are often – and as he says in his book, sometimes proudly – xenophobic. One documentary ‘England – Whose England’ shows a very stark look at the racist attitudes of native whites during the non white migration of the 1950s and 60s. This anti immigrant sentiment is one that has persisted well into supposedly more enlightened times.
The uncomfortable truth is that Britain is not immune to the racism and discrimination that plague the US in such visceral ways. Migrants and minorities are often demonised in British tabloids. A 2014 report by the British Social Attitudes Survey found around 30% of Britons admitted to being racially prejudice. Massive spikes in race related crimes have been recorded following the EU referendum vote. A Halal butchers, which stood for generations in a West Midlands town high street, was fire bombed following the vote. Refugees were swarms. Britain was at “breaking point”.
A more subtle racism lurks beneath the surface. Even today, minorities suffer from racism and discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination is pervasive in everything from hiring to wages, overtime pay, recruitment, contracts and promotions. Thousands of immigrants work as slaves in the UK, according to a 2014 Home Office report. Research conducted by the University of Birmingham into black, middle class families found that their education and money did not shield them from systemic racism that plagues British society. Racist stereotyping was understood by parents to be a natural, inevitable part of life; black women who were educated and ambitious were felt to be downplayed in popular culture; tensions existed between not wanting to talk about race, and a need to prepare their children for the reality of racism that awaited them. Further research by the University of Bristol found black children were systematically marked down by their teachers. Such marking inequalities didn’t persist in national tests marked by anonymous teachers.
Covert racism dogs black academics in British universities – so much so that many consider moving overseas to further their careers, and are more likely to do so than their white counterparts. While the numbers of black and minority ethnic (BME) academics has risen in recent years, they are far less likely to be in senior academic roles. Only 20 deputy or pro vice Chancellors in higher education are BME. Around 530 are white.
Nor are BME communities equal in the eyes of the law. Of the 245 cases of racial discrimination recorded between March 2014 and February 2015, 240 resulted in no action being taken. People who are BME are more likely to die in police custody, according to the think-tank INQUEST. Often, they suffer with mental health issues, such as high-profile cases Sarah Reed (who had a history of mental health issues) and Roger Sylvester (diagnosed with bipolar disorder) who was killed after being restrained by 8 police officers in North London. According to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, a government body, black people also more likely to be detained under the 1983 Mental Health Act.
Black people are 4 and a half times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than their white counterparts, according to Home Office data for March 2015. While roughly 3% of the Britain’s population is black, they represent 12% of total prison numbers in the UK. The Ministry of Justice points out that this isn’t direct evidence of bias. However, other research conducted by the Ministry of Justice found BME groups were more likely to receive prison time than white people. An LSE study also found that black people found in possession of cocaine were more likely to be charged than white people, who were more likely to be cautioned.
Britain’s Black Lives Matter movement is not born out of an imitation of its American cousin, but from solidarity with their struggles, and a cry for the same chances as their white brethren. It’s no less vital. Issues of race in the UK have been slowly cemented into the fabric of British life for many years. Only when we see society for what it is, can we change society to how it should be.