When it comes to racism, the lens is often focused on the US, whose enduring political chaos and conflict leads some people in the UK to believe that there aren’t any serious problems to be addressed on our side of the pond.
Even when overt and blindingly obvious examples of racism are displayed in this country – the social media reactions to the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert; record numbers of complaints lodged to OFCOM for Diversity’s BGT performance; Millwall fans booing Premier League football teams for kneeling for BLM; racist trolling of Alison Hammond for securing a new role on This Morning; the flying of a ‘White Lives Matter’ banner over the Etihad Stadium during a Premier League match – we don’t really bat an eye.
Not only are these hateful and divisive acts routinely ignored, sometimes they are even championed by political figures, in the case of Millwall fans - indicative of the fact that many people believe that we do not have an issue with racism in this country.
To these people, it is convenient to point the finger at the Americans in order to absolve Britain of the responsibility for the problems that we very clearly have. The sheer level of violence, abuse and police brutality towards black people in the states – on show for all to see – makes it easy for people to paint the UK as “less racist”. But “less racist” is still racist, end of.
The reality is that in the UK, major racial inequalities still persist in employment, housing, education and the criminal justice system, with black Britons very often being the worst affected.
Below are just some examples:
• Black people are almost 10 times more likely to be stopped & searched by police than white people
• The Metropolitan police – the UK’s largest police service - are 4 times more likely to use force on black people compared to white people
• Two thirds of black Britons have directly received a racial slur
• People from the BAME community are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than white people
• People from the BAME community are 7 times more likely to live in overcrowded housing compared to white people
• Black people are 3 times more likely to experience homelessness
• White students are twice as likely as their fellow black students to achieve 3 A grades at A-Level
• People from the BAME community are nearly twice as likely to catch COVID-19 compared to white people
These examples highlight major issues that are deeply rooted in British society, and in contrast to what some may believe, racism and injustice in the UK did not simply cease to exist with the introduction of the Race Relations Act in 1965 – these statistics highlight that.
One major example that we cannot forget is the Windrush scandal, where it was revealed that hundreds of Commonwealth citizens had been wrongly and inhumanely detained, deported and denied their legal right to remain in the UK – after being invited to the UK from the Caribbean by the government between 1948 and 1973.
(Many Windrush victims are yet to be properly compensated and the government are still carrying out similar actions today – the last deportation charter flight was to Jamaica on Dec 3rd, just 3 weeks before Christmas)
The Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22 June 1948
Then there is the Grenfell Tower fire, when a fire started by a faulty fridge freezer in a fourth floor flat turned the 24-story building into an inferno – as a result of the gross irresponsibility and ignorance of local authorities, and the penny-pinching actions of the company that installed cladding on the building.
72 people died in the fire, 85% of whom were from ethnic minorities, which is more than enough evidence to show how it was steeped in racial and social inequality – reflective of life in modern Britain for many people of colour.
Grenfell Tower fire: A burning injustice
All of the examples mentioned above demonstrate the urgent necessity of the changes required to eradicate racial discrimination and inequality for good in the UK, these disparities and inequalities did not emerge out of thin air.
They are a result of decades of consistent and brutal injustices across many sections of society, occasionally brought to mainstream attention in the form of incidents like the Windrush scandal or Grenfell Tower, before being forgotten again.
Just because we don’t see vicious displays of police brutality on social media every day does not mean that there aren’t significant issues to be addressed in this country. There is more than enough evidence to show that we do, and more than enough accounts from people of colour to show us just how much of an impact it is still having today.
In order to create permanent structural change and in order to ensure that we build a society where every single citizen is treated fairly and equally, regardless of the colour of their skin, immediate action is desperately needed in this country.
Let’s not forget that this year.