Don’t let videos of US police brutality fool you, the UK is just as racist
People defend free speech to say the n-word but frame anti-racist protests as aggressive
It’s been an emotionally charged time for black people due to the viral videos of injustice to black people flooding the internet. In a short period of time, we’ve seen injustice after injustice, with the image of George Floyd being killed by a police officer weighing heavily on our minds.
Beyond notions of performative or genuine online activism, there’s a big issue that keeps coming up. Because a lot of the atrocities amplified are US-specific, there’s an argument that racism is somehow a worse issue in America. But how can anyone look at the way the justice system failed to show up for Belly Mujinga and tell me the UK’s racism problem is “subtler” or “more covert” than it is in the US?
Non-black British people are excusing themselves by saying they are less racist than the US. But they are and this is why:
British schools teach history through the lens of white guilt
Having been through the A-level History curriculum I have witnessed the bias through which history is taught in this country. In my curriculum when I studied Britain from 1951-2007, there was a focus on decolonisation but little was discussed about the issues that occurred in the countries that were colonised.
There is a lack of acknowledgement of the authoritarian style of leadership these countries saw and the violence and fear necessary to maintain colonisation. Or the fact that Britain’s development up to this day was reliant on the oppression of black and other non-white people.
For instance, there was a praising of Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s Winds of Change speech about decolonisation. The end of colonisation as a conscious moral decision rather than an economic necessity.
My unit on American history, however, went more in depth into the legal and social marginalisation of black people. The fact that America’s slave trade occurred on the country’s soil means that it is easier to point to it as worse. The full history of Britain’ s wealth and its ties to exploitation of human beings and resources must be exposed.
Even without the curriculum the experience of being educated in this country is characterised by institutional racism
This country can make you go mad as a black person. As privileged as I am to know my culture and identity from my family and growing up in Nigeria, Britain is constantly sending reminders that black people are not welcome. Assumptions about intelligence or talent can be weaponised to affect black students’ options in life. For instance, teachers that predict low grades for black students unfortunately will determine and limit the amount and quality of universities they can apply to. In both private and state schools there is a sense that dreaming big is ‘unrealistic’. Black students often face verbal abuse from classmates and have teachers patronise them or pick on them when enforcing rules.
These attitudes persist at a university level. I personally have experienced this when interrupted by my tutor in class and when I was asked my arrival date in the UK during an African Studies tutorial. That context is ironic. I asked two female Nigerian friends of mine if they’d experienced something similar, remembering a walk through Pollock, Edinburgh’s poshest halls, they said: “We heard a group of boys making monkey sounds in the courtyard. We dismissed it and carried on walking, the monkey sounds continued and we then realised the sounds were directed at us and they were making direct eye contact with us.”
This bold and overtly racist behaviour is a testament to the level of restraint and resilience black university students need to survive this educational system.
Imagine going to a debate in your school where the debate is about whether colonialism was beneficial to the colonised states? Don’t play devil’s advocate with my life and my right to exist. Don’t claim ‘nuance’ to avoid the dark aspects of Western history.
The way British TV presents black people is full of gross fetishisation
Every year the British media reinforces racist generalisations about black people and this is shockingly evident on TV. One of these issues is the fetishisation of black men we see time and time again, or them being labelled as aggressive for their appearance, like Ched on Winter Love Island.
The consistent romantic and sexual rejection of black women on the show exposes ideas of black women being less conventionally desirable than white women. These assumptions are racist. For instance, just this year, I’ve written about Priscilla’s decision to wear a blonde wig on Winter Love Island made her face trolling and racial abuse online.
Just a few months ago, Channel 4 premiered a show called The British Tribe Next Door where a family from county Durham lived alongside an African community in the Namibian desert. Excuse me? This is clearly unacceptable content to be producing. Why do we need poverty porn content of a British woman’s personal journey to feel more grateful to live in a more convenient society?
We could also talk about the ways that television shows seemingly gaslight and frustrate non-white TV guests by shutting down basic statements about racism. Guests will be invited to outline vulnerable experiences and will be spoken over and interrupted by privileged people who are uncomfortable that the ease of their lived experience comes with things being harder for others. For whiteness to be neutral, blackness must be othered as an identity.
Diversity is co-opted by British institutions when it is convenient for them
People enjoy harking on about multi-culturalism to praise British society. That is, people see the mere existence of multiple racial identities within the same geographical area as a sign of progress. This optimism is misplaced. We’ve seen the Windrush generation of migrants from the Caribbean have their citizenship questioned and forcibly deported in the ‘hostile environment’ presided over by Amber Rudd. The Windrush migrants helped build post war Britain by leaving their home countries to contribute their skills and talents. Their treatment was obscene.
Brands and companies who will hire black models to be trendy but make design choices that undermine them. Just look at this Comme des Garçons fashion show where white models wore cornrowed wigs alongside black models.
Universities love labelling themselves ‘international’ or diverse but fail to employ more non-white people in their department. Worse more, they will fail to address issues and racist complaints filed by black students. The University of Edinburgh can’t even give a straight answer about its commitments to anti-racist reparations that address its history of funding from slavery wealth.
BLM protests are framed as civil disobedience but VE day gatherings seen as patriotic
It’s clear to see the idea of unrest is often aligned with non-white organising. This is apparent in the media coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests happening in the US and the UK. The VE day celebrations saw many white communities hold street parties, some of which people shared food between households and there was no media condemnation of this. However, when black people decide to organise and protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement it is framed as a health risk. See the difference here?
Racism is a global issue. This interconnectedness means it will never just be something that happens in America, elsewhere. It is upheld through systems reliant on the suppression of non-white voices. Protests are evidence of a society where people are not heard. So if you keep telling black people to calm down or how to protest, you are definitely part of the problem.
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