IS THE UK RACIST?

How long must we wait? Is the end near? Or is history repeating itself?

This investigative episode explores the livelihoods of black and ethnic minority communities in the UK and aims to find out whether racial tensions in Britain are still present. We explore how much has changed for two generations of black and ethnic minority people in Great Britain and discover how racial disparity has shaped the livelihoods and identities of black and ethnic minorities.

In light of the killing of George Floyd, an American father and husband, who was brutally murdered in the hands of the police, sparked tensions across the world.

It is not the first time such events have taken place where the killings and mistreatment of young black men and women fatally lose their lives due to the colour of their skin. But the killing of Floyd was the first time in global history where racism sparked uproar across the world. In fact, the significance of this crime was so volatile, that it diverted attention to racial disparity within Britain. In the midst of a global lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, social media platforms were pervaded with racial injustice, extrajudicial video footage of black men and women being murdered by state authority and a social justice movement named as #BLACKOUTTUESDAY which incentivised every social media user to only post a black square to represent solidarity. Being restricted from leaving the comfort of your own home, hundreds of thousands abandoned the government guidelines to march in solidarity across many different cities in the UK. Why? Every race, ethnicity, and diaspora were, as Yaw Owusu put It in our episode, “given a level of strength and new energy for black people, who were saying, you know what… I am sick of this”. Many wanted to ascertain whether racial tensions in Britain were still present and why those who have died in the hands of the police or experienced racial discrimination were not held accountable. The ever-present line from Al Sharpton saying “Get your knee off our necks” immersed around the global atmosphere. Its significance was more than police brutality, but metaphorically envisaged centuries of pain, prejudice, and persecution. How much has really changed in the relationship between black and ethnic minorities and the state? Is the UK still racist and if so, how has this tailored people in society, their livelihoods, their jobs, and their identity? The UK is certainly not innocent for its crimes regarding racial discrimination, unlawful incarceration, and excessive use of force against ethnic minorities.

So, our investigation begins at marking the 40th anniversary of the 1981 inner-city riots in England which sparked form racial tensions between black and ethnic minorities and the police. The weak relationship between the police and ethnic minority communities since the early 30s, illustrated how black and ethnic minorities were susceptible to racial prejudice, the ‘stop and search’ law and many other draconian measures. We speak to Phil O’Brien, an 18 year old photographer at the time of the riots in Toxteth, recalls it as a “Baptism of Fire” which continues to burn today.

A policeman is tended to by colleagues after being stabbed during a demonstration relating to the Toxteth Riots in Liverpool. ©Phil O’Brien/Mercury Press Agency

The big two major riots that took place within Brixton and Toxteth, highlighted that the millennial of the 80’s were prepared to stand up against the sectarian acts of the police. The Macpherson report, published after the death of the black teenager Stephan Lawrence, criticised the implementation of ‘stop and search’. The report exposed the Metropolitan Police of “institutional racism” and stressed the excessive use of force and incidence of stops and searches were evidently a clear case of racist stereotyping. As of today, the Metropolitan Police invidious behaviour towards ethnic minorities in the UK was certainly not overlooked by the BLM protestors. Chants of “Mark Duggan”, “SARAH REED”, “Dalian Atkinson” and hundreds of black and ethnic minority lives who were taken away by police officers in the UK, cloaked the atmosphere. The picture has not changed from 40 years ago but mirrors the same bigotry towards ethnic minorities. Statistics show between 2009/10 and 2018/19, for White people the stop and search rate were lower than the national rate every year, whereas in contrast, the rates for Black, Asian and Mixed ethnic groups were higher than the national rate every year. Black African, Black Caribbean and Other Black groups consistently had the highest rates.


Stop and search rate per 1,000 people, by ethnicity over time – Location England and Wales. Source: Police powers and procedures, England and Wales year ending March 2019

Interviewing Leroy Logan, ex superintendent in the Metropolitan Police and MBE, he labels such behaviour is part of the “institutional racism” that continues to pervade the UK police force.  The racial stereotyping that is carried out by officers, is perfectly executed in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series which illustrates Leroy’s very own life as a black officer working under a discriminatory institution after his father was assaulted by two police officers. The life of Leroy who is acted by John Boyega, demonstrates the black British experience and the battle of advocating better relationships between the police and minority ethnic communities in Britain. He explains to us that although there has been some improvement by the implementation of more officers being recruited from diverse backgrounds and the creation of his charity Voyage that aims to inspire the young black millennial, even to this day “policing attitudes are going backwards”. There is more room for improvement within the police force for not only incorporating diversity but understanding the importance of it. He hopes the Small Axe series “inspires” everyone to realise the institutional racism that takes place within the police force and that is part of public and private institutions.

Source: Time Magazine. The True Story Behind Small Axe: Red, White, and Blue | Time Creator: S Goodwin, Will Robson-Scott
Copyright: Copyright 2019 S Goodwin

Speaking of public and private institutions, the picture is much bigger than the draconian stop and search enforcements. Institutional racism takes places in many different shapes and forms, a tall block of flats to be exact. On the night of June 2017, the Grenfell Tower situated in one of the wealthiest boroughs in London – Kensington and Chelsea, replicated the inferno of hell. With cladding material on the tower further escalating the fire to spread, 72 residents died in the blaze with no possibility of escaping. Understandably, the tragic event has put the matter of social housing at the forefront of public and government matters. However, with many Grenfell residents being from ethnic minority backgrounds, the question turned to whether the poor response, accountability and slow process by government, councillors, and the construction industry, was racially and socioeconomically motivated. Speaking to Yvette Williams, founder of Justice4Grenfell and witnessing the fire from her living room window, says she heard “a loud bang, screaming and residents shouting for help from their windows”. She also says that as the fire burned for 60 hours, it foreshadowed how slow the response from the government and councillors would be. The Grenfell Tower fire highlights two key important terms, class, and race. The question will always remain whether if residents within the building were a different race and social class, would the matter at hand have been handled much better? Most importantly, accountability is crucial, and it appeared that every political party was responsible for not standing in solidarity to the institutional racism that was evident in this event. Yvette being a proud Labour party member believes they have “failed” in representing what the party embodies – the representation of the working-class and diverse communities. She urges that they must “shut up and listen for once.”, to “listen to cries of the working-class communities” and ethnic minorities in Britain who are consistently neglected.

Copyright: KENDAL NOCTOR

This episode does not just revisit past events, but what is happening at this very moment. Coronavirus. We investigate the livelihoods of ethnic minority communities amongst the pandemic. Does institutional, structural, and systemic racism give reason to the disproportionate rates of infections and deaths of black and ethnic minority communities? The structural racism within the UK has had a greater impact on ethnic minorities, James Nazroo a sociology lecturer at the University of Manchester explains the reason behind the disproportionality. Nazroo explains that “these communities are at a greater risk because the way racism permeates our societies”, the disproportion operates in a number of ways, “it relates to the types of jobs and the geography of where they live”, which clearly shows the marked inequalities that separates minority ethnic communities from the wider society. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock Secretary State for Health and Social Care are aware of the significant risks these communities face, the majority of key workers being from these communities worked on the frontline in the pandemic in many risk-driven jobs. ONS data reports mortality rates for COVID-19 deaths at the start of the pandemic from the period 2nd March – 15th May 2020 was highest for males of Black ethnic background at 255.7 deaths per 100,000 population and low among White males at 87.0 per 100,000. Similarly, high rates for women of Black ethnic backgrounds were at 119.8 per 100,000 whereas women of White ethnic background were 52.0. The disparity in mortality rates is staggering, Nazroo believes the solution to tackle this is for public and private institutions to recognise the discrimination towards minority ethnic communities in the workplace, applying for jobs, geographical location, and the effects of gentrification. The impact of these inequalities is a catalyst for COVID-19 deaths among black and ethnic minorities.

This short documentary has brought awareness to the institutional racism that British public and private institutions exert. The very same issues 40 years ago regarding racial tensions in the UK, continues to permeate our society today. The racial injustice towards black and ethnic minority communities must be put to an end. No more inquiries. No more reports. It is time to hold accountability to the many elites that have gotten away with extrajudicial crimes. Racism in the UK remains as contentious as it was 40 years ago and even more. If these matters are not attended to then this question will remain at the forefront of discrimination in this country… As David Lammy puts “When? When? Just when will Black Lives Matter again?”

If you would like to find out more about the topics discussed in this episode visit:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s