The fault in Britain’s past
The definition of racism, according to Google, is — ‘Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the notion that one’s own race is superior.’ To say that a person is born racist would be wrong, as racism fundamentally stems from a belief system that is cultured over time.
In this article, let me show you three key points why, where and how racism hides in the U.K. :
Education of the history of the British Empire and its part in slavery.
The Windrush generation and the 1st signs of modern systemic racism.
The legal precedent that failed us.
The British Empire
As history goes, Britain has played a significant part in perpetuating racism as far back as 1554 by John Hawkins, widely acknowledged to be ‘the pioneer of the English slave trade’. Since then the country has had plenty of time and perfect opportunity to change the course of history on several occasions, some of which arose in some court cases such as:
The Cartwright case (1569) which had the effect of imposing limits on the physical punishment on slaves, rather than to express comment on the legality of slavery generally.
In Shanley v. Harvey (1763) where Lord Henley held judgment that as soon as a person set foot on English soil, he or she became free.
The Zong massacre case (1781) where an English slave ship sought reparations from their insurers for throwing 130 African slaves into the sea after it ran low on drinking water following navigational mistakes.
In each of these cases, the British Government had the opportunity to take a stand against the horrific acts that the people of their nation were committing. Instead, greed for cheap labour took hold resulting in over 300 years of overt slavery, until it was put to an end by the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. This was just an elaborate document that led to the indentured labour system, in essence, slavery by contract.
This does not excuse the fact that slavery is wrong!
The Windrush generation
After much reflection on my school years in the U.K., I realise now that the facts of historical events we refer to as the time of the British empire is taught from the view of the colonial Imperialist and is acceptable by mainstream media and society. For instance, one popular teaching suggests that the British perspective tended to portray British rule as a charitable exercise. Yes, the greatness of Britain stems from that period, but how ‘Great’ was it, and for who? The middle-class people of Britain who were living off slavery in the empire? Or the people emigrating from their colonised countries to the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ only to be treated as second class citizens as far back as the 1950s.
In 1958 Notting hill race riots erupted, and the continued unrest in ’81, ’85 and ’95 with the Brixton riots all could have been used as a catalyst to move towards a more equitable society. However, the U.K. continued to ignore the inequality and hide behind the institutional racism that didn’t promote the values of a modern-day Britain. For example, with a bit more research, I found that individuals from the Windrush generation were referred to as an incursion by the Government. Who also stated, steps needed to be taken to prevent further influx. What we essentially have when we undress the system is one that talks about race but not racism.
“Racism is seeing police cars drive past and always expecting them to pull up and do a stop and search.” — Anonymous peer.
The legal precedent that failed us
Systemic racism is a new word that I have come across; it refers to the rules, practices and customs once rooted in law. I originally started writing this article, hoping to find a specific authority to blame; let me show you what I mean:
The ‘sus law’ or ‘suspected person’ law was a stop and search law that permitted a police officer to stop, search and potentially arrest people on suspicion of them being in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824. In order to bring a prosecution under the act, the police had to prove that the defendant had committed two acts:
The first that established them as a “suspected person” (by acting suspiciously).
The second that provided intent to commit an arrestable offence.
Two witnesses were required to substantiate the charge, which was usually two police officers patrolling together.
While in theory, this law promoted the protection of the British population. What it allowed was the right to stop Black, Asian and Ethnic minority (BAME) individuals based on suspicion alone. This act was repealed in 1981, but with the introduction of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007, it was brought back into play.
From this, you can see that the system as a whole is flawed as the outcomes you get from any system are precisely the outcomes it is designed to give you. We continue tinkering with our legal and social legislation to try and improve it, when in fact we need to fundamentally change it at the core to make the desired level of reformation this country needs to drive a wider global change.
“Inherent racism runs so deep that some British people genuinely believe there’s nothing wrong with it” — Teni.
Below are just a few resources I have come across to educate myself; I would ask you to do your research as well, for the betterment of humankind.