OPINION: Is Britain Racist?
Written by Joe Strong.
The tragic death of George Floyd, a 46-year old black man from Minnesota, has reignited racial protests in America and in other countries all over the world. Floyd lost his life in police custody, after white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. George Floyd was unarmed.
The struggle for racial equality in the States has been going on a lot longer than most people can remember. African American film Director, Spike Lee, claimed that “this is nothing new, what we’re seeing here has been going on for over 400 years”.
The violent protests we are seeing now are probably the worst since the Los Angles race riots of 1992, where four police officers were acquitted for the excessive arrest and beating of black man, Rodney King.
Long after the civil rights movement (1954-1968), black people are continually on the receiving end of systemic racism and police brutality in the US.
Just months before George Floyd’s death, another African American man, Ahmaud Arbery, was shot dead whilst jogging back in February. He was also unarmed.
People have often associated this type of racism as being exclusive to the United States.
But does racism and prejudice of this type take place over the pond here in the UK?
In 2019, British rapper, Stormzy, was asked if he believed that Britain is still racist. He replied, “definitely 100% even if such racism is hidden”.
Recently, there have been calls made on social media for the UK education system to teach children about the truths and realities of British Imperialism and Colonialism.
Let us not forget that Britain played a major role in the Atlantic slave trade.
Britain and Portugal were responsible for transporting around 70% of slaves from Africa to the Americas. The slave trade was carried out from many British ports with London, Bristol and Liverpool, being the main three.
British-American colonies demanded slaves, so the British granted African companies’ monopolies to trade in slaves to American colonies in exchange for weapons and other goods. This caused wars and hostilities between African villages that still go on to this day.
Eventually, the slave trade was abolished in 1807.
When the 13 colonies became independent in 1776, slaves were still traded, laboured and denied human rights on American soil, long after slavery was abolished.
The ‘Great British Empire’ itself, despite often being positively reflected on, was racist, savage and undeniably cruel.
At its height, it was the largest empire in history and had its colonies in the before mentioned USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and in India.
In History lessons, you were never taught about how the British rounded up the Boer people of South Africa into concentration camps and slaughtered nearly 30,000 of them.
Or how millions of Indian people died because of famines caused by the British. In 1943, four million people from Bengal died of starvation when Winston Churchill diverted food from India to British soldiers fighting on the European front.
The British Empire was responsible for wiping out aboriginal tribes from all over the world.
Britain reduced the indigenous population of Australia by 90%. This was mainly through the introduction of new diseases, direct and violent conflict between indigenous people and colonizers, and through the sexual abuse and exploitation of Indigenous girls and women.
The British Empire is certainly not something to look back on in a positive light. Britain terrorised indigenous people all over the globe, destroyed their cultures and reaped many countries of their resources and materials.
But in what ways has Britain displayed racism in more modern times?
The Windrush generation refers to people who moved to Britain from the Caribbean between 1949 and 1973. These people could move ‘freely’ to the UK because the Caribbean was part of the British Commonwealth at the time.
However, in 2012, the government’s ‘hostile environment policy’, announced that it would make conditions ‘unlivable’ for undocumented migrants in the UK, in hope that it would force them to leave.
Most of the people from the Windrush generation moved in the UK as children under their parents’ passports and most of the documents, like landing cards, were destroyed over time.
It was, therefore, impossible for these people to produce required documents and they were wrongly detained, deported and were denied their legal rights.
The ‘hostile environment policy’ is still in place now.
These people, who essentially did nothing wrong at all, were blatantly discriminated against by the British government.
The UK is no stranger to police brutality controversy either. Mark Duggan, a 29-year old black man, was shot dead by Metropolitan Police in Tottenham. His death sparked nationwide riots back in 2011.
While attempting to arrest Duggan on suspicion of planning an attack, a police officer shot and killed Duggan. It was believed by the police that Duggan was in the possession of a handgun.
Duggan’s death was ruled a lawful killing; however, critics have accused the police of misconduct and claimed the police failed to cooperate with investigators on several occasions.
Furthermore, statistics gathered between 2017 and 2018 suggest that Metropolitan Police officers were four times more likely to use force against black people than white people.
At the time of writing, British Black Lives Matter protests are taking place all over the country, in response to the death of George Floyd.
Last Sunday, the Statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave owner, was torn down and thrown into the harbour.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, described the incident as a “criminal act”. However, many have challenged Johnson and have claimed that the statue is just a symbol of racism and cruelty. The incident really has divided opinion.
Whether Britain is as racist as other countries is another matter entirely. But being less racist is ultimately still racist.