Is there systemic racism in the UK? – Let’s delve deeper
Following George Floyd’s death in America, there has been a huge backlash with protests erupting in cities and towns across the globe, including here in the UK. It is evident that the world is fed up of racism and has decided that now is the time to take action for once and all.
In the US it is clear that George Floyd’s death was metaphorically the straw that broke the camel’s back. Yet, the movement’s demands for justice and better systems that prevent racism have travelled all the way across the Atlantic and reached the UK, but why?
What we are seeing now in the UK is a debate surrounding the question ‘Is there systemic racism in the UK?’ If there are not any issues with our system, then that may mean these disruptions, protests and demands for change are unjustified.
Before we begin I’m going to repeat what I said in my last article, “branding people as ‘racist’ for misunderstanding a complex matter can be reductionist, and cause a greater divide.” So let’s instead try to widen perspectives here.
Firstly, I think there are a lot of bad arguments being made from both sides of the fence on this topic. To claim that the consequences of systemic racism are as bad in current day UK as they are in the US is a very hard argument to make – simply put, the statistics are just a lot worse in the US. When this equal comparison is made, it can be unproductive because it is inaccurate and as a consequence, people may be pushed to the other side of the fence. At the moment we are seeing a pattern where these social debates are seen as either option A or option Z – but there are 24 other letters in between.
What is systemic racism?
To explain systemic racism, I think it helps to break it down into two core steps that result in the problem. Weirdly, I’ll start with the second step, because this is the most obvious one:
The second step is the one we can see apparent in today’s society, it’s the part of systemic racism that we can observe just by taking a walk through Peckham (UK) or through Brooklyn (US) – both poverty struck areas with large black communities. However, this racial inequality is far more than just visual, it’s also backed by statistics which show that black people are more likely to end up in prison, have poorer educations, fewer opportunities and so forth – I will expand on this later on. As you might expect these statistics could be credited as the result of black communities being in worse socio-economic groups and areas, but how did they get there?
Which brings me to the first step of systemic racism which is asking ‘what causes these black communities to be in worse socio-economic groups and areas in the first place?‘ To understand what I mean by this, take a look at the video below which explains what causes systemic racism in the US before we go on to take a look to see if a similar systemic explanation to racial inequality can be found in the UK.
Do current UK statistics seem to indicate systemic racism?
For my analysis, I am going to avoid using anecdotal evidence, in other words, personal experiences of racism in the UK. But to clarify, I am in no way dismissing the existence of these problems and that people are singled out for their physical attributes, however, my focus here is solely on statistical evidence.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report in 2016 called ‘Healing a divided Britain, the need for comprehensive race equality strategy’. In this report they argue, with supporting data, that action needed to be taken to bridge the racial inequality that exists in our country. Here are some of their findings:
- White people are more likely to be employed than black people. 74.7% employment rate vs. 59.3%.
- Black people are more likely to live in poverty than white people. 39.9% vs. 17.2%.
- Black people are less likely to attend a top university (Russell group) than white or mixed/Asian people. 6% of black people vs. 12% of mixed/Asian or 11% of white.
- White males are more likely to get a good degree once in university than black males (1st or 2nd class). 73.5% vs. 46.2%.
- White people are more likely than black people to get a managerial position in work. 10.7% vs. 5.7%.
- Hate crime is primarily race motivated and grew between the years of 2013/14 and 2014/15. 82% of hate crime has a racial motivate, and the numbers went from 44,471 in 2013/14, to 52,528 in 2014/15. An increase of 18%.
Now, these are just some of the statistics available in the report but evidently the findings do indicate that racial inequalities exist in the UK and are rife. Now for many people, these statistics would be in and of itself enough evidence that there is a systemic racism problem in the UK, but I wanted to investigate further.
There is no denying that black people in our country are statistically more likely to be in poor socio-economic groups which leads to racial biases where we associate poverty, crime and poor education with black people. As you might expect this association perpetuates inequalities further and causes black people in the UK to statistically be likely to continue falling into poor socio-economic conditions, which overall resembles a cyclic class divide. On the other hand, it could be argued that regardless of race the common consequence of poor socio-economic conditions is that the generations which follow also remain stuck in those conditions.
Some might make the point that perhaps it was not our system that put some black communities in these poorer conditions in the first place, especially those communities who immigrated to the UK. Those who immigrated here could have qualified as below the poverty line from their comparative wealth between the UK and their home country. If that is to be the case then it could be argued that the UK system does not always play a role in causing a racial poverty divide but actually that the opportunities available here are better than elsewhere. However, don’t get carried away because there are a number of holes in this argument and to point them out we need to now take a look at step one of systemic racism.
Why do black people fall into worse socio-economic groups in the first place?
If we give the system the benefit of the doubt and assume that the above statistics of inequality can be solely explained by socio-economic conditions – which already, is a bit of a stretch! Then let’s ask ourselves “why are black communities more likely to exist in worse socioeconomic groups in the first place? Has the UK as a country and a system played a role in this?”
I think to explain why this has happened it’s impossible to ignore the British Empire’s role in Africa. This part will no doubt be controversial to some people, which I think is primarily because of the rhetoric we tell surrounding the British Empire and the psychological impact this has on our citizens.
For some people, it has been drilled into them their whole life that the great British Empire was the height of what a country can aim for and so this will indeed manifest itself in forms of ‘great’ patriotism around the acts of the British Empire causing cognitive dissonance. I want to draw attention to this because this is part of some British people’s identities and it’s part of the UK’s mentality we should address, even if it’s difficult.
Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling people experience when they come across information which conflicts with their beliefs and ideas, often followed by people dismissing such information to hold onto their beliefs.
The UK’s History
Let’s start with the basics, Europe as a continent advanced sooner than Africa did, and while many countries took to expanding around the world, few were as famous for their conquests as the British Empire. Africa is a huge continent full of many riches in the forms of minerals and other desired goods, and yet somehow it ended up as one of the poorest continents and remains that way today. When people say ‘poverty’ or ‘starving children’, where does your mind go?
As we know, a significant part of the UK and Africa’s history is the slave trade. Between 1650 and 1900, 10.2 million enslaved Africans were imported to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade. The majority of these captured in raids and wars. Britain was, undeniably, one of the biggest participators in the transatlantic slave trade.
On the other hand, Britain was also a force behind outlawing the slave trade in the early 1800s and actually contributed financial efforts towards stopping it in 1835 when the government took out a £15m loan (the equivalent of £17bn today) which was only just fully paid back in 2015. Although bear in mind that that money was not paid to the slaves but instead to compensate slave owners for their loss of human property. This means that black citizens who have paid taxes within the UK before 2015, were actually contributing towards a payment made to the people who enslaved their ancestors, just to have their ancestor’s liberty returned to them.
The British Empire also did not stop using other methods after slavery ended to colonise Africa and make a substantial profit from the land, which indisputably contributed to the struggles African nations have continued to face as they still try to economically recover.
Anybody who claims The British Empire only did good or bad, is wrong, it’s not that simple. When we look at what is known to have caused a large part of Africa’s poverty in modern times it is credited as being because of ‘The Scramble for Africa‘. Where European powers, scrambled to colonise, invade, occupy, and divide Africa between 1881 and 1914. The British Empire was one of the most successful of these European powers.
In defence of the British Empire, some raise the point that whilst invading these countries we also brought many forms of tools and technology with us. This is true, however, it is hard to prosper from the advancements when the economic policies that govern your community are designed only to benefit whichever European country managed to ‘win’ your section of Africa. Very quickly, European nations began making farms and mines throughout the continent and used the native residents as cheap labour. I’ll let you guess which countries prospered from this.
So how does this apply to the racial inequality statistics we see in the UK today? Well, this means that modern-day immigrants from the continent who fall below the poverty line when they come to the UK, do so because The British Empire and other European countries reaped the wealth and resources from their lands for themselves.
It is an extremely complex issue with many factors at play, however, to simplify the main reason why the British Empire was so successful is ultimately because of the resources (including people) they stole whilst raiding other lands – although this is in and of itself another complex issue.
Now skip forward to, the ‘Windrush Generation.’ After the second world war, many countries needed workers to repair the damage and help restart the economy, the UK included. We encouraged mass immigration from the countries which remained in the British Empire and Commonwealth to fill shortages in our labour market.
Those who immigrated over were called the ‘Windrush Generation’, coined after the name of one of the ships which transported them. The British Nationality Act of 1948 gave citizen of the Colonies status and the right to settle in the UK, however, many of the Windrush Generation have since been deported, wrongly detained, lost their jobs and homes, or denied benefits and medical care that they were rightly entitled to. This mistreatment is a disgrace which is still happening in 2020 and it is another contributor towards how the UK’s black communities have ended up in poor socioeconomic situations as the Windrush Generation and the generations which followed them were never given the rights and opportunities they earned as citizens.
There is, of course, something to be said about the fact that perhaps without what The British Empire did, we would not be where we are today, able to do something about racial inequalities in the first place. However, if you took the wealth from another person’s house, and used it to contribute towards building your own, is the fairest thing not to at least offer that person true equality within your home?
I now want to bring this conversation back around full circle, let’s summarise systemic racism again and the two steps – the second step being a race suffering from current face-value racism and living in poor socio-economic conditions which create a vicious cycle. The first step is the role of our system in being responsible for the second step occurring in the first place.
In this article, we have seen clear statistics that show how step two occurs within our society right now, and I’ve also put forward a number of examples of how the British government through its past, recent and present actions has contributed towards black people being subjected to these poor socioeconomic conditions in the first place (step one). Both step one and step two are the direct result of the UK’s actions in other countries by attaining the wealth of their lands, leading them to immigrate willingly and unwillingly here, and also within the UK’s own system and borders.
So now I ask, do you think this is enough evidence that the UK is systemically racist? If yes, we have a question to ask ourselves. Do we continue living in a wolf eat wolf world, where some get to prosper from the privileges gained by their ancestors who advanced quicker and gained control of other parts of the world, whilst others live in poor conditions, fighting against corrupt systems that only seek to disadvantage them all because their ancestors were the price paid for the other group’s success?
I like to think we have we advanced far enough both technologically and morally as a species, to allow and fight for the rights of all people, regardless of their ancestor’s actions so that in the modern-day UK, everyone has equal opportunities and systemic racism could become a thing of the past.
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