"Systemic racism in the UK goes beyond policing and the criminal justice system."PHOTO CREDIT: WIKIMEDIA

In a recent interview, health secretary Matt Hancock denied that the UK was racist, and immediately came under fire for ‘ignorance’ from both Shadow Secretary of State for Justice David Lammy and Black Lives Matter activist Gary MacFarlane. Hancock has served the Conservative Party in ministerial positions since 2013 and from within the Cabinet since 2018. He was a minister in the governments responsible for the hostile environment, the Windrush scandal and the lack of housing regulations that facilitated the Grenfell fire. Not only is he not ignorant about racism, he orchestrates it.  To call him ‘ignorant’ is misplaced and sets a dangerous precedent. For Hancock to have avoided an awareness of British systemic racism, he must have been blindfolded and earplugged throughout his political career. He is not unaware. He is one of many who fervently deny that the UK is systemically racist, in order to avoid scrutiny and structural change.

"Tolerance does not call for anti-racism."

Systemic racism in the UK goes beyond policing and the criminal justice system. It is deeply embedded into our education, our housing, our medical care, our immigration policy. The country likes to emphasise its ‘tolerant’ attitude to minorities, expecting applause, and it is almost as if tolerance does not imply begrudgingly putting up with people you would rather not have in your country but cannot avoid. Tolerance does not call for anti-racism. The government’s supposed commitment to tolerance, but not to active anti-racism, perhaps provides some insight into why, three years on from the fire in Grenfell Tower that, according to the official figures at least, killed upwards of 72 people in their homes, the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding that facilitated the tragedy is still used in 313 buildings, 266 of them residential. All the right words were said to express so-called tolerance, and then Prime Minister Theresa May had primary school children plant two camellia bushes in the garden of 10 Downing Street as part of a campaign she called ‘Green for Grenfell’, but the system did not change. The residents of 266 other buildings are still living at risk and the process of re-housing those who lost homes and loved ones at Grenfell has been cruelly slow.

Zubaida Haque, interim director of race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, said in response to Hancock’s denial of UK racism that ‘the accusation of [the] Black Lives Matter protest is not about the public… it is about the government’.She went on to say that ‘It’s not the public that are detaining and deporting black and ethnic minority people. It’s not the public that are stopping and searching black young people 10 times more than white young people’. Whilst Haque was right to argue that British systemic racism is fuelled by government choices, there is no binary of, on the one hand, acts of racism by individuals, and on the other, systemic racism by government. We must hold our government to account for upholding and strengthening structures of systemic racism but we should also not underplay the role of the general public.

"This language consciously contributes to an anti-black narrative that portrays Black protestors striving for racial justice as criminals disturbing the peace."

The racial wage gap is one of the clearest signs of systemic racism in our society, in which employers and consumers, as well as government, are complicit. In 2018, Pakistani and Bangladeshi employees were on average paid 20% less than white British employees in similar occupations and with similar educational characteristics. UK-born black African employees were paid 7% less than the white British employees in the same year. What is more, employers are aware that they can exploit immigrant or non-white jobseekers, because the government does not clamp down, but also because the public continue to buy their products. A 2015 inquiry by the University of Leicester into so-called ‘dark factories’ of Leicester’s garment industry found that the majority of employees, most of whom are non-white, were being paid less than the minimum wage and were often working in unsafe conditions. These factories supply the fast-fashion brands like Boohoo who advertise UK production and whose popularity with the British public is booming. 

Seeing people of colour in government should not reassure us of equality of opportunity for all despite other forms of systemic racism. Nor does the existence of non-white individuals in positions of authority mean they will work against systemic inequality. The current Cabinet has three non-white ministers, including Home Secretary Priti Patel, who this year introduced a points-based immigration bill that discriminates against ‘low-skilled workers’ and therefore disproportionately against non-white prospective immigrants. Patel also on Sunday condemned as ‘utterly disgraceful’ the pulling down of major slave trader Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, which she called ‘sheer vandalism and lawlessness’. This language consciously contributes to an anti-black narrative that portrays Black protestors striving for racial justice as criminals disturbing the peace.


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The UK is no ‘post-racial society.’ It is not even moving towards becoming less systematically racist. Hate crime rates have more than doubled since 2013. Stop-and-search became more common against all ethnic minority groups apart from white and Chinese people between 2014 and 2019, and Black individuals are almost ten times more likely to be searched than white individuals. This is the country where, in the last 10 years, the Windrush scandal, the Grenfell fire and the hostile environment are symptoms of a very deep set racism. It will not do to keep up a farce of ignorance. Here are the facts. It is high time we act on them.

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