We’re In Denial About Racism In The UK

Gina Miller

by June Eric-Udorie |
Published on

** Recent high-profile incidents of racial abuse have generated shock headlines. But we're in denial about discrimination in the UK, argues June Eric-Udorie**

This week, Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris was suspended after she used the N word in the House of Commons. Just days later, MP Diane Abbott, the first black woman elected to Parliament, recounted the vitriolic racist abuse she has received throughout her parliamentary career. Then came the news that Rhodri Phillips, the 4th Viscount St Davids, had been convicted of sending menacing messages after calling anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller a 'f--king boat jumper,' adding, 'If this is what we should expect from immigrants, send them back to their stinking jungles.'

While it might have been a wake-up call for some, as someone who lives, works and moves through the world as an immigrant and a young black woman, I was not surprised. I feel the sting of Britain's racism every day. There are the daily micro-aggressions: strangers touching my hair without permission; co-workers gossiping about how I and the other black girl in the office intimidate them; being asked to say my name again and again.

Then there are the more 'obvious' forms of racism: recent reports document that since last year's vote to leave the European Union, racial and religious hate crimes have risen by 23%. It feels as though this country, previously lauded across the world for its inclusivity and multi-culturalism, has been revealed as a very different place; one where social media spats descend into the kind of racial abuse usually associated with a bygone, unenlightened era, and where small Muslim children have 'ISIS' chanted at them in playgrounds. Brexit and Trump's election have encouraged the flourishing of attitudes not long ago deemed socially unacceptable by sending the signal that they're not shameful, but mainstream.

And yet, even when it seems so obvious to me and other people of colour who live in this country, there seems to be a total lack of will to address the problem.

It is difficult to start a conversation about race and racism in modern Britain today. The biggest obstacle is that we are always pointing fingers at America. We see headlines about police shootings and tell ourselves that such atrocities don't happen here. We seemingly forget that racism is written into the fabric of this country's history. We forget about 29-year-old Mark Duggan, who was shot dead by police in Tottenham in 2011. We ignore research that shows a disaproportionate number of black or minority ethnic people die in police custody in the UK compared to white people. We do not pay attention when people of colour speak up about the multifaceted ways we are discriminated against until it is too late, and then we are silent.

When reports of the Grenfell fire first came through, I lay restless in bed. I was angry that in one of the richest boroughs in the UK, immigrants, migrants and refugees - the vast majority of them poor and non-white - burned to death in their homes. Their deaths could have easily been avoided. It now stands as a symbol of how insidious racism in Britain strips rights and diminishes opportunities for the people of colour that call this island home.

If there's anything that recent events have demonstrated, it's that Britain still has a huge problem with race and racism. People of colour have known this for centuries but our experiences have typically been sidelined and we have been made to feel invisible. Now that hate-filled attitudes are increasingly venturing out of the shadows, it's time for the state and general public to stop revelling in so-called 'innocence' and step up.

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