The horrific murder of George Floyd happened on May 25th 2020 in Minneapolis; a pivotal moment which has led to global outrage expressed through social media posts, the circulation of petitions and protests. Recent events have not only highlighted issues in the US but they’ve also unearthed the systemic racism that exists in Britain too. The support in the UK so far has been immense, but there’s no doubt that this reaction has been much needed for some time now. Whilst it’s positive to see so many white people finally acknowledging racism, it’s crucial that during the quieter times when the media buzz has died down that we are continuing to speak out and counteract racism in our day-to-day lives.
Whilst it’s easy to point fingers at America when it comes to white supremacy (that redneck, Trump supporting stereotype springs to mind), the term is not as specific as we’d like to think and can be used as more of a blanket term. In DiAngelo’s book “White Fragility”, he explains it as a “useful term to capture the all-encompassing centrality and assumed superiority of people defined and perceived as white and the practices based on this assumption” (2018). With this definition in mind, refusing to acknowledge racism as an issue or not accepting your white privilege demonstrates white supremacy in itself. There are also countless times here in the UK that white people’s voices have been considered more important than black people’s voices, even if they’re both shouting the same thing.
In America, the immediate action that is needed to counteract racism is to control the police. #Defundthepolice has been circulating the internet, and for good reason, as the only way we can reduce their excessive power is if we defund and deconstruct the whole system. Orlando Patterson, head of Sociology at Harvard University said to the Harvard Gazette, “what’s needed is a complete re-thinking of police culture, and the tendency to see the communities they are serving as the enemy.” I couldn’t agree more. Not only is the system feeding white supremacy in the US, it has also now become so powerful that the department is almost acting autonomously from the state. That’s not to say that Trump is opposed to this (he’s very much an issue here too) but rather there is no control or restriction enforced on this department. Why else are we seeing countless black lives being taken and no change being instigated? America is not supposed to be a police state, so it needs to stop acting like one.
Whilst the power of the police force in the UK does not compare to that of the States, a concerning thought is that we could very well end up in the same boat. Similarly to the US, we have seen a damaging decline in youth services due to the department receiving a 70% funding cut in the last decade. Without vital services like these which directly work to help young people from predominantly disadvantaged backgrounds stay off the streets, what’s not to say our government will not end up resulting to the police force for “help”. It is true that the British police do not receive anywhere near the amount of funding as the American police force, however, some of the principles of the American call to “defund the police” can still apply here. As in the US, our government needs to invest more money into the community to help tackle the causes of crime.
A further issue that can be identified in the UK is how widespread racism really is within society, in that it’s engrained on an implicit level. Phrases I constantly see thrown around include, “well I know I’m not racist so I don’t need to get involved”, or “obviously I’m not racist, who doesn’t support equality”, and worse, “I’m not black so it doesn’t concern me?” These same people often wouldn’t admit that they are scared when encountering a black man on the street, or that they would rather sit with the group of white people in the smoking area of a night club instead of the group of black people. It is this type of implicit racism and white fragility that I think threatens the UK the most because it’s much more slippery to tackle. If white British people won’t even acknowledge we have a race problem, how are we meant to do the vital work of anti-racism in this country?
At its core, education is key in putting a stop to this mindset. I was babysitting a 5-year-old girl not more than a year ago, and whilst playing with her toys she suddenly came out with, “do you know the black boys in my class have silly names,” I asked her what was so silly about them, and that people could say the same about her name, to which she said, “but I have a proper name.” I was shocked that at the age of 5 she was already conceptualising distinctions like this but, more importantly, this shows how young we start forming our own individual biases and beliefs. We need to drastically improve racial studies in schools because children are never too young to start learning about race, in fact the younger the better! There are petitions (via the government website) everyone should sign that are for the inclusion of Black British History in our national curriculum. You can also email local schools for a more direct approach.
Whilst improving education is a first step in tackling institutional racism in the UK, unfortunately our overtly classist society remains a challenge yet to be tackled. Our country is run by entitled politicians who are living in a completely different world to the majority. Nonetheless, improving the education system to include Black British History is a vital first step to reduce the racial biases that people are taught to possess. Outside of this, however, a lot of white people in the UK still need to realise their own fragility, as you cannot eradicate racial bias without first acknowledging it. In terms of the Media, for the countless times I’ve had to encounter Cummings or, God forbid, Rees-Mogg, I’d like to see the same amount of black voices across the headlines until Britain starts owning up to its systemic racism.
By Emily Burge