Is modern day Britain a racist society?
Richard Overington 22/10/2002
General Studies Coursework: “Is modern day Britain a racist society?”
Whether or not modern day Britain forms part of a racist society is a very complex question to answer. This is because first and foremost it needs to be established what defines a racist society. In order to reach a conclusion should we compare levels of racism in modern day Britain to those of British society say, fifty years ago or should we compare them to other contemporary societies? Further more, the issue prompts the question of whether or not a non-racist society is in fact an achievable ideal. Is racism and prejudiced in fact part of human nature or it is a concept that we ourselves have helped to create by our constant focus upon the matter?
Regardless of such questions one thing is for sure, whether or not it encapsulates the majority of our society racism still exists to varying degrees within Britain. Almost daily we are able to hear news of discrimination in the workplace and racially motivated crimes . There have been over twenty-five racially motivated murders in mainland Britain since 1991 and in a survey carried out in 1995 over 15% of blacks or Asians were said to believe that racism was a motivating factor in crimes committed against them. This is in comparison to a figure of 1% of white victims of crime.
In 1997/1998 figures given by the commission for racial equality show that police recorded just fewer than 13,900 racially motivated crimes in Britain. The worry is that this figure could in fact be much higher due to the high proportion of victims who feel too frightened to report such incidents for fear of retribution. Although the bulk of racial crimes were of low importance, in terms of police rankings incidents such as verbal abuse and low cost criminal damage can in fact be the most hurtful to the victim. This is because such a type of crime can be found to recur on a frequent basis. Author of “Challenging Racism” Craig Donnellan writes,
“Children suffering racism and abuse can often find it as hard to talk about as those suffering physical or sexual abuse.”
And this it seems is a problem that exists across the board. Even though in past decades laws and regulations have been put in place to eradicate racism in all walks of life, in reality many of the victims of such abuse are still to afraid to speak out and thus the problem is swept under the carpet.
However these facts do not prove that we live in a racist society. It has to be said that despite the apparently large amount of racist hate crime in Britain today the state of affairs we see today, still represents progress. Although racism does still exist in many schools and work places today, compared to Britain as it was in the early part of the 20th Century we can observe a drastic change in attitudes towards racism. This is mainly due to the massive shift in the attitudes of society as a whole since that time. In the 1930’s for example it would not of been frowned upon to refer to an Afro-Caribbean as a “nigger” nowadays the use of such derogatory language to describe another ethnic race would be deeply frowned upon, in fact it is an arrestable offence especially in such public institutions as sports stadia where the previously problematic issue of racial abuse from the terraces has been almost completely wiped out in this country. Further more, children in schools are no longer taught uniquely about the Christian religion in Religious education. Its now mandatory for all pupils to learn about the many different cultures and religions that exist across Britain and indeed the World. It is hoped by the government that a better understanding between the races will in turn lead to better relations between them. The Commissioner for racial equality in Wales, Ray Singh is quoted as saying,
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“It has to start at the very bottom in education, where teachers should have the education and training to deal with racism and bullying and educate children that they are all the same.”
This of course is not to be seen as a one-way effort. Mr. Singh adds that willingness is needed also on the part of Britain’s ethnic minorities to try and conform to a more British way of life,
“Bangladeshi girls are told to do domestic science at school because they will be getting married soon and there will no point becoming a lawyer or doctor, this type of attitude has to go.”
And to a certain degree Mr. Singh is right. In many ways it is a lack of tolerance and understanding towards the way in which many Asian people are committed to their religious way of life that makes them more likely to be the victim of racist hate crime than their black African and Caribbean counterparts.
Events in America on September the 11th 2001 have not served to help this and have helped develop of newly created tension between the West and Asia. Further more it’s possible to argue that the reason why white Britons feel more distant from their Asian counterparts than those that are black is because it is difficult to name many British Asian icons which young Britain looks up to. The British charts are littered with many successful Black artists; Craig David, Miss Dynamite, and The So Solid Crew to name but a few and the same is true of British sport whereby football players like Emile Heskey and Ashley Cole are just two of the Black superstars to grace the English premier league. In contrast, famous British Asian are much harder to name. English cricket captain Nasser Hussian is one of the British Asian role models that it has to be said, makeup what is most certainly a minority area within the media and sports worlds. Whether this is because discrimination has made it harder for British Asians to achieve fame and success in modern day Britain is separate issue and hopefully in 40 or 50 years time we will be able to look back and analyse a progress of integration made by the Asian community similar to that of the progression made by Britain’s Black subjects.
Another factor that is holding back the eradication of racism within our society is the way in which the concept, which advocates so-called equality between the races in many ways, seems not to have achieved this. The reality of the situation is that now the law seems to view racism as a type of crime solely committed by whites on blacks, which agitates Britain’s white community and ironically increases racial tensions. Although this is true in the majority of cases there is still a vast amount of racial tensions between ethnic minorities, which goes largely unnoticed. Britain today has a vast and diverse ethnic makeup as the diagram below outlines.
It is therefore unsurprising that there are also a lot of racial tensions between these different ethnic minorities yet the media seems to fail to acknowledge this. Ying Ma a Chinese-American citizen and campaigner against ‘black racism’ refers to this type of inter ethnic prejudiced as
“The hate that dare not speak its name.”
She believes that politicians are afraid of confronting such an issue because they are afraid of being victimised by the leaders of ethnic groups. In her experience, black on black racism is a newly evolved phenomenon, which is increasing across much of America, Europe and the rest of the developed world.
“In what passes for discussions on race these days, small problems are often blown up large, while real traumas are completely ignored. For instance, despite what President Clinton’s "Race Initiative" panel has said, the very rawest racial conflicts in present-day America don’t even fit into the tidy mould of white-majority-oppressing-coloured-minority that activists constantly promote. Though civil rights groups and most of the media studiously ignore this fact, the nation’s most fractious racial battles are now conflicts between minority populations. Particularly horrific is the animosity directed at Asian Americans by blacks in low-income areas of urban America.”
The same situation can be found here in Britain, particularly in the urban city centres and areas such as Brixton that have high populations of Asian, Africa and Caribbean Blacks, Jews, and other ethnic minorities such as Eastern Europeans Iraqi’s and Turks along with native White Europeans. And, similarly, the problem is more often than not ignored by the media and in many cases the police. It begs the question, are we as a society not making the problem of racism worse by treating it hypocritically and focusing constantly on the White, British, male as the perpetrator of such prejudiced? Surely by acting in such a way we will only antagonise Britain’s White population and omit all other factors other than racism as a cause for the problems that many non-white Britain’s experience in their day-to-day lives. In many instances it is poverty and social depravation in city centres, where the majority of ethnic minorities are nucleated, which causes young Black children to underachieve academically. This is not so say that such problems don’t need to be addressed, just that their causes need to be more carefully analysed and care needs to be taken to make sure that the government does not blame racist behaviour simply because it is the easiest option stopping it from tackling the more difficult issues of unemployment and urban decay and in any case the issue of racism in education is to some degree untrue as this extract from the commission for racial equality’s website proves;
“Although it was formerly the case that many black children underachieved at school - in large part because of racism - now some black children do better than their white counterparts and appear to put a higher premium on education. A London study of 1400 pupils found that, although African-Caribbean children did less well at primary school, by the time they took GCSE, they performed as well as white pupils - and Asian pupils did better than white pupils.”
From and religious and cultural perspective it is also possible to conclude that in essence Britain is not a racist society. Unlike many foreign countries, Britain is a country that advocates religious toleration and freedom of worship. The Church of England, the principle religious body in the country is totally non-discriminatory and has plenty of Black and even some Asian followers. In government there is increasing numbers of Black and Asian politicians in both the House Commons of and the House of Lords. This year Britain gained its first Black Cabinet minister when Paul Boateng was appointed minister for the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. When he was asked how he felt about such an honour he replied
“I don’t’ wish my race to be an issue in my appointment…I’d like to think that I have gained this job on my own merits”
His comments highlight yet another important point in the battle to make Britain a completely non-racist society. How can we ever have racial equality if the media still continues to categorise those in the public eye in such a way. The last thing on earth men like Martin Luther King would ever have wanted after their battles against what is generally agreed to be inhumane and horrifically racist treatment, would be that black people of our generation get jobs or achieve personal success merely because public pressure demands that a certain number of people from ethnic minorities are employed in certain posts. In a way this type of attitude is just as racist as those, which in the past have stopped young Black men and women from being employed in high paid jobs. It’s a difficult balance to achieve but it can be equally as dangerous to society if the scales shift in the other direction.
In conclusion therefore, it is my opinion that Britain is not a racist society but that racism does certainly exist within small proportions the community, in Britain. The media should be careful not to tarnish the majority of British people with the same brush as the small minority of racists. If they continue to do so then unfortunately this will only act to worsen the problem. Further more it is my belief that the majority of people in the country who are seen as ‘anti-foreign’ or ‘anti-black’ by the media do not in principle discriminate against people because of the accent with which they speak or because of the colour of their skin. Instead they are just trying to protect their British culture and heritage, which seems to be increasingly under threat as we strive towards being a 100% politically correct society. Modern day Britain is a should be a place in which people are allowed to practise their own religious beliefs and succeed in life without their colour or ethnic background becoming a barrier to them. We should however try to accept the fact that Britain itself will never become a 100% equal society because the reality of the situation is that all races are not equal, indeed no two individuals can and ever should be seen as equal. Each different person which lives in the U.K. today has within them their own unique qualities and faults and until we as people, not as different races learn to respect one another on individual merit we will continue to see ‘racism’ as a problem which blights our everyday lives.