Background: Racism in the UK

Submitted by Anon on 16 May, 2006 - 12:00

By Mike Rowley

Detainees at Colnbrook maximum security removal centre have alleged racist abuse against hunger-striking detainees by private security guards.

The trial has begun of three men charged with murder and GBH following an attack on Black man Isiah Young Sam who died after being stabbed following disturbances in Birmingham.

An Asian taxi driver was racially abused and punched after picking up five people in Colne, Lancashire. The attack is the latest in a series of racist attacks on taxi drivers in the area.

Robert Torto, 32, has been charged with three counts of arson with intent to endanger life and two charges of murder following arson attacks on Asian-run shops in south London.

Azbaa Dar has gone into hiding from British immigration officials after her family was deported to Pakistan, arrested by military police on arrival in Islamabad and tortured.

The above are examples of media reports of racism over just one day — the day of the local elections last week.

The election of BNP councillors last week will undoubtedly increase the fear of violence which many non-white people in Britain live with on a daily basis. In every case where fascists have achieved an electoral success, the number of racist attacks has significantly increased: in Burnley, Oldham, Dagenham and other places.

There is already a serious and growing problem with racist violence in this country. According to the Institute of Race Relations, there have been eighty-one murders with a known or suspected racial motive since 1991; and forty-one of those have been committed since 2000. This statistic does not include the killings of Brian Douglas, Joy Gardner and Jean-Claude de Menezes by the police, nor does it include the eight people who have killed themselves in despair in the prisons for asylum seekers first set up by the racist Tory government, and maintained by a Blair government which thinks that racism gets them votes.

Many racist attacks are random, such as the assault last week by a racist gang on three people enjoying a walk in a park in Eltham. Others take place within local communities. It is estimated that 50% of victims of racist violence know the attackers, and 20% of all racist attacks are carried out by people on their neighbours. And more depressing still, 50% of racist attacks are carried out by children or young people.

Racism affects people’s daily lives. Black and Asian respondents to a recent survey reported altering their patterns of movement to avoid racists; only letting their children out in pairs, or not letting them out to play at all, in case of attack; only going out in the garden after dark. The forces of “law and order” are failing to give people the protection which is their due.

The scale of the problem is very big. According to the British Crime Survey, 280,000 racially motivated crimes were committed in 1999, of which more than four-fifths were not even recorded by the police. In the year 2000-01 the police recorded 53,090 racist crimes, of which just under a third involved violence. Taking into account the likely true figure for racist crime, there are probably around 90,000 racist assaults each year.

Asian people are most likely to be a victim of racist crime, especially since the September 11th attacks in America were used by fascists and other racist organisations, including national newspapers, as a pretext for the scapegoating of “Muslims”. The result of this has been a substantial rise in attacks against not only people of Muslim background but all Asians. For example, the reaction of racists in Kent to September 11th was to firebomb the local Sikh Gurdwara.

However, there is no doubt that attacks on Asian people because of their religion — real or supposed — are becoming a major problem. There has also been a notable rise in anti-semitic attacks, and concerns have been voiced that anti-semitic programmes put out on Syrian and Egyptian TV are available in Britain.

Police figures reveal a significant, though much smaller, number of “white” people who have been victims of racist attacks — figures seized on with delight by the BNP. However, the police category of “white people” in the routine annual reports on racist crime includes Jews, Kosovars, Roma people and all Eastern Europeans — among the targets of the most vicious hatred from the BNP and other racists.

Since the Macpherson Report into the institutional racism in the London Metropolitan Police which let the racist murderers of Stephen Lawrence go free, police reporting of, and policy on, racist crime has improved. However, since then the level of racist violence has not fallen but increased, and many people reporting racist crime encounter an unhelpful or downright hostile attitude from the police.

The police force remains riddled with racism. Years after the Macperson Report, a Channel Four undercover documentary showed organised racism in a police recruitment centre. Only last week, it was announced that Hertfordshire police were to be investigated for circulating racist emails. The number of ethnic minority police officers remains very small, and there is undoubtedly a racist attitude among many police officers that the words “black” and “criminal” are synonymous (and, nowadays, that all Asians are potential terrorists).

This situation has not been helped by the government. Police powers have been extended, supposedly to combat terrorism; but the real consequences of giving blanket powers to the police have been made unambiguously clear.

Last year ultra-Blairite Home Office minister Hazel Blears said publicly that Muslims could expect to be targeted disproportionately for police “stop and search” because the terrorist threat was “coming from” the Muslim community; and she wasn’t even reprimanded. And, of course, the London police murdered Jean-Charles de Menezes because he was running away from them and looked foreign: obviously, therefore, a suicide bomber!

Although with one hand the Blair government have ordered longer sentences for crimes with a racial element and created a “task force” to tackle racist, sexist and homophobic crime, with the other they have enacted even more legislation against asylum seekers. People seeking asylum have been deprived of the right to work, isolated from the community, locked up and deported. Those who are not imprisoned are forced to survive on a starvation level of support, left on their own with no support, even made homeless: and so they become easy targets for racists.

Meanwhile, the government accepts, or at any rate does nothing to reject, racist media stereotypes of immigrants as “scroungers”, a drain on the economy of Britain. Such behaviour can only increase racism and play into the hands of organised fascists like the BNP. Nothing is being done to prevent the most apalling racism being endlessly repeated in the press, with headlines linking asylum and terrorism commonplace.

Violence and other racist crime is not, of course, the only manifestation of racism in Britain. Much racism is economic. All minority groups have a higher proportion of their members living in unfit housing than whites; the highest proportion is that for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis with 23%, four times the rate for white people. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis also have the lowest household income in Britain (60% are defined as having “low incomes”, and over 80% live in households with less than half the national average income; for no other ethnic group is the figure above 50%) and the highest levels of unemployment. Unemployment for all non-whites is twice what it is for whites.

Women are especially disadvantaged: while every group except Pakistanis and Bangladeshis has half its women in employment, for Pakistani women the figure is 26% and for Bangladeshi women, 15%. 40% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi men and 27% of Black Caribbean men between the ages of 16 and 24 are unemployed, compared to 12% for white men in this age group.

In education, the school system is failing most children from ethnic minority groups. A 1998 Ofsted study, “Educational inequality: mapping race, class and gender” found that of all groups, Black African and Caribbean children began school with the highest educational attainments and left at 16 with the lowest.

The organised labour movement has a major role to play in the struggle against racism. A recent TUC pamphlet, Working against racism: the role of trade unions in Britain, urges unions to take an active part in the struggle against racism; to enshrine anti-racism in all collective agreements; actively to recruit black and other minority workers, especially in the casual and service sectors; to ensure that black and other minority workers become activists and leaders on the union movement; and to build links with black and other minority communities by supporting community campaigns.

Obviously such a programme requires a general shift to grass-roots trade unionism and greater organising. The existence of one or two Bill Morrises at the top of the trade union movement does not guarantee anti-racist struggle on the ground, however many good pronouncements and interventions the leaders may make. The labour movement, the movement of the basic exploited class in capitalist society, has a basic duty of solidarity with the oppressed. It has the potential to organise a great integrated movement of solidarity with minorities, women, gays and lesbians and workers in struggle, rejecting attempts to divide workers on the grounds of prejudice fighting together to win all our battles. It is only in this way that we can push back reaction and and destroy racist ideas in our society.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.