Racism is the belief in the superiority of one people or nation over another. It is a narrow-mindedness that has evolved over history, and is not limited to one particular manifestation. For more than two decades, anti-racists have struggled to put the issue of institutional racism on the agenda (Back 2000) In the period from the Scarman inquiry of the early 1980s through to the last few months, the accepted wisdom was that police racism existed but it was a case of ‘a few rotten apples’.
To root out racism, all that was needed was a combination of better training and more ethnic minority coppers. People of colour face institutionalized racism that concentrates poverty and disadvantage in their communities and often denies them opportunities for meaningful participation in British public life. Institutionalized racism denies equal access to basic areas of daily life–services, opportunities and education. The battle against institutionalized racism has only been half won.
With references to the desegregation of the schools in America, the dismantling of institutionalized apartheid in South Africa, provide a lesson only in so far as they delineate the strategy of white power structures in maintaining their privilege by granting limited concessions. The fact is that these limited concessions, which come as the result of the sustained resistance of the oppressed and dehumanized, are granted only when it becomes apparent to the oppressor that they provide the only alternative to a prolonged revolt that may bring about the death of white privilege (Jacobs 2000)
The Macpherson report sought to investigate events surrounding the death of the Stephen Lawrence the black teenager who was stabbed at a bus stop in south-east London in April 1993. The blatant failure of London’s police to properly investigate the 1993 stabbing death of 17-year-old Stephen Lawrence and the arrogance of the five white youths accused of his killing have given racism an explosive energy. None of the suspects has been convicted. The report denounced London’s police force as fundamentally racist – prompting the Government to announce it would broaden anti-discrimination laws and make immediate changes in policing methods.
Sir William Macpherson (now retired) led the public inquiry into the Metropolitan Police Department, ultimately determining that institutional racism and police prejudice served to undermine justice for Stephen Lawrence and minorities in general. Ethnic minorities, mainly descendants of immigrants from India, Pakistan and other former colonies in the Caribbean now make up almost 7 percent of Britain’s 56 million people (Solomos 1996) but they are still poorly represented in many fields, including the military, police and the media.
Race relations have clearly deteriorated since the McPherson report pulled the veil away from the public’s eyes on the British establishments best kept secret, institutional racism. Institutional racism is shown in the clear patterns of differential policing meted out on a systematic basis against black people. The whole criminal justice system then compounds those racist patterns. Black events, black areas, black meeting places are targeted for special policing.
Black people are four to five times more likely to be stopped and searched. In the last ten years, 35 black people have died in police custody in suspicious circumstances. (Parrekh 2000) When black people complain of about their rights, the whole criminal justice system – from the Police Complaints Authority and the Crown Prosecution Service to the judiciary – compounds the racism by closing ranks. No one gets found guilty of racism, no one gets suspended or punished and charges are never brought following a violent death in custody.
All of these practices point to an institutional culture of racism nurtured in the top ranks, spread through the canteen culture and reinforced in the unhealthily close relationship between police press officers and the press. As a result, black people are rarely seen as victims of crime, which in turn means that racial violence is never taken seriously enough. Last year, the Household Division, an elite army unit that guards Queen Elizabeth II, was accused of “institutionalized racism” and ordered to boost recruitment of minorities.
Home Secretary Jack Straw has also told every police force in the nation to hire more Asian and black officers. Racism in Britain is systematic discrimination against people of color. It is institutionalized – it is built into British society. For example, in mid-2001, 5% whites were unemployed vs. 12% blacks. For Pakistanis & Bangladeshis, it was 18%. Black children are more likely to excluded from school than white. The police in every part of Britain are more likely to pick on blacks than white. Blacks are more likely to be sent to prison than white for the same offense.
There are thousands of racial incidents each year (harassment, attacks, killings, deaths in custody). 23,000 such incidents were reported to and recorded by the police in England & Wales (Parekh Report, pg 127) but of course far more incidents are not reported. The fact that assaults & killings involving Blacks & Asians evoke so little media interest and public outrage is the clearest indicator that racism is taken for granted in the UK and Europe. The very presence of a black person is enough to trigger race hate and provoke an attack (as in case of Stephen Lawrence).
The constant racist harassment, abuse and discrimination encountered by Black people in their daily lives create great mental and psychological distress, loss of self-worth and a barrier to total fulfillment. Eradicating racism does not require bureaucracies, special departments, lofty intellectual analysis. What’s called for is a change of heart, an acknowledgment of the common humanity of all people.
Racism is ultimately sanctioned or tolerated by those with power. Supporting victims is fine but that is dealing with the effects. Without recognizing that racism is institutional ingrained in legislation and in administrative polices at central and local level, all the equal opportunity policies in the world are doomed to failure. ” (Back 2000) A productive debate on race & equality must address the causes that give life to racism and to the principal entities that fuel discrimination and race crime. The state has the greatest power to oppress minorities in many ways. State racism must be the priority and we need to be alert about the deflection of the core issues by state officials.
Others who fuel racism are the media, the politicians (playing the race card) and racist & fascist parties like the BNP & NF. Institutional discrimination by employers, state bodies (including immigration, police, courts, prisons) is the bedrock of the racist system. Institutional racism is still systemic in Britain’s police forces, politics and the media… deaths in custody are disproportionately high for ethnic minorities… (there are) consistent inflammatory attacks on migrants and asylum seekers to the Uk.. (Report from the 43-nation Council of Europe April 2001)
Politicians and the national media (nearly all of them rightwing) have little sympathy for minorities and in fact have stoked up race hate by railing against the weakest and most vulnerable (asylum seekers, state benefit holders, etc). For example plans had been unveiled to improve the immigration process. Some groups, however, have expressed concerns about it. For example they fear that this plan will allow immigration officers more power than before to detain and increase the number of asylum seekers whose appeals have been refused.
Also, one idea was to place more checks by liaison officers at the ports and airports of the countries that the asylum seekers are leaving. This, some people believe, would prevent genuine asylum seekers being able to flee their country where human rights violations may be taking place. Even though the number of people seeking asylum in UK is not as large as some other countries in Europe, UK’s current process means that the prison-like asylum centres house people who may be waiting up to seven years before their case can be heard.
No senior politician or church cleric will publicly condemn a race attack or death in police custody, or attend the funeral of the victim or condole with the relatives. In January 03, Det Cons Stephen Oakes was killed by a ‘terrorist’ while he was making inquiries. PM Tony Blair attended the funeral. A racist killing does not invite attendance of a senior politician at his funeral.
The pervasive racism within the police force cited by Macpherson is not simply a reflection of a general phenomenon within society. In a nation such as Britain with an imperial past, racism is an essential means through which workers are divided and their oppression is maintained. When it was thought that the public inquiry would primarily concentrate on the actions of a few racist thugs, the establishment and its media were happy to lend their support. However, they will not tolerate anything that throws a question mark over their most cherished institutions.
In my view Ethnic Minorities legitimately expect from the State & the Media to co-exist as equals with the indigenous people of Britain, t heir histories and achievements to be given due recognition in education, public libraries furthermore o have reasonable access to the media and be depicted fairly, to be treated justly by the police & other bodies and to feel safe and secure in their homes and in public places. For example, a government report, Ethnicity & Victimization (1998), found that “Asians avoid pubs, night clubs and football matches because they are terrified of racist violence”.
Likewise, the fear of late night traveling deters many going to the theatre or cinema. Racial attacks, far from decreasing in their regularity, have shown a sharp increase in Britain over recent years. Specifically targeted has been the indigenous Muslim population, the memories of Badrul Mia and Shawkat Ali are still fresh in our minds. Statistics show that Muslims suffer the worst housing, highest unemployment, largest refusal of political asylum and highest rate of racist murders. Another problem is that narrowing the fight against racism to the question of violence alone abandons the problem of a racist capitalist society itself.
Instead, removed from the context of a racist society, racist attacks are portrayed as a problem of individual psychology. Racial violence can become a blanket term for any violence between people of different races–so that Blacks are seen to be as capable as whites of racist attacks. Racist violence loses its specific meaning, as violence caused by racial oppression, and becomes just another crime. The Commission for Racial Equality, in a 1994 study of unlawful segregation in housing by Oldham Borough Council, found that 71% of tenants on one rundown estate were Asian, while on a nearby modern estate only one resident was Asian.
So-called “freedom of the press” has allowed the government to create an atmosphere of hatred towards Muslims and Islam and has acted as a good excuse to bomb innocent Muslims in Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq thereby fulfilling Britain’s apartheid foreign policy and protecting their interests overseas. Branded as fundamentalists and militants every sincere Muslim is in danger of being arrested and harassed in today’s Britain.