We’ve reached a time where we are all “equal”, where racial slurs are something of a rarity and segregation a supposed thing of the past, out-dated and dumbfounded. In the public sphere this may seem so, however as people often say – no one knows what goes on behind closed doors. I am white and privileged and occasionally endure the inequalities that come with being a woman, but surrounded and embedded academically, socially and personally within minority cultures, it has led me to question equality along racial lines. It has led me to check my privilege and in turn, enabled me to help you check yours.
As 2014-15 statistics showed, black people were 4.2 times more likely to be stopped and searched under the ‘Section 60’ stop and search powers by police than their white counterpart in the UK.(1) Not to mention Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people were twice as likely to be stopped and searched under the same act. This statistic is one that terrifies me, given that Black, Asian and minority ethnic people currently make up 12.8% of the UK’s population.(2) I am sure many, if not all black readers can identify with this, but in the same passing breath, my white peers cannot. I, as a white person, have never had to consider what I’m wearing or how I may appear to a stranger for the fear of being stopped, searched or harassed by the same services employed to protect me, and especially not considered these violations on the basis of the colour of my skin. This, at surface level, is white privilege. BAME people currently make up 25% of the UK’s overall prison population, with Black British people making up 10% of that statistic despite only being 3% of the overall British population.(3) Comparing this with the harsh reality of America’s statistics, a 5:1 ratio seems a minor flaw.(4) However, when realising that the UK is but a fraction of the size of the US, in fact smaller than the state of California itself, this statistic becomes less palatable. Couple this with the number of ethnic minority deaths at the hands of police, which currently stands at one third of all police custody deaths since 1990,(5) the UK clearly experiences strong racial disparities.
We currently stand at a stalemate, where many white people are building various relationships with many BAME people, where there is no longer a considerable inherent dislike and ultimately no reason, in some white people’s minds, to believe black people are treated any differently to themselves. The white gaze of society has so successfully pulled the wool over our eyes where minority experiences are concerned, that we no longer feel a need to question even the smallest inequalities. As a result, if a minority friend or relation transparently experiences racism, the white friend automatically identifies as the sympathizer, an activist, inclusionist and definitely not a racist. This short-sighted experience has inevitably led to black frustrations and an inability to enter the discourse of racism with white people, even with their white friends.
No, especially with their white friends! An illusion of understanding race based discrimination has led white support to become highly offended if they are called out by black friends, instantaneously pronouncing a misunderstanding in their efforts to understand the struggle or support the fight for equality. This is highly problematic and also highlights the problem of the white persons’ understanding of racism as an overtly vocal racist approach as opposed to the underlying subtleties or systematic failures.
This is where this conversation begins as I attempt to bridge the gap between two conflicting ideas of what constitutes racism.
The White Gaze
As society becomes more multicultural, white people interact and encounter more and more racially mixed minorities. As the world becomes smaller and travel to foreign countries becomes the norm, culture is celebrated, experienced and as a result misappropriated. This is but another conversation, however the context in where we live is important in understanding “our” concept of racism. As history is something to not be repeated, white people, especially in the Western world, can look to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the USA Civil Rights Movement and Jim Crow Laws, and Apartheid South Africa, as continuous reminders of the atrocities our ancestors are liable for and how we should never re-enact or enable such treatment again. Separation of races and an understanding that darker skin equals “less of a person” is deemed a thought process of the past, possibly one enthralled with religious connotations of white as angelic and black as evil. So how if I am not engaging in racial segregations, verbal discrimination or maintaining such an ancient belief, am I racist? This is a question that every self-defensive white person continues to battle with, especially those immersed within their activism opposing racial inequalities.
It is through a lack of understanding that the full potential of racism has had and continues to have on our society, that white people are unable to progress further than surface level support of black and mixed ethnic peoples. It is through the continuous frustrations and daily inequalities that tirelessly wear away the patience of the black and mixed ethnic peoples that discourage BAME people to enter the discourse with white people. And so a stalemate occurs where neither side are able to articulate ones’ needs. Therefore, it is through this trajectory that I will attempt to aid white people in their understanding and BAME people in their discussion.
Understanding Systematic Racism
I should firstly state that I might not be the most qualified person to make such statements however; this is merely what I have come to learn and observe throughout my time as an activist for equal rights for ethnic minorities.
Slavery was abolished in the Britain in 1807(6), accordingly abolishing slavery in all British colonies by 1833(7) , however the results of enforced enslavement of people to work against their will and without pay, enabled intense riches on British soils the world over, some of which are still in function today.(8) Let me put this in a simpler format for those lacking in historical expertise. If your family served a wealthy family for generations, without pay or sufficient remuneration to one day be freed from the labour incurred, however were not given the opportunities to reach the same heights, via a good job, or expert education, and as a result were unable to come to reach the same riches of their former master, would this be a fair freedom? The simple answer is no.
Given that 1807 is far from recent history, many white people today feel less inclined to answer for their privileges based upon colonial wealth and refer to the fact that they have worked hard to get where they are at, which is more than likely to be true. However, it does not mean that their black or minority ethnic counterpart had the same equal chances in achieving what they have achieved. This is also not to suggest that black or minority ethnic people do not achieve, because of course they do, however, their chances are somewhat limited in comparison.
Let me take the example of CEO’s within FTSE 100 companies in the UK. The CEO’s of all banks in England are presently male, with only 4 BAME men in CEO positions of other FTSE 100 companies. The number for BAME women who have ever been in these positions still rests at 0(9). This shows in plain site the disparities between not only men and women but also in race. Although banks in England assume policies of diversity and inclusion, it is clear that such policies have not yet yielded the same chances for black and ethnic minority peoples as it has for white people. This institutional set up enables failure early on, and whether it is intentional or not, it is so and as a result is complicit in systematic racism.
“I think that it is quite easy for people to wriggle out of institutional racism because they’re like ‘well, it’s nothing to do with me’. But structures really are made out of people. We are all are participating in it. Its embedded in institutions and small organisations like our families and friendship groups that then reproduce racism on a massive scale.”(10)
Allowing one person of colour to the top, to sit amongst people who have no ideas on how inclusion works, or how it may feel to be there alone, is not true diversity or inclusion. I am not suggesting that we need to hire people based on their ethnic minority status or that we should hold back the potentiality of white people to allow for BAME people to take up those seats, however I am suggesting that there should be the same equal chance to achieve those same heights regardless of ethnicity or race. This should be supplemented with institutional aids to enable all members the same opportunities as if they were nothing more than a number on a piece of paper as opposed to a face, a gender or a colour. Once those levels of equality are achieved we are then faced with the huge challenge of maintaining equality for those there. This is the true challenge for systematic racism. By giving one person an allocated seat, does not make the system equal, nor does it enable equality once that person reaches that level. As Neela Choudry-Reid states:
They’re tentatively giving us a seat at the table, but not realising how many chairs we might need.(11)
It really has never been about forfeiting white seats for the sake of blacks or vice versa, as was seen to be the case of Rosa Parks, it is merely about each and every human being equally empowered to reach the same heights in all areas of their life without a continuous assessment of their race.
Prejudice comes at all levels of life and to all people, but it is this mis-defined communication that racism is just another prejudice that some people hold. In her book Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race, Renni Eddo-Lodge describes an encounter she had whilst buying lunch from a Caribbean food shop in London. Upon receiving her food, following a white customer’s departure, the owner of the shop divulged to her that she saves the best cuts of meat for “’people like us’”. Eddo-Lodge clearly demonstrates how yes the owner was prejudiced but no they were not racist. This being due to the fact that the only power the owner had was to affect a man’s lunch and that single decision would in no way affect the future prospects of that person. Namely because, as Eddo-Lodge states: “there simply aren’t enough black people in positions of power to enact racism against white people”.(12)
It is not that I am entering into a love affair with blackness, nor disregarding my own culture becoming an anti-white activist. It is more that I have a strong understanding of the deeply rooted responsibility we, as the dominant culture, white culture, have played in history that has led us to this moment in time. We are no longer able to apologise or provide reparations for those who became victims of our slave trade heritage, but we must make a start by recognising the generations that came after them, the families that have been displaced, and still suffer today at the hands of our privileged history.
This article is but an attempt to scratch away at a scratch card with no coin. It begins only to uncover some of the duality that is present day race relations, but it is a start and hopefully some way towards offering an alternative discussion in the discourse.
(1) - (Irr.org.uk, 2018)
(2) - ibid.
(3) - ibid.
(4) - (NAACP, 2018)
(5) - (Full Fact, 2018).
(6) - (Abolition.e2bn.org, 2018)
(7) - (Saylor.org, 2018)
(8) - (U.S., 2018)
(9) - (Managementtoday.co.uk, 2018)
(10) - (Cuff et al., 2018)
(11) - Ibid.
(12) - Eddo-Lodge, R. (2017) Why I’m no longer talking to White People about race. Bloomsbury Circus Publishing: London p.89.
Abolition.e2bn.org. (2018). The 1807 Act and its effects: The Abolition of Slavery Project. [online] Available at: http://abolition.e2bn.org/slavery_113.html [Accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
Cuff, C. (2018). Tate should apologise for its racist mishandling of Reni Eddo-Lodge's talk. [online] gal-dem. Available at: http://www.gal-dem.com/the-tate-should-apologise-for-its-handling-of-reni-eddo-lodges-talk/ [Accessed 1 Feb. 2018].
Eddo-Lodge, R. (2017) Why I’m no longer talking to White People about race. Bloomsbury Publishing: London.
Full Fact. (2018). Deaths of BAME people in police custody. [online] Available at: https://fullfact.org/law/bame-deaths-police-uk/ [Accessed 1 Feb. 2018].
Irr.org.uk. (2018). Criminal justice system statistics | Institute of Race Relations. [online] Available at: http://www.irr.org.uk/research/statistics/criminal-justice/ [Accessed 1 Feb. 2018].
Managementtoday.co.uk. (2018). 6 stats that show how far UK Plc still has to go on race. [online] Available at: https://www.managementtoday.co.uk/6-stats-show-far-uk-plc-go-race/reputation-matters/article/1429178 [Accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
Saylor.org. (2018). Cite a Website - Cite This For Me. [online] Available at: https://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Slavery-Abolition-Act-1833.pdf [Accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
U.S. (2018). CHRONOLOGY-Who banned slavery when?. [online] Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-slavery/chronology-who-banned-slavery-when-idUSL1561464920070322 [Accessed 1 Feb. 2018].
The Author: Laura Duthie
An inspired activist, Laura started out her journey through Hip Hop dance where she encountered the richest Black American export at it’s finest through a degree specialised in Hip Hop. Her interest for dance and the arts has never wavered however, the cultural experience that entailed was not one expected nor one she was prepared to let go of. Oxford born, she decided to transition into Human Rights Law enabling her to work through her activism providing a voice to others. She hopes to continue with her career into an area that informs, educates and transitions the current disparities of equality.