UK Black experience matters

A poster on the Usher Hall in Edinburgh (image: Kaysgeog (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

Robbie Scott says we can’t allow Johnson’s government to sideline BLM issues

The Black experience in the United Kingdom has never been more relevant. The death of George Floyd has swept it to the heart of our politics despite attempts to delegitimise it by the government and elements of our media. When it comes to the Black lived experience, too many deny it and, in doing so, reject the idea that it deserves a prominent position in the sweep of British history.

George Floyd’s murder may have taken place a world away, but here at home we are not strangers to police brutality. Cherry Groce was shot by police in 1985 during a bungled raid. The incident left her paralysed from the waist down. Unarmed Mark Duggan was fatally shot by police in 2011, sparking widespread protests. In 2015, a member of the public saw up to six police officers kneeling and lying across Sheku Bayoh. He was heard shouting “get off me”. Ninety minutes later, Sheku was pronounced dead in hospital. His body had 23 separate injuries.

Police brutality in the US is in a different league. However, when it comes to other forms of systemic racism, the Black experience in the UK is in many ways equally as pernicious. We see it in the disproportionate British ethnic minority Covid death rate, which is more than twice that of white Brits.

Previous recessions have hit ethnic minorities hard, and this one will be no different. Ethnic minority jobseekers send out 60% more applications than white people to secure the equivalent number of interviews, regardless of qualifications. Ethnic Minorities represent 26% of the prison population in England and Wales. If prisoners reflected the make-up of the actual population, we would have over 9,000 fewer ethnic inmates behind bars. The economic cost of over-representation is estimated to be £234 million a year.

Protests and rallies across the UK show us that people are sick of broken promises. When Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks down a camera lens and says “Black Lives Matter” with a straight face, you know the government wants to kick the issue into the long grass. We can’t let that happen.

Whether anger stems from state abuse or neglect, whether it’s historic or contemporary, it will always find an outlet. The marginalisation of UK ethnic minorities, and Black lives in particular, is gaining widespread acceptance. The Women’s and Equality minister Kemi Badenoch’s shameful speech in this year’s Black History Month debate in Parliament is the latest in a long list of attacks on anti-racism. Criminalising critical race theory, attacking unconscious bias critics, or the selective use of the terms “identity politics” and “culture wars”, serve to quieten the campaign against structural inequality. We can’t let that happen.

We didn’t get here by accident, and won’t make progress by chance. There must be a library somewhere with scores of inquiries into the effects of institutionalised racism gathering dust. We need to begin implementing their recommendations. This time seems different. If the enthusiasm of Black Lives Matter protesters is anything to go by, this is just the beginning.

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