You can’t move for all the ‘tolerance’ in Britain

by Shane Thomas

As I’m sure you’ll remember, a few months ago, I wrote a piece on the racist door policy of the club Libertine[1]. Such treatment is hardly an anomalous experience for people of colour, whether trying to enter public establishments, or just existing in this country.

However, it appears that the UKIP leader Nigel Farage begs to differ, recently stating he deems laws prohibiting racial discrimination in employment as superfluous.

Now, Nigel Farage saying something objectionable is hardly surprising, but it is news. Because what’s most telling here isn’t what Farage has said, but that he will likely get away with it.

QT Shane Thomas picWhat will the consequences be for him? Let’s be honest. Will he become persona non-grata on Question Time? Will the press stop going to him for an easy soundbite? Even in the event of the electorate shunning UKIP on May 7th, will he dissipate from the national discourse? Really?

As Chimene Suleyman incisively observed on this site, “What is the point in judging UKIP, when we are living out their wants already?” UKIP are a symptom of a larger problem, that even a poor election result for them wouldn’t rectify.

If I were to ask you how much racism is there in Britain, it would be tough to answer with any clarity. A major reason for this is that the country has no singularly definitive record of racism and its daily manifestations. And how can any government efficiently combat such discord, when there’s no discernible measure of the depth of the problem?

When racism does occur, the only rejoinders that PoC have are personal anecdotes, and the odd newspaper expose – which never gives a complete picture. This often leads to the kind of reactive justice that doesn’t eventuate in an attempt to hasten progress, but exists for the purpose of mollifying plaintive cries of resistance.

And while making a racket is necessary, and sometimes our only option, often it feels like trying to walk through a stream that’s flowing in the opposite direction. So, how do we turn the stream the other way?

Collated statistics are a significant factor in governments forming official policy. Currently, trying to find the unambiguous details of racism in Britain is an exercise in wearing out one’s left mouse button. Certain snatches of information can be found from the police, and the Crown Prosecution Service. While these sources shouldn’t be disregarded, we still lack anything that approaches the issue from a panoramic or empirical perspective.

Poverty_1 Shane Thomas pic
What I’m proposing is a government body that has a majority of PoC in their employ, tasked to ensure that incidents of racism are on the record, clear for all to see. Indeed, a lot of these people could be found at organisations like Tell MAMA or Runnymede Trust, who are removed enough from the bubble of Westminster to act with the requisite independence.

This would ensure the work done by The Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the tenets of the Equality Act, including eliminating unlawful discrimination, are properly adhered to. An organisation with the power to have a say in just how government legislation is crafted to safeguard its citizens from bigotry[2].

Right now, not only are oppressed voices given a negligible platform in these matters, but on occasions when PoC do get to speak out, it’s commonplace to be met with responses of “playing the race card”, that it’s a one-off occurrence, representative of nothing, or being told that Britain is a tolerant country.

Indeed, just look at all this British tolerance. If tolerance is what you’re after, this country is the place to be. You can’t move for all the tolerance in Britain.

This suggestion is not a silver bullet solution. Would this database be tough to assemble? Yes. Would it be difficult to accurately maintain? Absolutely. But that’s no reason not to do it. After all, if the government use statistics to aid them when crafting policy for education, or the economy, why should combating bigotry be any different?

The race for Mayor of London in 2016 could also play a role. Given the ethnic make-up of the capital, the aforementioned database could be a major plank of the manifesto for whoever runs for Mayor next year. London could be a useful testing ground to institute the necessary change to ensure its PoC residents don’t feel like an unwelcome house guest.

Declared candidates such as Diane Abbott, Sol Campbell, David Lammy, and potential candidates such as Sadiq Khan and Oona King have a real chance to implement change for people of colour if they care to.

Around election season, the topic of a scarce PoC voter turnout is raised by a querulous press[3]. Well, the answer to their question is that the major parties only engage with us when it’s politically expedient. They give us few reasons to vote for them, and plenty of reasons not to.

But whoever comes out triumphant on May 7th has an opportunity to offset this disconnect, by accepting that the political process has failed its PoC citizens, and taking steps to reaffirm that we live in this country, too.

Because the alternative is hearing fantastical tripe about Britain being a bastion of tolerance, when the reality shows this canard for the folly that it is.

Are Britain’s PoC population important to our politicians? If so, it’s time for them to prove it.

[1] – You do remember, don’t you? I mean, you do actually read my pieces, right?
[2] – It would also have to take other oppressive structures into account, such as ableism or transphobia, Especially when two or more forms of these behaviours intersect.
[3] – Filler pieces, of course. It’s never front page fodder.

P.S. Many thanks for Huma Munshi for her invaluable guidance in the crafting of this piece.

All work published on Media Diversified is the intellectual property of its writers. Please do not reproduce, republish or repost any content from this site without express written permission from Media Diversified. For further information, please see our reposting guidelines.


 

TWOWEEKSNOTICE

A mixed-race film graduate, Shane comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

‘The Other Political Series’ curated by journalist Kiri Kankhwende is your go to alternative to the colourless mainstream commentary ahead of the General Election in May 2015. #OtherPolitics highlights issues and perspectives that are being overlooked in the election debate and presents different angles on some well-trodden issues.

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4 replies

  1. Solid data on race or racial incidents is the cornerstone of effective policy making. Some data on racial incidents is available from the police and the prison service. It is possible to deduce patterns of discrimination from data on the members of ethnic minority people in the mental health system and other parts of the public sector. Beyond that it is difficult to get comprehensive data. Though there have been useful pieces of research on issues like discrimination in employment.
    However I agree with you that there should be an effort made to collect all relevant data of this kind.
    I am not sure that you need to set up a brand new organisation to do this. I think that the EHRC should do this. It is very much part of their core remit. As a mayoral candidate, I would be happy to lobby for this.

    Like

    • The primary reason I suggested a brand new organisation was that I feel it would make a clear statement that tackling racism at its structural level is a clear priority, although that would mean little if it wasn’t assembled correctly.

      However, I don’t think that has to be a dealbreaker. If the EHRC has the will and resources to collate this data themselves, I’d have little quarrel with that. Like you say, it’s currently difficult to get comprehensive data, and that only serves to obfuscate things. One of the things that influenced the piece was the shootings of black people by police officers in America, and how that country has no database to discern how often that type of thing occurs.

      Like

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