Racism in the United Kingdom: Wikis


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This postcard from the 1900s depicts an Englishman calling "BOY!" to a Chinese man to bring him a drink. The caption reads "The Call of the East."

The United Kingdom has a long history of racism, from mediæval times, through years of the slave trade to the modern day. However as one of Europe's most multi-cultural nations, racism is less of an issue today, and any reports of racial abuse and/or discrimination are dealt with more seriously by British authorities. For many decades now the British Government has long advocated for racial equality in all areas of UK society and abroad.


Modern Britain

There were race riots across the United Kingdom in 1919: South Shields, Glasgow, London's East End, Liverpool, Cardiff, Barry, and Newport. There were further riots by immigrant and minority populations in East London during the 1930s and Notting Hill in the 1950s.

In the early 1980s, societal racism, discrimination and poverty - alongside further perceptions of powerlessness and oppressive policing - sparked a series of riots in areas with substantial African-Caribbean populations.[1] These riots took place in St Pauls in 1980, Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side in 1981, St Pauls again in 1982, Notting Hill Gate in 1982, Toxteth in 1982, and Handsworth, Brixton and Tottenham in 1985.[2]

The report identified both "racial discrimination" and a "racial disadvantage" in Britain, concluding that urgent action was needed to prevent these issues becoming an "endemic, ineradicable disease threatening the very survival of our society".[1] The era saw an increase in attacks on Black people by White people. The Joint Campaign Against Racism committee reported that there had been more than 20,000 attacks on non- Indigenous Britons including Britons of Asian origin during 1985.[3]

The British Crime Survey reveals that in 2004, 87,000 people from black or minority ethnic communities said they had been a victim of a racially motivated crime. They had suffered 49,000 violent attacks, with 4,000 being wounded. At the same time 92,000 white people said they had also fallen victim of a racially motivated crime. The number of violent attacks against whites reached 77,000, while the number of white people who reported being wounded was five times the number of black and minority ethnic victims at 20,000. Most of the offenders (57%) in the racially motivated crimes identified in the British Crime Survey are not white. White victims said 82% of offenders were not white.[4]

Racism in one form or another was widespread in Britain before the twentieth century, and during the 1900s particularly towards Jewish groups and immigrants from Eastern Europe. The British establishment even considered Irish people a separate and degenerate race until well into the 19th century.

Since World War I, public expressions of white supremacism have been limited to far-right political parties such as the British National Front in the 1970s, whilst most mainstream politicians have publicly condemned all forms of racism. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that racism remains widespread, and some politicians and public figures have been accused of excusing or pandering to racist attitudes in the media, particularly with regard to immigration. There have been growing concerns in recent years about institutional racism in public and private bodies, and the tacit support this gives to crimes resulting from racism, such as the murder of Stephen Lawrence, Gavin Hopley and Ross Parker.

The Race Relations Act 1965 outlawed public discrimination, and established the Race Relations Board. Further Acts in 1968 and 1976 outlawed discrimination in employment, housing and social services, and replaced the Race Relations Board with Commission for Racial Equality. The Human Rights Act 1999 made organisations in Britain, including public authorities, subject to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Race Relations Act 2000 extends existing legislation for the public sector to the police force, and requires public authorities to promote equality.

Although various anti-discrimination legislation do exist. According to some sources most employers in the UK remain institutionally racist including public bodies such as the police [5]and particularly the legal profession[6]. It is also nearly impossible for persons subject to such institutional racism (who are normally economically disadvantaged) to seek legal redress, as in the UK public funding (legal aid) is not available at employment tribunals[7]. The situation with the implementation of Human Rights law is similar. The Terrorism Acts, which came into law in 2000 and 2006, have caused a marked increase in racial profiling and have also been the basis to justify existent trends in discrimination against persons of Muslim origin (or resembling such) by the British police.

There have been tensions over immigration since at least the early 1900s. These were originally engendered by hostility towards Jews and immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe. Britain first began restricting immigration in 1905 and has also had very strong limits on immigration since the early 1960s. Legislation was particularly targeted at members of the Commonwealth of Nations, who had previously been able to migrate to the UK under the British Nationality Act 1948. Conservative MP Enoch Powell made a controversial 1968 Rivers of Blood speech in opposition to Commonwealth immigration to Britain; this resulted in him being swiftly removed from the Shadow Cabinet.

Virtually all legal immigration, except for those claiming refugee status, ended with the Immigration Act 1971; however, free movement for citizens of the European Union was later established by the Immigration Act 1988. Legislation in 1993, 1996 and 1999 gradually decreased the rights and benefits given to those claiming refugee status ("asylum seekers"). 582,000 people came to live in the UK from elsewhere in the world in 2004 according to the office of National Statistics.

Some commentators believe that an amount of racism, from within all communities, has been undocumented within the UK, adducing the many British cities whose populations have a clear racial divide. While these commentators believe that race relations have improved immensely over the last thirty years, they still believe that racial segregation remains an important but largely unaddressed problem, although research [4] has shown that ethnic segregation has reduced within England and Wales between the 1991 Census and 2001 Census.

The United Kingdom has been accused of "sleepwalking toward apartheid" by Trevor Phillips, chair of that country's Commission for Racial Equality. Philips has said that Britain is fragmenting into isolated racial communities: "literal black holes into which no one goes without fear and trepidation and nobody escapes undamaged". Philips believes that racial segregation in Britain is approaching that of the United States. "You can get to the point as they have in the U.S. where things are so divided that there is no turning back."[8]

The BBC has reported that the latest crime statistics appear to support Phillips' concerns. They show that race-hate crimes increased by almost 600 per cent in London in the month after the July 7 bomb attacks, with 269 more offenses allegedly "motivated by religious hatred" reported to the Metropolitan Police, compared to the same period last year.[8]

In 2007 racist remarks made by contestants on the Celebrity Big Brother TV series against Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty caused widespread outrage, not least in the UK with the British public phoning in to make Shetty the series winner and the other ethnic minority contestant Jermaine Jackson the runner up. Demonstrators in Bangalore burned effigies of the TV Channel's directors.[9]


Mediæval England

Though it is disputed, some scholars believe that there was an apartheid-like system in early Anglo-Saxon England, which prevented the native British genes mixing with those of the Anglo-Saxon population by restricting intermarriage. According to research led by University College London, Anglo-Saxon settlers enjoyed a substantial social and economic advantage over the native Celtic Britons[10], the settlers living in what is now England, for more than 300 years from the middle of the 5th century.[11][12][13]

The Laws of King Ine and King Wihtred of Kent in the 7th century refer to a lower wergild for Briton subjects than for Anglo Saxons. Conversely many early Wessex kings had British i.e. Celtic names (such as Cerdic and Caedwalla. Many of the early Anglo Saxon invaders were warriors composed of male-only war-bands who would have looked to the local women for partners.

In Norman-controlled England and Wales, the English and Welsh were considered an underclass whose men were forbidden to marry into Norman families. [14]

Racism in the days of empire

The country's most blatant exercise of racism came in the 18th and 19th centuries with the advance of the slave trade and the colonization of other lands, especially the West Indies, India, and Africa. The clearing of lands and the brutal exploitation of labor in foreign countries for the profit of British investors had deep effects on the British perceptions of subjected peoples. Stigmatization, the attribution of some internal fault or pollution, was necessary to protect the self-image of the colonizers. It gives them a rationale: "If there is not something wrong with those people, why would we treat them so badly?"[15][16] [17]

The brutality of the African slave trade promoted a most virulent type of racism, which Britain exported to several of its colonies. In North America, slavery was embodied in the Constitution of the United States and led to the disastrous Civil War of 1865.

The stereotypes created by slavery and colonization are not remedied easily, and their effects can be seen in our own day.[18][19][20][21]

Modern England

In 2001, there have been both the Bradford riots and the Oldham Riots. These riots have followed cases of racism - either the public displays of racist sentiment or, as in the Brixton Riots, racial profiling and alleged harassment by the police force. In 2005, there have been Birmingham riots between the Black British and British Asian communities, with the spark for the riot being an alleged gang rape of a teenage black girl by a group of Asian men.

In July 2008, the London-based National Children's Bureau released a 366-page guide counseling adults on recognizing racist behavior in young children. The guide, titled Young Children and Racial Justice, warns adults that babies must also be included in the effort to eliminate racism. The bureau says to be aware of children who "react negatively to a culinary tradition other than their own by saying 'yuck'." Nursery staff must be alert for racist remarks among toddlers, a government-sponsored agency report has said.[22]


A protest march by the Irish Catholic community in Glasgow, Scotland on 25 June 2006 against racism.

It has been reported that racial minorities are underrepresented in the police force [5]. In urban areas, tensions between Whites and Pakistanis occasionally flare up. Several items of racism in Scotland are reported here. [6].

In 2005-6, 1,543 victims of racist crime in Scotland were of Pakistani origin, while more than 1,000 victims were classed as being "white British".[23]

Kriss Donald was a Scottish fifteen-year-old who was kidnapped and murdered in Glasgow in 2004.Five British Pakistani men were later found guilty of racially-motivated violence; those convicted of murder were all sentenced to life imprisonment.[24]

However, there are indications that the Scottish authorities and people are well aware of the problem and are trying to tackle it. Among the Scottish under 15 years old there is the sign that, "younger white pupils rarely drew on racist discourses." [7].

Recent research indicates that there is much less Islamaphobia in Scotland than in England. Indeed, xenophobia in Scotland has decreased since devolution. By 2003, Scots of Pakistani ethnicity were over twice as likely to vote for the SNP as ‘majority Scots’ (defined as those who were not only born in Scotland, but are also non-Muslim and do not have English-born partners).[8]

In 2009 the murder of an Indian sailor named Kunal Mohanty by a lone Scotsman named Christopher Miller resulted in Miller's conviction as a criminal motivated by racial hatred. Miller's brother gave evidence during the trial and said Miller told him he had "done a Paki".[9]

Northern Ireland

Racism in the United Kingdom is particularly acute in Northern Ireland, which has prompted The Guardian newspaper to label it the "race hate capital of Europe" [10]. Despite having the smallest numbers of non-whites in the UK it has the highest levels of racist violence in the country (racially motivated attacks are at 16.4% per 1000 of the minority population, whilst in England and Wales the figure is 12.6%).

More recently non-white people, especially Chinese, have started to live in Northern Ireland, primarily in the capital Belfast. MLA Anna Lo of Chinese origin and a member of the the Alliance Party became in 2007 the first, and so far only, politician born in East Asia elected to any national parliament or assembly in the United Kingdom. Discrimination takes many forms such as the spraying of racist graffiti, intimidation, assaults, general harassment, protection racketing, vandalism and house burning. Attempts to build a mosque in Portadown were met by much opposition; the plan was eventually dropped. However, recently the Police Service of Northern Ireland, in liaison with local politicians, have managed to improve community relations between migrants and local communities, leading to a noticeable decrease in racism in general.


  1. ^ a b Q&A: The Scarman Report 27 BBC Online. April 2004. Accessed 6 October 2006.
  2. ^ A Different Reality: minority struggle in British cities University of Warwick. Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations. Accessed 6 October 2006
    ° The 1981 Brixton riots "The Riot not to work collective". "...What has changed since last year's riots". London 1982. Accessed 6 October 2006
  3. ^ Law and Order, moral order: The changing rhetoric of the Thatcher government. online. Ian Taylor. Accessed 6 October 2006
  4. ^ The hidden white victims of racism
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ [3]
  8. ^ a b Freeman, Simon. "Britain urged to wake up to race crisis", The Times, September 22, 2005.
  9. ^ English and Welsh are races apart
  10. ^ Evidence for an apartheid-like social structure in early Anglo-Saxon England
  11. ^ Ancient Britain Had Apartheid-Like Society, Study Suggests
  12. ^ 'Apartheid' slashed Celtic genes in early England
  13. ^ http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1635457
  14. ^ History of British Rule and Colonization in India. http://india_resource.tripod.com/britishedu.htm
  15. ^ Goffman, Erving. 1963. Stigma: Notes on the Managment of Spoiled Identity. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  16. ^ Taiwo, Olufemi. 1999. "Reading the Colonizer's Mind: Lord Lugard and the Foundations of Philosophical Foundations of British Colonialism" 1999. in Racism and Philosophy, eds. Susan E. Babbit and Sue Campbell. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. Online
  17. ^ Fanon, Frantz. 1963. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Atlantic
  18. ^ Memmi, Albert. 1965. The Colonizer and the Colonized. Boston: Beacon Press.
  19. ^ Mosse, George L. 1992. "Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism. New York: Howard Fertig.
  20. ^ Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1960. "Racism and Colonialism as Praxis and Practice" in Critique of Dialectical Reason. ISBN 0860917576 Online
  21. ^ Toddlers who dislike spicy food racist, say report, Telegraph
  22. ^ Scotsman.com News - Almost 20 race-hate crimes a day in Scotland
  23. ^ BBC NEWS | Scotland | Glasgow and West |Kriss attacked 'for being white'

See also

Racism by country

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