It’s unfair that George Floyd pleas were disregarded by his killer. It’s unfair that Breonna Taylor’s murderers are still walking free. It’s unfair that the talented and gentle Elijah McClain’s life was taken away in an unprovoked police attack. It’s unfair that we still don’t have justice for Grenfell. It’s unfair, it’s unfair, it’s damn unfair.
I can’t seem to shake off this profound feeling of unfairness. I feel like it has followed me around since I can remember. Even though I wasn’t always in the firing line, there was always someone close to me that was left to society’s perils.
Acronyms such as BAME, BME, POC, are harmful because they dilute the inherent racism, inequality and injustice particularly faced by black people. The name of my blog, Words from a Black Woman, was purposeful; for too long black people have been made to feel that by explicitly describing who we are, we are attempting to be antagonistic. This assertion is not true and again unfair. Nova Reid captured this position perfectly in a quote to CNN saying “We have an unhealthy culture in the UK that calling out racism is more offensive than racism itself.”
It’s alarming that in the UK, a culture of politeness is literally resulting in the loss of black lives. The all so common approach of skirting around indispensable issues is endorsed by our own Government. The lack of appetite to have open and frank conversations about the challenges faced by black people demonstrates how vital it is for us, the people, to take ownership of the many issues created by social injustice and lobby from the bottom up.
Unfairness literally translates to “not behaving according to the principles of equality and justice”. Unfair treatment of the black community is widespread, nothing new and broadly unchanged. Healthcare has dominated the headlines but there are three areas I think also need tackling immediately.
Black people have never stood a chance in the criminal ‘justice’ system. When slavery was abolished in 1865, a number of systems were introduced to control the overflow of free black people who were given the same rights as their oppressors. This became even more necessary once black people began to make successful strides to independence. Former slaves made meaningful political, social and economic gains. This progression led to the revoking of voting rights and the introduction of the Convict least system. This allowed black people of be dragged back to the fields under the guise of criminality. The crimes were minor (or merely non-existent) but the impact began the most damaging legacy for black people that spread across the Western world.
Guilty until proven innocent is the firm position. The Runnymede Trust‘s report on Justice, Resistance and Solidarity highlights that in the UK black people are four times more likely to be convicted than white people as well as receiving the highest average custodial sentence. CNN’s “Britain’s big race divide” poll found that black people are twice as likely as white people to say they personally have not been treated with respect by police. Organisations such as The 4Front Project are exposing the serious violence that still exists within the Force’s treatment of black people.
Research found that the constant negative media portrayals of black people are strongly linked to lower life expectations. Couple this with a lack of empathy given to black people; we cannot question why the disparities exist. Only 1.1% of court judges in the UK are black; the system is dominated by a shocking 92.6% of white judges. Less attention is paid to the bigger picture of social and economic ills. I talked about this in my article ‘Law and order – the story of Marcus’. Where there is poverty, you will find crime. This is not a pass for criminality but an indication of where efforts must be focused in order to change the trajectory of this harmful pattern.
I’m on going to take up much time to tell you that the sky is blue. There are troubling levels of concern about bias in the workplace. According to the Guardian, 57% of minorities said that they felt they had to work harder to succeed in Britain because of their ethnicity, and 40% saying they earned less or had worse employment prospects for the same reason. This may as well be my own story.
When you are black in the workplace, you can feel like you are on borrowed time. History has shown that you are only as good as your last mistake – it’s difficult to reverse the judgement that can be placed on a black individual once an error at work has occurred. Black people have had to navigate and at times confront competing, flawed, or incomplete narratives about their work ethic. I mean this isn’t Masterchef; mistakes are human, normal and common, but these can’t always be afforded by the black body, which is completely unacceptable.
So often I’ve seen with my own eyes how different the relationships are between teachers and their black students compared with their white students. One of the most disturbing pieces of research I came across was the confirmation that teachers’ subconscious racial bias against black students started as early as preschool. If there was ever any doubt that black children are not treated equally in the classroom, this research positively reaffirmed that this is indeed true.
Studies discovered that black students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended from school as white students, and nearly twice as likely to be expelled, which is also true at the pre-school level! Even as an infant, if you are black, your cards are marked. The education system is breeding a destructive legacy that is leaving black children vulnerable at a critical time when they are beginning to form their identities.
Implicit biases take the form of subtle, sometimes subconscious stereotypes held by white teachers. We saw this recently with the shambolic management of the Covid-19 examination fiasco. In 2016, a study carried out by University College London’s Institute of Education found that just 16% of predicted A-level results were correct. The statistic showed that only one in six university applicants have historically achieved their predicted grades.
When we talk about black students, research by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that they had the lowest predicted grade accuracy, with only 39.1 per cent of predicted grades being correct. Not only were black students most likely to have their grades incorrectly predicted, but those grade are most likely to be underestimated. We have to ask, how are these policies allowed to exist? How can we continue to allow black children to be target of systemically racist set-ups that put them on the back foot and expect them to access the fruitful future opportunities every child deserves?
Black people’s views of race and racism in the UK are profoundly different from those of most White people. Ethnic minorities are consistently more likely to have faced negative everyday experiences (The Guardian).
Black people are constantly unfairly treated, whether it be in the areas covered in this article, or being racially profiled in your own office when you’re the Editor of Vogue. Structural and institutional racism isn’t always easy to prove and call out but its far reaching effects on people’s life chances cannot be ignored.
Media distortions are multi-faceted and many embrace the false narratives delivered by powerful media outlets. This inadvertently leads to the unfair treatment and conditional acceptance in environments dominated by whiteness. There is little willingness to address how bias and discrimination perpetuate negative outcomes for black people.
Policy change, supported by a transparent process, aimed at implementing anti-racist/bias principles is the only way to move forward. We cannot expect to see balanced perspectives on these issues if we do not open the forum for black people to become involved at the core. White people must consider stepping down from positions where they aren’t right to push forward the equality agenda.
And don’t forget what you can you. A large platform isn’t needed to do meaningful work. You have the opportunity to make change however big or small. You have the power to protest with the masses, sign petitions, create petitions, become an ally; whatever you decide to do, being actively anti-racist is the only position that will result in change.
Be self-aware and consistently evaluate your actions. You are the difference.
Sending love and light always.