Over the last couple of weeks, racism has been on all our minds. One of the things I point out is that racism in the US comes from a different place than in the UK. Racism, of course, comes from prejudices people have. These are the same, regardless of the country. However, our history is very different. Is this the reason, that some UK residents are having trouble understanding the issue in the US?
Although this is a simplified version, the history of the black population in the US comes from the slave trade. White people sailed to African countries to kidnapped black people. They then took them back to their country, for nothing more than to be a slave.
Throughout history, black people have been segregated and enslaved. The treatment of black people has shaped US society. Once slavery became illegal in the US, mass segregation was the technique used to enslave the black population.
If you commit a crime in the USA you lose the right to vote, the right to jobs and your life is one of a slave. The US government use this to their advantage by locking black men up on false charges. When they can’t defend themselves they often offer them a plea for a lesser sentence. Faced with a possible charge that holds a fifteen years sentence, many take the charge with a 2-year sentence. The sentence is shorter, the impact long term no less severe.
Some might say, well why take the lesser charge if you are not guilty? Let us look at the case of Kalief Browder to answer that question.
Kalief Browder was a sixteen-year-old boy who was arrested for a robbery he claimed he didn’t commit. When they offered him a plea bargain, he refused, stating his innocence of all charges. The case was to go to trial. Bail was set at a level that Browder’s family could never afford. He was sent to Rikers Island to be detained until his court case, or bail was raised. Browder spent more than 1000 days on Rikers, two years of which were in solitary confinement. Just as the case drew near, the charges were dropped and Browder was released from jail.
Mass incarceration is the new slavery in the US. Once in prison, inmates are asked to work in environments that have a startling resemblance to the slave trade. With a police force that has its origins in the slave trade, should we be that surprised?
In contrast to the kidnap of black families, the UK asked black families to come to Britain. Labelled the Windrush generation we asked workers to enter Britain.
After the Second World War, Britain faced a shortage of men. Jobs such as bus drivers, dustman etc. were not filled. Post-war the UK had a labour shortage, so it turned to its commonwealth for help. We offered houses, wages and family relocation to families from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago. These generations were invited to live in Britain from 1948–1971. They account for 500 000 black citizens, who were born outside the UK before 1971.
My friend speaks of being left in Jamaica with her Grandma, whilst her mum and dad went to the UK. When they had established themselves, they sent for her and her brother. She was eight when she entered the UK. She speaks fondly of the lack of racism at that time. She tells stories of being the only black child in her school. Other children would walk up to her and touch her to make sure she was real. Coming from a commonwealth country she was a British citizen. She went on to fight for our country for several years in the army.
However, it would be wrong for me to paint the UK in such a positive light. Out treatment of black people is as poor as any countries. When Teresa May was Home Secretary, she introduced legislation to stop the asylum seekers entering Britain. This is the essence of racism in the United Kingdom, our racism is greatest towards Eastern European people. Not that I am saying racism does not exist towards black families.
The Home Office had never kept records of the Windrush generation. We didn’t need to, they were British citizens after all. The commonwealth meant they had as much right to live in the UK as anyone. In 2010 when this legislation was introduced, we forgot the valuable contribution these families had made to our country. Further to this, it appeared the Home Office managed to destroy the landing cards that belonged to the Windrush generation. Unable to prove their legal status, many of the Windrush generations faced deportation.
Thank you for helping us after the war. You are now no longer needed and can be deported. Many facing deportations, had never even visited the land they were being sent to.
Although our racism is based on different foundations, it is no different than the US. Many believe that due to our white privilege we can treat people of different ethnicities in less than equal terms. In the UK this is very evident in the views of many, on asylum seekers. No matter the foundations for these prejudices, it is our responsibility to ensure that future generations do better.
Every nation needs to look at the foundations of their racism and deal with it. It is no longer acceptable to adopt an approach of my father was like this, I will be like this. We owe it to civilisation to stop judging people on their history and colour.