By Denrele Animasaun
Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” ― Zora Neale Hurston
As a front line worker, I qualify to get my vaccination so with some trepidation and resignation, I went along for my second and last vaccination.
I know it had to be done; I had no choice but to show up for my jab. I got to the hospital a bit late, I still do Naija time. I was ushered into the area dedicated to frontline staff.
In front of me in the queue,was a young woman,she was asked a series of questions to verify that she is the same person it says on their data; name, where she works and finally, her ethnicity. So without missing a beat; she said: ‘white British’. At the same time,I detected a sound of indignation.
Then my turn came,I stepped forward:-name, place of work and then; ethnicity; I said; ‘Black British’. I mean, I am Black and I was born in Britain.
The white man asking the question looked up at me and said; ‘you look African’. I said, yes, I am African and I am British.
But I could be Caribbean or American. He said he had assumed because of the way I was dressed; I was wearing African print head wrap and I had a rosette made of various African prints. He does not get to define who I am so, why can I not be Black and British?
He smiled and I let it go. Today was not a teaching moment.
My identity means a lot to me but it was no use standing there to lecture him about ethnicity and its social construct. It was not my job to school him; I have an appointment with my second vaccine.
“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.” – Maya Angelou
My children who are second generation Black British get quizzed often similarly, even after they say they are British, they are then asked ; so, where are you originally from? The ‘origin’ is a silent code for you ‘ are not from around here, you do not belong’. You are not really British.
Funny that, they would not ask a white person that. It is so obvious that they are not convinced that you can be black and be British.
But if you are white it is automatically assumed you are British. No matter how long it seems black British will always be children of immigrants.
The issue of race and ethnicity always raises its ugly head at every turn especially, if you are a person of colour and living in a predominately white country.
Couple of days ago, David Lammy, a black MP was told by a white listener to a radio show that he cannot be English because he is Caribbean. He schooled her that he, was definitely British and Black. The listener was so indignant and made mention, how the arrival of the ‘other’ has polluted Britain. He was calm and did not rise to the bait; he was far too intelligent and cultured. To be honest, it is so tedious having to explain yourself over and over again and at the same time, you are accused that you do not want to fit in but the trouble is: they do not want you to fit in.
So for expediency sake and for the racist idiots; I am a Nigerian, who happened to be born in the UK!
In this time of Covid, there are more Black people dying (four times)than the general population in the UK and in the West.
Covid has exposed the great divide;-the inequalities in health, lack of opportunities, discrimination towards black and minority population.
There is a deep rooted division of the ‘white’ and ‘the other’, the haves and the have nots. The ‘black other’ are more likely to be disadvantaged generally and most likely be in poorly paid jobs or are mostly are low ranking frontline workers, as a result are more predisposed to contracting the dreaded virus, as they have no choice but to work. The world witnessed the death of George Floyd by racist US cops and then the Me too movement, as well as in Uk,the incessant media harassment of Meghan Markle, a biracial woman who happened to have married a British Prince.
In the midst of molotov Conservative government of “hostile environment” immigration policies and the “disproportionate” use of police stop and search tactics which disproportionally focusses on young black men, it has been unrelenting. UK had no hiding place: racism and discrimination came out of its hiding place and embolden the closeted racists.
Hence, the UK government commissioned a report to find out if racism is indeed a factor. They needn’t have bothered, I could tell them for free but they then they refuse to believe it. The commission, which published its report claimed Britain was no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged” against ethnic minorities – prompting accusations of “deeply cynical” complacency.
Well, quell surprise! The denial is a joke, an expensive joke.
As a person of colour, we live this racism daily sometimes; overt but mostly, covert. Those who experience racism know it but they are told, it is in their imagination and then they are asked to prove it. How could a victim of crime be asked to prove why they were targeted, would it not be better to focus on the criminal?
There is a whole lot of gas lighting, dog whistling, white-plaining, and paralysis by analysis that makes the victim feel systematically isolated, double down, bullied and harassed in to submission. Some victims do not bother report this because they know they would not be believed and worse still, it will be counter productive.
Being black and British is only on paper, one has to contend with the moniker of Afro Caribbean, Black Caribbean, Black African, then Black British and then the catch all: BAME; ‘A’ in ‘BAME’ means Asians of all kind .
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
For many Nigerians in the UK and US ,they face varying degree of racism and discrimination but have learnt to navigate the daily grind of ‘Isms’ like pros. It is,nonetheless mentally exhausting and traumatic
to be discriminated against or not given your dues because of the colour of your skin.
When Covid hit, the sign was obvious; less than half (49%) of Black or Black British adults reported that they were likely to have the vaccine; higher proportions were reported among White (85%) and mixed ethnicity (80%) groups. There is a historical mistrust that Black people are reticent and they have every reason to be. Unfortunately, this is not the time to be hesitant; the mortality rates for deaths involving COVID-19 was highest among males of Black ethnic background at 255.7 deaths per 100,000 population and 119.8 for black women.
“The very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” – Toni Morrison
Black Lives Matter (BLM) anti-racism protests across the UK in 2020 – triggered by the killing of George Floyd in the US, was a seminal moment as black people and white allies took to the street in spite of lockdown. The Sewell report is preposterous, mishmash and a hatchet job, it denies Black peoples’ lived experiences and exposes the racist organ grinder ( institutions ) the chief gas lighter, dog whistler, bigots, conjurers, distractions, bullies, misogynists, colour blinds and enablers continue to perpetuates the lack of racism on a daily basis . Really, Britain has pronounced that the UK is not intuitionally racist so it is a beacon of virtuous colour-blind people. It has outraged many for the whitewashing of a missed opportunity to come clean and help to redress the racism that ravages the nation and its people.
They rubbed salt in the wounds; that black people face unique difficulties other minorities might not, such as stereotypes about black men being “threatening”. Wow! For many years black people have been the folk devil; the deviant and the cause of moral panic.
Jabeer Butt, chief executive of the Race Equality Foundation, said; “The report seems to go out of its way to deny that there’s anything that’s been the result of policies we’ve put in place and instead puts the blame at individuals’ decisions or at family’s doors.”
The present head of government who said in 2002,that Africa is a blot and the only regret is not of conscience but one that Britain no longer controls Africa. Please don’t start me on the Watermelon smiles’ and ‘piccaninnies’, that is for another time.
So what should we believe? Is Britain racist or specifically are parts of the British people racists? I can speak from experience so can millions of people who have been at the receiving end of racism. Those who feel it knows it. This is at the time when, former French footballer, Thierry Henry went off social media due to the toxicity of racist trolls.
Boris Johnson said the government would consider the implications of the report’s recommendations for future policy and remained “fully committed to building a fairer
Black Lives Matter UK responded that it was “disappointed” that the report overlooked disproportionality in the criminal justice system. This is a leaf of Thrump’s playbook, and we saw the insurrection.
Black people in England and Wales are nine times more likely to be imprisoned than their white peers.
When setting up the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, Boris Johnson said he wanted to “change the narrative, so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination”. He means, victims of racism, should stop being precious about calling racists out.
According to a UK government policy advisor Munira Mirza, who wrote of how institutional racism was “a perception more than a reality”. Stroke of mediocrity appoint a Yes man black man; Tony Sewell to front the inquiry did little to redeem the outcome. This report was dead before arrival.
The Sewell commission said unemployment differences between ethnic groups had declined and the pay gap between ethnic minority workers and white workers was falling.
The TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “institutional and structural racism exists in the UK, in both the labour market and wider society”, and said black and minority ethnic workers were far more likely “to be in low-paid, insecure jobs” compared to white workers.
Prof Kehinde Andrews, a professor of black studies at Birmingham City University told BBC news the report was “not a genuine attempt to understand racism in Britain” or “make a substantive change”.
He said the fact there was a discussion over whether institutional racism existed was the problem, “because it does exist, it clearly exists and the question should be ‘how do we address this'”.
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” – Ijoema Oluo