The struggle of being black in Britain.
Written by Zoe Malomo.
When I was 10, I distinctly remember my 2 brothers getting excluded after reacting to a racist comment made in school. The boy who was racist towards my brothers didn’t get any punishment other than a warning. As a young black person growing up in a predominately white environment, this stuck with me, as I realised that because my family and I looked different, we were treated differently. While growing up I started to notice it even more especially in school.
Racism in the UK.
Throughout history, we have seen the ongoing issue of racism across the world. This issue involves black people constantly being treated differently in places such as workplaces and even in school with them being perceived as a threat to their peers. When talking about racism in Britain, we often minimize our problem by saying “it’s not as serious as in America.” A recent example of this is during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 after the death of George Floyd, Health secretary Matt Hancock said, “thankfully this is all based in response to events in America rather than here.” This shows a misconception in the country that racism is not a big problem in the UK. Black people suffer oppression in different ways across the country, so to compare racism in the UK and in America invalidates the experiences of so many black people across the country. Inequalities such as health inequalities for older black people, the rise of hair discrimination policies at work, and the growing exclusion of black pupils in British schools are just some examples.
When it comes to schools in the UK, I find it interesting that few address the issues of discrimination black kids face, not only amongst their peers and teachers, but also institutionally within the school system. While researching, I came across an article in the Guardian, it stated “more than 9 out of 10 children say they had witnessed racist language in school.” Throughout our country, racism is presented as banter, and black children are advised by their parents and teachers that they should ignore it, when in truth, they are being introduced to racism before they understand what it is, or why it occurs. Furthermore, it can be detrimental for children to undergo this at such a young age, as it can negatively affect the child’s mindset about themselves and their personality. The reason for this is because everything they do and the way they look is being criticized or joked about by the people around them. As a result, young people may begin to question themselves, the way they look, and the way they act. An article in the Guardian says, “7 out of 10 young black people felt under pressure to change their hair in order to appear more professional in school or at work”. This goes to show that people in the black community feel they need to try to mask themselves, by hiding bits of their personality and culture to be accepted by their friends and just society.
In spite of this, there is still a high likelihood that people around you are going to compare you to something you are not due to how you look and how you dress. Some examples include seeing black males in tracksuits and thinking they’re in a gang or seeing black people dressed in streetwear and assuming they’re rappers. The reason behind this misunderstanding is that individuals tend to forget that black people are united around their experiences, not because of their hobbies, which leads to the belief that all black people must act a certain way. Consequently, black people become judged before their personality is revealed. This results in non-black people fitting black people into a generalized category. Black students especially experience this in British schools with teachers often forming opinions about them without knowing anything about where they are academically or personally. Many times, this causes black students to be singled out or picked on for small things, and sometimes for things their white peers do as well. In some parts of England, “exclusion rates for black Caribbean students are up to 6 times higher than their white peers”. Besides the racism in schools, one of the reasons why this statistic is high is that nearly half of the UK’s black children live in poverty. Children living in poverty are more likely to be excluded from school for a variety of reasons, including their inability to engage in class. Growing up lower class is hard for black children, as they experience increasing levels of social exclusion. This puts many at a disadvantage when they wish to progress into the workplace or even further education, as lower-class children have fewer opportunities. Due to this, many people turn to crime as they get older to take care of their families.
Racial bias in the workplace.
The gang and drug lifestyle has been glamorised in our generation thanks to social media, and many see only the surface of making money quick and looking cool. There is, however, a large segment of the black community that finds this to be their last resort when it comes to providing for their families. The question of “why can’t they just get a regular job?” is asked constantly in the context of crime in the black community. In my opinion, many people do not seem to realise that getting a job as a black people in Britain is significantly more difficult than if you were white person living here. A study published in 2015 shows that those applying for a job with white-sounding names are 74% more likely to have some success, which is almost twice as likely as ethnic names.
There is already a large disadvantage put on black people from the beginning even before they attend an interview with a prospective employer. This disadvantage can all be because of something as small as their name. Even when offered jobs, there is still a huge wealth gap between black and white employees. It is estimated that on average, “a black worker with a degree earns 23.1% less than a white worker”. This example clearly illustrates the fact that us black people living in Britain must work much harder than white people to achieve the same status. Having nepotism as a barrier to getting a job adds to the struggle for black and lower-class people. Nepotism involves the practice of putting the interests of relatives, friends, or loved ones at the forefront in any decision-making process, especially in the workplace. There are various ways to do this such as giving them higher pay, or giving them a particular role within the business to perform or even just giving them a large amount of authority. As a result of this, black people may suffer in particular since there are fewer black people in positions of influence and with an increase in nepotism, there is a lower likelihood of people of colour securing these positions.
People who come from a lower economic background have less access to quality health care, so living in a less privileged environment can have a huge impact on your health. Accessing good health care for a black person living in Britain can be important, especially when expecting a baby. It feels like the health of black people in the country is not taken seriously at all. According to the Guardian, “black women are 4 times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth”. Black women are disproportionately affected by this issue, largely due to the fact that they are not always provided with the appropriate medication when needed and additionally, when problems arise, they are not taken seriously. Doctors and medical students still believe myths like “black people feel less pain” and “black people have tougher skin”. As a black girl living in Britain, I find it very scary that just because of our skin colour, normal things like having a child are made unnecessarily more dangerous than if I were to be of a different race. The system is, unfortunately, biased against people that look like me, so although these statements have been proven wrong several times, many still face the consequences of not getting the right health care. It’s not just pregnant black women who are affected, it’s black people in general. A large group that suffers from Britain’s lowering standards is the black elderly. With age, you get weaker and more prone to problems, like diabetes and arthritis. Due to the wealth gap, most black people have to keep working past retirement age. Black elderly people don’t have the chance to have a good later life because they don’t have enough money to live comfortably, even when they retire.
Whether it is at the workplace, at school or even in the hospital, black people in Britain are faced with racism at every corner. When being black in Britain, it is often the case that you feel people are changing parts of your culture to suit them. It is also extremely sad people in the black community do not feel safe and comfortable in their own communities. However, with the recent popularity of black culture in aspects such as rap music and fashion, hopefully over the next few years, the black community will gain the respect other ethnic groups already hold.