While writing my first book, a memoir on what it’s like to be black and British, I was carrying out an exercise I learnt while studying for my law degree. My law lecturer had taught me that to write a relevant essay in answer to an exam question, I had to always ask myself, ‘Why am I putting this in? Is it relevant to the question asked?’ Seeing as the title of my first chapter is ‘Who am I?’ I had to keep this exercise going to prevent myself form veering off course!
While recounting various experiences of racism, I began to ask myself (in aid of the essay-writing exercise) is this still relevant in Britain today?
Like a lightening-bolt answer the very next day, there was the story on the news of the ‘My Tram Experience’ video on youtube that went viral. It was a video taken by a bystander as a woman racially abused people on the tram. I watched it along with everyone else and found it amusing, as the woman was clearly intoxicated and was treated with the contempt she deserved by the people on the bus and was subsequently arrested by the police.
What was much less amusing though were the myriad of postings on youtube, by people who didn’t have the excuse of being intoxicated, but used the opportunity to voice their own racist vitriol and worst still got thousands of ‘likes’ for it.
From then on, it seemed that I saw some disturbing evidence of subtle and not so subtle forms of racism everywhere. From the fashion industry airbrushing people’s skin to lighten it, to the recent fiasco with John Terry and Luis Suarez on the football pitch.
I think my trepidation is therefore understandable, as I followed the Stephen Lawrence murder trial on the news, and wondered whether or not justice will be served. There is no doubt that the conviction of Dobson and Norrisfor the murder of Stephen Lawrence is a welcome relief, not least for the Metropolitan Police, because I shudder to think what would have happened had they gone free…again!
The question on my mind though and I’m sure on everyone else’s after watching last night’s BBC’s Panorama, has to be, how far have we really come since that dreadful day 18 years ago when a young person was stabbed to death solely because of the colour of his skin?
If recent events are anything to go by, maybe not very far at all, because the police in Manchester have recently began to investigate another heinous racial crime after a man from India was stabbed to death on a night out, and the police are treating it as a hate crime.
As I listen to comedians decry the ‘political correctness gone mad’ and I read Luis Suarez’s statement that it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to the colour of a person’s skin in an argument on the football pitch, I wonder if we are slipping into a very dangerous sense of complacency about racism in Britain.
At the end of his report on BBC news yesterday Mark Easton Said, ‘Problems still exist but Britain is much more at ease with its racial diversity…….’ I beg to differ and I doubt he would say so if he had my vantage point. What people don’t seem to understand is that being black and British should not be mutually exclusive, yet as a black person who was born and has lived in Britain for most of her life, it often feels like it.
Every time someone makes a reference to your differences because of the colour of your skin, they are automatically saying you are less than in some way, and a lifetime of that, takes a toll on even the most well adjusted person. And every time someone says to someone else, you can’t say that to someone because of their skin colour, you are saying we are all equal and skin colour doesn’t matter and that’s what we should be striving for.
It’s my opinion that equality is something we must continually strive for, otherwise in another 20 years we would have forgotten the significance of the courage, tenacity and bravery of Doreen Lawrence and her family who stood up to the establishment and effectively said ‘You cannot treat my son as less than because he’s black!’ She refused to stop fighting for justice until she got it and neither should we.
We must always, always stamp out racist behaviour however it shows itself – in speech, action or violence, because to do anything less, is to deny equality and justice, just as was very nearly done to Stephen Lawrence and that is a Britain nobody wants to claim.