The United Kingdom breathed an air of change as Rishi Sunak became the first British Indian to be elected as the Prime Minister. It was a significant event for a country mired by its racist past towards Asians and Africans.
Though, the change in Britain might be only symbolic as the country has miles to tread before it could be termed free from racism.
The current UK PM Rishi Sunak’s ascent to the top post was celebrated both in the country and globally.
Although it is a far cry from the ground reality. If we look at the facts, racism is still prevalent in the United Kingdom.
As per a recent study by the Trades Union Congress, “more than 120,000 workers from minority ethnic backgrounds quit their jobs in UK because of racism”.
“Two in five (41%) Black and minority ethnic workers (BME) faced racism at work in the last five years”, it further said.
The study had some key revelations:
- Over 27% of BME workers have experienced racist jokes or “banter” in the last five years.
- More than 26% of BME workers said that they were made to feel uncomfortable at work due to stereotypes or comments on their appearance.
- 21% said they had racist remarks directed at them or made in their presence.
- And 21% said they were bullied or harassed at work.
Many of these workers often fail to complain to their bosses for fear of losing their employment.
The above report suggests racist behaviour by the common British workers towards their co-workers of different ethnicity. Although it is not exclusive to daily wagers as a study suggests that the Judiciary of England and Wales might be equally racist.
The Racist Judiciary of UK
A survey of 373 lawyers revealed that 56% had seen at least one judge mistreat a defendant because of their race. 52% had seen discrimination in judicial decision-making when a person of a different race was involved.
According to the study, “Racial discrimination by judges was most frequently directed towards Asian and Black people, with people from Black communities—from lawyers to witnesses, to defendants—cited by survey respondents as by far the most common targets of judicial discrimination”.
A 2017 report by Labour MP David Lammy also highlighted the overt racial prejudice in the criminal justice system.
History of Racism in UK
As per the annals of history, the slave trade by the English began after royal approval in 1663.
By the mid-18th century, London had the largest Black population in Britain. Even after the abolition of slave trade, the negative feelings towards the black population remained.
Feelings of negativity or discontent for blacks grew in UK after the 1860s. These views were given weightage due to supposed scientific evidence.
James Hunt, President of the London Anthropological Society, in 1863, in his paper ‘On the Negro’s place in nature, wrote, “the Negro is inferior intellectually to the European…[and] can only be humanised and civilised by Europeans.”
Racism Against South Asians
The racism of Britishers against people of South Asian origin finds its roots since the colonial era.
Eminent British historians such as James Mills and Charles Grant wrote several books and essays which portrayed Indians as deceitful, liars, dishonest, depraved and incapable of ruling themselves.
The racist attitude of British colonisers towards native Indians also stemmed from Hinduphobia. Charles Grant, in one of his essay, criticised the Orientalists for being too respectful of Indian culture and religion.
Throughout the British rule of India, the government or the corporate bosses directly or indirectly executed their policies and decisions with racial bias.
Even after the Independence and disintegration of the Empire, the issue remained or maybe aggravated. Either be it ‘the Rivers of Blood speech’ or deriding chants to Indian cricketers — the racist mentality in UK did not change.
Faarokh Engineer, the Indian-wicket keeper and batsman, had faced racist comments during his brief stint with a domestic cricket club in the 1960s.
One might say that people change over the course of time. However, Indian spectators were racially abused by English fans in a test match at Edgbaston this year.
Just days before Rishi Sunak’s appointment as the UK’s PM, a caller on a radio show commented that the leader was not even British.
The Way Forward for UK
Symbolically, Rishi Sunak as UK’s PM might appear as progressive and forward-minded. British-Asians are seeing the new leader as a hope for a better society in UK, albeit much similar to the optimistic American-African community of US when Barack Obama was elected the President. Although the symbolical rise of Barack Obama did nothing to stop the rampant racism in US, so it’s hard to comprehend how Rishi Sunak may make a difference.