What Black Brits want African Americans to know about race and racism in the U.K.
It appears that some African Americans think being Black in the U.K is an easy ride, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
By Habiba Katsha
Race and racism aren’t topics that are spoken about openly enough in the U.K., and when they are mentioned it’s usually just to compare it to racism in the States. White British people look at the U.S as the epitome of a racist country, especially with Donald Trump as president. They are very proud of how tolerant Britain, is but tolerance and acceptance are two different things.
From many white British perspectives, being Black in America seems far worse than being Black in the U.K. But though racism here might be different, this does not mean that being Black in the U.K is an enjoyable experience.
People of colour have also made the comparison of racism in the U.K and the U.S, but we are very aware of racism here. When Brexit was announced, the discourse around immigration, Xenophobia and racism in the U.K changed. Many white British people were in shock that Britain had shown itself to be more of a racist country but, for Black people, Brexit and the accompanying increase in hate crimes wasn’t surprising.
It appears that some African Americans think being Black in the U.K is an easy ride, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The main difference between racism in the U.S and the U.K is how racism is presented. Racism in the States seems to be overt, blunt and unapologetic. Here, racism is very passive aggressive and covert. It’s still racism.
The first experience I had with racism was when I was 17 years old. The classic “Go back to where you came from” was yelled at me and my two Black friends. This is an experience that isn’t foreign to many Black people in the U.K., especially if you live outside of London. Earlier this year in Bath (a town located in the southwest of England), a group of White school boys chained a Black student to a lamppost in a mock slave auction. The story wasn’t publicised much in the media, but that just further goes to show how bad racism in the U.K. can be. Of course, the group of White boys didn’t face any criminal charges.
A lot of Black Brits also face the struggle of not knowing our own history. In our schools, we’re hardly taught about our past, and when we are it’s almost always centered around African American history and slavery, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. We aren’t taught the stories of the Black British Panthers, or how badly Black people were treated when they first emigrated to the U.K.
By constantly looking to the U.S., we are pressured to ignore how badly Blacks are treated in our own country. Our lack of knowledge of our own history leaves us looking to the U.S. to learn about our Blackness and identity.
When I was younger, America looked like Mecca to me. African Americans were seen as being cool, accepted and influential in entertainment. This was different from what we saw with Black representation in the U.K. Though the representation of African Americans at the time may have been problematic and stereotypical, they had representation and we didn’t. Our lack of culture here left me feeling lost and alienated. I looked to America to teach me how to be Black in a world that didn’t value me, but this longing to be African American just confused me more.
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But as a society, we’ve started to embrace our unique Black and British identity which has been quite influential in mainstream culture. Grime, a Black musical genre made out of Garage, Drum N Bass and Dancehall, has recently been described of the musical genre of the Youth. We’re finally started to have more of a presence in TV with shows such as Chewing Gum written by and starring Micheala Coel. Though our representation has grown, we still have a long way to go compared to U.S. and as my experience with problematic representation their shows, we can’t rely solely on media to fix racism.
Though it may seem easier being Black in Britain, we still face a lot of the problems Black people face in the U.S., because anti-Blackness is global. It’s just the way it’s encountered that varies. If you’re looking to come to the U.K to run from racism, I’m afraid you’re still going to find it here. There is no running from it. Only taking accountability for your part, and changing it. Racism exists everywhere and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Habiba is a Journalist from London who is originally Congolese who writes about race, gender and mental health.