2018 has proven to be a curious time for Black people in the UK.
Black people started to arrive in the UK in significant numbers around the 1950s/60s with the expectation of a better life. Despite the “slings and arrows” of racist insults, race discrimination and direct violence they still retained an optimism that was at odds with their experience. “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” was not an uncommon experience faced by many.
From the start of the Millennium since 9/11 this country started to treat those viewed as “foreigners” with an increasingly greater suspicion and the “hostile environment” nurtured by successive governments has contributed to this. Moreover those identified by skin colour faced the more significant differential treatment.
In my view three big issues have marked 2018 as specially significant for those of an African/Caribbean background. Namely Stop & Search, Stephen Lawrence and the Windrush Scandal.
Stop & Search has been heavily associated as a means to respond to knife crime irrespective of whether such crimes are relevant locally and this practice has yielded an unacceptable level of Stop & Search of Black people which has produced little evidence and further alienates communities who see less police enthusiasm for the pursuance of crimes that are perpetrated on them. The reality is that Stop & Search was disproportionately used against black people, mostly men, for decades and there have been a litany of excuses over the years to rationalise it’s disproportionate use against black people. We are still negotiating with Hampshire Constabulary to make more public the use of Stop & Search with specific regard to Black and Asian people in the face of calls for more stop and search and many of us know what that means.
Stephen Lawrence is another big issue and this year marks the 25th anniversary of his murder. Again it raises the issue of how seriously the Criminal Justice System deals with crimes perpetrated on Black people. It also raises the question of how this very system deals with issues of racial harassment and racial discrimination. Too often we find that such complaints interpreted as “over-sensitivity” or “political correctness” and this position sadly sits comfortably in a post Brexit world. Nonetheless the Government have now declared a Stephen Lawrence Day; but symbols are no substitute for action.
The third and final big issue for me is, of course, the Windrush Scandal. The Caribbean/West Indian community is arguably the most integrated ethnic community this country has experienced and there are many with a Caribbean heritage who are featured in many aspects of this country’s make-up. The shameful way in which these migrants have been treated has been universally condemned even by those responsible for it.
It is appreciated that other ethnic communities experienced racism and discrimination but despite the unique relationship that Black people had with this “Motherland” it makes many of us wonder if things have really changed and that sometimes what we see as progress is, in the words of Angela Davis: “A Difference That Makes No Difference and a Change That Brings No Change”