A panel of UN experts paints a bleak picture of the state of racism in the UK, but the government says it is only “a superficial analysis” and that the country is “open, tolerant and welcoming”.
By Shamaan Freeman-Powell, Sky News —
Black people in the UK are “living in fear” due to structural, institutional and systemic racism, according to a United Nations working group.
The experts, who spent 10 days travelling across the UK, warned that people of African descent continue to encounter racial discrimination and erosion of their fundamental rights.
It also highlighted “trauma” felt by people who are suffering racial discrimination, particularly in the criminal justice system.
Dominique Day, a human rights expert for the group, said: “What we found overwhelmingly was a culture of fear, a culture of denial, where the conversation about racism usually involves gaslighting and the delegitimisation of very credible claims.”
The group found the fear in black communities was “pervasive” and widespread across multiple sectors, including – but not limited to – asylum seekers, the Windrush generation, people in social housing and parents experiencing social care scrutiny.
“It was widespread, it was across sectors, across generations, across income levels, but it was a real feature of everyday life for a lot of black people here,” said Ms Day.
Olamide said he was 17 when he was arrested by British Transport Police in a case of mistaken identity.
He said he was “manhandled” by two police officers, had his face pushed against the pavement and handcuffs were placed so tightly they drew blood.
“I’ve seen this in the movies, I’ve seen this happen to other people, and I never thought it would actually happen to me,” he said.
“I have never committed a crime. I haven’t done anything illegal, but I still had to experience something that shouldn’t have happened to me. It’s upsetting.”
In response to the complaint, British Transport Police said: “The result of the complaint has since been finalised. No misconduct was identified – however the service was found to not be acceptable.
“This has been explained in a letter to the complainant, acknowledging that our communication with him during the incident could have been better and could have helped de-escalate the situation.
“British Transport Police has offered an apology to the boy and his family and the officers involved have been provided with points of learning.”
‘Playing the race card’
Olamide said the incident not only left him with physical scars, but mental ones too.
“Every time I can hear a siren I still feel startled, even though I haven’t done anything wrong; but they can just randomly pull up and arrest me the same way they did before.
“So I’m just living in constant fear of not knowing if I’m gonna get arrested, or if a police officer is going to stop me. Or if anything bad’s gonna happen to me,” he said.
When asked if he agreed with the working group’s findings that racism is often dismissed, he swiftly nodded his head.
“Yes”, he said, explaining that when he told officers he believed he was treated unjustly due to the colour of his skin, he was told he was “playing the race card”.
“There’s been so many instances where I’ve had people say, ‘here we go, the race card’, like we use it as a defence mechanism.
“We use it because we know when something’s wrong.”
The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent also met representatives from UK central government and local government, including the department responsible for equality.
It did find some positives, highlighting that the country is a “leader” in the collection of data and good data practice.
But the group found holes in the government’s plan to tackle discrimination by “focusing on equality of opportunity and not equality of outcomes”.
Experts say this is a failure to acknowledge or confront how opportunities for people of African descent have been eroded through all aspects of society.
‘Trying to justify inaction’
Ms Day described the government approach as being like “twisting into a pretzel” and that it was “very apparent at the higher levels of government”.
This isn’t the first time the working group has travelled to the UK. They were invited in 2012, but they said many of the conditions for people of African descent seem to have worsened.
Instead of addressing the human rights of people of African descent, the working group said “we saw really complex narratives trying to justify inaction”.
The experts have encouraged all stakeholders, including the government, to do more to ensure the rehabilitation, restoration and reconciliation of the state with its people.
They will present a report with their findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2023.
But Ms Day added: “There’s enough reports, there’s enough recommendations, there’s enough data, and we say that in the findings as well.
A government spokesperson said it “strongly” rejects most of the findings, claiming the report “wrongly views people of African descent as a single homogenous group of people”.
It said the findings present a “superficial analysis” of complex issues that fail to look at all possible causes of disparities, not just race.
“We are proud that the UK is an open, tolerant and welcoming country but this hard-earned global reputation is not properly reflected in this report,” the spokesperson said.
“We are not complacent and recognise some people experience racism in Britain, but we are very clear this has no place in our society and must be rooted out.”
They said the government had made “great strides in addressing racial and ethnic disparities, most recently with our ground-breaking Inclusive Britain strategy”.
“Instead of sowing division, we must celebrate the fact that this country strives to give everybody, from every community, in every corner of the UK, the opportunity to thrive and succeed,” the spokesperson added.
Source: Sky News