Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Dawn Butler: It’s Time We Stopped Downplaying Racism in the UK

Dawn Butler MP
I found this article by Dawn Butler MP very interesting.  I agreed with a lot of what Dawn Butler said, but disagreed with other things.  She raises some important points. 

Butler states that, as a young person, she was told by her brothers never to phone the police - if there were a problem or an incident, she should phone her brothers instead.  This reflects many Black people's reality.  She then recounts an incident in which, threatened by a white neighbour, first with a brick and then later with a knife, she calls the police, who turn up and arrest her brother.  And she states, "That is why I was always told never to call the police".

Having said this, when I was threatened with a baseball bat by a (Black) neighbour, I called the police and was impressed by the swiftness of their response.  However, after their initial visit, I heard nothing further.  I eventually wrote to my MP, Harriet Harman, about this, and she helped me, as she has done many times over the years.  After that, the police finally took action, but it was too late as the evidence had disappeared.

I would have expected Dawn Butler to know, and recommend, that we contact our MPs for help if necessary, if the police have not taken appropriate action.  Of course, some MPs are more responsive than others.

And of course, I should not have had to do this in order to get an appropriate response from the police.

Butler also states that people have told her "people say to [her] that racism isn’t as bad in the UK as it is in the US".  I have had Black people say the same thing to me.  This is a stupid and naive response.  Having lived in both countries, I would argue that racism in the two societies is both better and worse in some regards.  Racism and racist attitudes, practices and behaviours in the UK and in the U.S.A. are different and not necessarily able to be compared.  They are like apples and bananas.  But they are also the same.  Racism in both countries, and others, is the fruit of centuries of white supremacist conditioning and racist violence.

The reason so many people, Black, white and members of other races, have taken to the streets daily here in London and the UK is that they know, as we all know, that racism is a problem and is sometimes lethal.  Racist attitudes and actions by the police in this country have been involved with deaths in police custody of Black people including, for example, Joy Gardner, Smiley Culture and Cynthia Jarrett, to name but three, not to mention a whole host of other incidents such as the killing of Stephen Lawrence and the mishandling of it by the police.

We discussed some of this in my radio broadcast, "How Can We Create a Peaceful World?". 

At the moment, two documentaries about institutionalised racism in Britain are available for screening:  Justice for Joy on All 4 and Sitting in Limbo on BBC iplayer.  I watched part of Justice for Joy yesterday morning and Sitting in Limbo yesterday evening. Sitting in Limbo covers the recent "Windrush scandal" caused by the "hostile environment" towards immigrants that began under a Labour government and was fulfilled by successive Tory governments.   It focuses on Anthony Bryan, one man who was threatened with deportation after living here his whole life.  Be warned:  I was even more stressed and upset after watching these two documentaries.  It is a commentary on the current state of affairs that Joy Gardner's family have never achieved justice regarding her death.

And a reminder:  Baroness Lawrence, when she entered the House of Lords, stated that the police in Britain are characterised by institutional racism and institutional corruption.

I have seen white police officers take a knee in recognition of the horrendous slaying of George Floyd.  I have been very moved by this.  But even when they enter the force with good intentions, police trainees are entering a hostile environment with a culture of institutional racism and institutional corruption.

There are examples of big racist incidents in this country, as well as small ones.  As Butler says, we need to call out racism when we see it.  And this will benefit everyone.

We can change things.  Each and every one of us can make a difference.  

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