The British do not like Black people, especially those of us living in their country. And it is frightening. It is very frightening to think that you can be killed simply because of the colour of your skin.
In April 1993, many of us living in England were shocked by the senseless racist murder of an 18-year-old black teenager Stephen Lawrence at a bus stop in Eltham. Stephen and his friend Dwayne were waiting for a bus at around 10pm when a group of white men approached them. Simply because of the colour of their skin, Stephen and Dwayne were set upon. Dwayne managed to escape. But Stephen was brutally stabbed and left to die. For years his parents fought for justice. But “institutionalised racism within the police force”, led to his murderers getting away with the heinous crime. Or so they thought. Eighteen years later, as the case was brought again due to a change in the law, which now allowed a person to be tried for the same crime twice, two of the five white murderers were finally convicted, on 4 January 2011 – after 18 years of refusing to give up, Stephen’s family finally got some sort of justice.
As I followed the case, I kept asking myself: “Has racism against black people in England gotten any better?” The answer of course is no. Indeed I think it has even increased, albeit undercover. Because over the past couple of years, laws have been put into place to ensure racial equality. Yet in reality this is not always the case. From the days when our foreparents were invited to Britain to help boost their workforce, the British people have never really accepted foreigners. And now with all sorts of people making Britain their home, I see more resentment coming from the Brits.
Today, Britain is home to a huge number of Africans, Asians and both Eastern and Western Europeans. Despite the fact that many of these people are in Britain doing the menial jobs the British do not want to do, and despite the fact that legislation says we are all equals, many black people still have to live with daily racial harassment and abuse. Some of this abuse is verbal, some is physical and some is even covert, so you have no idea how hated you are. But it is very much there as we have recently seen in the world of football, where both fans and fellow teammates are at it, both on and off the pitch.
And it is also annoying. Annoying because back on African soil, black people still worship the British. Oh yes, many Africans still see the British and other white people as their masters. For example the ex-pat living in Africa has the best job and the best house in the best residential areas. The ex-pat living in Africa has the services of a maid (or several maids), nannies, drivers, errand boys etc. Oh yes, the ex-pat in Africa has the black African running and cleaning up after him. If you have ever seen a British ex-pat talk to his local staff in Africa, you will truly see how they see us – as inferior beings who should be spoken to and treated with contempt and disdain. And when we reinforce this by saying “How high?” to their “Jump”, how can we expect any better treatment in the White man’s land?
History has shown time and time again, as a people, black people are very hospitable and accommodating. Not so our white counterparts. So whereas we welcome them on our land, they look at us on their land and say “What are you doing here? Go back home.”
Oh yes, Britain is still very much a racist society. And this can be seen in the world of business, media and entertainment, sports and everyday living. Having lived in England since aged ten, I have naturally made some English friends and I am not for one moment saying all English people are racist. But sadly racism is alive and kicking. For example, have you noticed how crime is reported in the news? I have really become aware of this more so in the last eight months since my return from Ghana.
Every time there is a crime and the alleged perpetrators are white, the newsreader will say “The police are looking for two men, aged 18.” But if the alleged perpetrators are black this is how the news will sound: “The police are looking for two BLACK men, aged 18.” And this happens in movies too. If the bad guys are white, they are just bad guys. But if they are black their colour is a big issue throughout the movie. Knowing the power of the media, the British never miss the opportunity to use it to reinforce their racist views of black people.
For example, in September 2010, Channel 4 broadcast a new drama, Top Boy. Weeks before the show was aired, you should have seen the amount of publicity going on. Huge billboards were erected across London. Almost every other commercial on Channel 4 was to promote Top Boy so like the majority of people (both black and white) I know, I sat down to watch it. And I was greatly insulted. Because all Top Boy did was to reinforce the British view of black people as drug-dealing, gun-carrying gangsters.
Now if you were to ask Channel 4 to commission a series portraying, for example, a black community which comes together to raise money for a little girl dying of sickle cell problems, they would not commission it. Because this positive story would go against what they want the population to think of black people. Sad but true.
In the eight months since returning from Ghana, I have sent proposal after proposal to the television stations, but they are not interested simply because I want to tell the positive black story. In one proposal, entitled “Who killed the Black Woman?” I was questioning what had happened to the proud African woman who wears natural hair. A black friend who is a film director advised me if I really wanted to get this programme commissioned, why not tie it in to the riots? His idea was to find a young girl who had taken part in the August riots and somehow make her the focus of the documentary. Because apparently this is the kind of story the British media want to broadcast – anything that will shed a negative light on black people will get the go-ahead. After eight months of monitoring British television, I can count the number of black faces on there. And it is not pretty or representative. In the case of newsreaders and presenters, there are a handful of black people. In the case of dramas and movies, black people are always the bad guys. And if they happen to be a good guy then they are likely to be the first to die.
This is nothing new. In fact if anything it has rather become worse in the last eighteen years since Stephen Lawrence was murdered by racist white people. I have always known racism to exist in Britain, but lately I feel it more. Not necessarily because I have been personally attacked but it is there in the air. And lately it is making me look at every white person as a potential attacker. I have never been racist against white people. I have distrusted them since my twenties when I had a couple of bad experiences with the British police (for example, being manhandled by thirteen police officers and then thrown into the police cells in Manchester because of a row with a white taxi driver!) and since I discovered my history as a black person. But lately, I feel every white person hates me. Every time I see a white person staring at me, I think they want me dead. As a mother raising two black boys I am always on edge. And this cannot be good. I cannot go on living with this paranoia.
So I think of my good white friends. And it gives me hope. But then I turn on the television only to be confronted with negative images of black people and I am reminded all over again that Britain is not my home and I will never be welcome here, no matter how many British toilets I clean. No matter that I work legitimately and genuinely contribute to society, the British will always see me as an outsider who should “Go back home.”
For me, I am lucky, I know where my home is and can go back any time. But what about those who were born here, like their parents and grandparents before them? There are some people who know no other home than Britain. How are these people supposed to feel when their fellow countrymen tell them to “Go back home”?
Eighteen years after the racist murder of a bright young black man on the streets of London, I believe racism in Britain has grown and grown. Will it ever end? I do not think so. But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.