A few weeks ago, Jill and I received a message from Lola Adesioye asking if she could write a guest post. Lola’s got an interesting, international perspective on race, and we thought yall would dig it. Please let us and Lola know what you think! – Jack

The UK is not a haven of racial tolerance

In the UK, the police tactic of ‘stop and search’, when a police officer stops and searches you on suspicion of being a likely criminal, has always been highly controversial. It is the police misuse of stopping and searching – a tactic that requires little justification or evidence apart from the fact that you simply look suspicious – that led to the 1981 riots in Brixton (London) and it has been largely responsible for poor relations between the police and the black British community. Over the years, it has been shown that black men are disproportionately more likely to be stopped and searched.

When 10 years ago, top judge Lord McPherson shocked the UK by condemning the police force as ‘institutionally racist’ (after their discrimination resulted in a botched enquiry into the racist murder of a young black man called Stephen Lawrence) it was hoped that racially-motivated biases in police practices would be reduced. However, the police have continued to fight for their right to use stop and search, despite little evidence that it’s effective.

This week new evidence has come out to show that not only are racial discrepancies in stop and search ongoing but that they are progressively worsening. Black men in the UK are now 8 times more likely (up from 6 times) to be stopped and searched than white males.

The UK likes to claim that it is a haven of multi-cultural love. My friends back home – I was born and raised in London – will often talk about how the UK has it so much better than the US, where I have been living for the past 2 years. I don’t agree that the UK is any better off in its race relations than the US. The difference is that we Brits, for the most part, like to pretend that race isn’t an issue while Americans (despite the fact that you think you don’t) talk about it a great deal more.

But every now and again something happens that raises questions about the way in which Brits really view race and racism. If the UK really is such a place of tolerance and where race doesn’t matter, how does one explain such discrepancies like those which we see with stop and search? Is it that black people are 8 times more likely to be involved in crime?

And of course, racial discrepancies are not just in the police force/legal justice system. When we look at education, at mental health and in the work place the racial disparities are also glaring.

Integration cannot be on a superficial basis alone. I don’t care what colour your next door neighbour is if he is not able to move easily throughout society without being suspected of being a criminal, less able, or any other negative judgment because of his race. That is not integration. That, my fellow Brits, is called discrimination.

In the UK there needs to be openness and honesty about race. We need to stop pretending that we live in a racial utopia, when it’s quite clear that we don’t. The police force is made up of regular Britons too – their views cannot be seen as different from the rest of the population.

Black Britons also shouldn’t be afraid to talk about race. We were very active in bringing issues of race and race relations to the fore in the 70s and 80s, but this progress has since stalled. It is up to us to come up with solutions for how we move forward.

I also think there is also a lot we can learn from the US… but that’s a topic for another day.

Lola Adesioye is a black British writer who lives in New York. She writes for publications like The Guardian, The Economist and the Huffington Post on race, politics and popular culture from a Generation Y, international perspective. www.lolacreative.com

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