Racism, a belief that some races have an inborn superiority over others, is occasionally a source of radical behaviour in the modern era of human civilization. The racist point of view has been a pretext for battles and aggressions in different societies on occasion. In recent decades, UK parliamentary records show debates objecting to hostile and punitive immigration policies during the 1990s and afterwards. At that time, conflicts around the globe forced people who were under pressure in their countries to emigrate. With asylum-seekers arriving in the UK, some politicians claimed that they were suspicious of these so-called illegal immigrants and argued for the exploitation of British generosity.
While only 3% of the British people believed immigration was a key issue in their society in the mid-90s, this figure rose to 48% in 2016. Euroscepticism and emphasis on Britain grew more among far-right Britons over the last decades and led to the establishment of a political party called UKIP. The party believes that the age of mass immigration must be ended and that net migration should be reduced to a much lower rate. It was assumed that hostility towards immigration in some parts of British society would be inevitable, but it also turned out to be a source of argument among British politicians with dissimilar viewpoints about migrants. Britain continued to accept migrants with distrust and believed it was not inevitable that they would be a damaging and disruptive force in UK politics. During the 2016 EU referendum, UKIP and Eurosceptics were popular among those opposed to immigration and the leave campaign complained it was Labour’s policy to increase immigration, the outcome of which was political and social discontent across the UK.
Racism in UK society has several dimensions, ranging from Euroscepticism to discrimination against minorities. One of the reasons Eurosceptics wanted to leave the union was because they were against the freedom of movement among EU member states allowing the easy flow of citizens from the poorer Eastern European countries into the UK. It seems that Brexit has legitimised and propagated such feelings and actions, leading to a major surge in mistreatments and attacks on foreign-looking residents and those who speak a foreign language in the UK almost among all strata of society, including the workplace, academic centres, and on the street.
One recent research found that 95% of the young Black population in the UK is subjected to racist language in schools. Among them, some 51% of Black males said that they suffer racist remarks all the time. Almost half of them feel that racist behaviour is the chief obstacle to academic attainment. The others believe that the opinion of their teachers is the biggest obstacle to their educational achievement in UK society. Based on the UK government’s own data, “Black and Muslim minorities have twice the unemployment rate of their white British peers.” It shows that Black and Muslim minorities in the UK are twice as likely to live in overcrowded households as compared to the white population. It is also more likely for Black and Muslim minorities to experience police stop and search.
The reaction of Britain society to racism
There are numerous reports in the UK media about incidents in every corner of the country and demonstrations by people who oppose immigration. Racist Britons are more confident about committing racist acts in society and on social media following Brexit. Such behaviour, which has increased considerably in the UK, is rooted in the belief of their own superiority and the inferiority of others. In September 2020, a group of angry far-rights clashed with human rights advocates in demonstrations against the arrival of thousands of immigrants into the country. There have also been many reports of police discrimination against minorities and courts have fired or convicted a number of officers. In a recent incident, lots of anti-migrant protesters blocked a major road in the south of the country and chanted against immigration. Some of the protesters claimed there are terrorists among migrants entering the UK.
The scope of racism in Britain has reached academic centres on all levels. UK’s universities maintain “institutional racism” and many students from abroad have experienced racist treatment. A report titled “Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education” suggests that universities are unable to address thousands of racist incidents occurring every year. About 25% of ethnic minority students say that they have been a target of racial harassment while many UK universities were unaware of the extent of the problem; they were overoptimistic about their own ability to respond to such issues, adding to the problems of minority students.
Grim racism in the UK extends to the Royal family as well. When Prince Harry started a romantic relationship with the US actress Meghan Markle, she was subjected to a great deal of harassment and mistreatment. About two years after their wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex stepped back from their royal duties. They were faced with racism, harassment, and bullying by the British press. Meghan Markle said she had heard some very offensive jokes and name-calling. Although they do not directly say that racism was the reason behind their decision to leave the UK, Prince Harry once criticised the racist coverage of Meghan in the press in 2016. The Duke of Sussex confessed that being raised in the Royal Family did not give him an understanding of “unconscious racial bias” in society. He added that “living in Meghan’s shoes” helped him recognise the problem in British society. Meghan and Harry called for ending “structural racism” in the UK in an interview. They emphasised that the country could be a better place to live in if the British recognise and respect people with different colour skins.
In addition to racist behaviour by the public and media, the UK government is also a cause of anti-immigration issues in the country. The Home Office recently announced that it had returned several migrants to mainland Europe who had crossed the English Channel. Also, the mistreatment of detainees has been reported at the Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, a privately managed detention centre operating on behalf of the Home Office. Illegal immigrants held at the centre are reportedly assaulted, mocked, and abused by the staff. The situation for immigrants was so dire that several staff members were dismissed and human rights activists asked the government for an alternative place. On the other hand, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in recent comments used offensive language about immigrants, which resulted in much criticism against him. He called the immigrants crossing the channel very bad people who are not only dangerous and criminal but also stupid. Humanitarian groups and charities censured Boris Johnson due to the use of inappropriate language and scapegoating people who have no choice but to risk their lives to enter the UK.
In an article dated 2018, Dr William Allchorn at the University of Leeds, and Professor Matthew Feldman from Teesside University and a Professorial Fellow at the University of York, argued that the pace of events relating to racial actions is quickening in Britain. While racism has always existed in British society, the EU referendum, the latest surge in right-wing extremism, and an inadequate response by UK officials to the issue of migrants, have all added up and culminated in radical acts against foreigners and minorities already in the UK and those trying to reach the country. Such issues emerged increasingly year after year against minorities such as the Black population, Eastern European citizens, and Muslims who make up 5% of the UK population. Humanitarian activists continue to call upon UK politicians and human rights movements to remove structural racism in Britain.