Home Society & Culture The UK Has a Weird Form of Institutional Racism

The UK Has a Weird Form of Institutional Racism

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Wales welcomes a new leader. Vaughan Gething emerged victorious in the Welsh Labour Party leadership contest on Saturday, positioning himself to make history as Wales’ first Black leader and Europe’s first Black head of government.

Gething, whose father is Welsh and mother is Zambian, said in his victory speech, “Today, we turn a page in the book of our nation’s history.”

This is a monumental moment. It now means that the UK, a country often maligned as inherently racist and sexist, will have its main governments led by non-white males. Michelle O’Neill leads Northern Ireland, Humza Yousaf leads Scotland, Sadiq Khan leads London, and Rishi Sunak is the national leader.

This should be cause for optimism, right? One might expect this to significantly change perceptions of a country often criticised for its oppression and racism Perhaps it’s time to move beyond outdated paradigms and embrace a more current and accurate view of British society today.

There seems to be a disconnect between the prevailing narratives and the actual picture. Some activists and public figures still unabashedly claim that there is more racism today than decades ago. They paint a grim picture of the country’s current state compared to earlier times. The issue is that they consistently overlook the growing diversity among leaders, viewing it as an isolated occurrence rather than part of broader societal changes. These exceptions, they argue, matter little in the face of racial disparities and don’t accurately represent the ongoing challenges faced by ethnic minorities in Britain.

It’s an endless battle with no way of winning. Racism and disparities will always exist in our societies, so insisting on their complete elimination as the only measure of progress is impractical and nonsensical. It also fails to recognise the importance of small positive changes and the significance of having minority leaders in influential positions.

One must also not forget that when a member of an ethnic minority group is elected into office, their responsibilities are the same as those of a White person. Their role is not just to represent their own ethnic group or solely focus on tackling racism; it is to lead with integrity and enact effective policies for the betterment of the entire community they serve and society as a whole.

Some argue that certain ethnic minorities are merely used as pawns or tokens by the “dominant White system” to showcase or attempt to prove the country’s supposed lack of racism. However, a genuinely racist society wouldn’t concern itself with optics; instead, it would actively and consistently exclude those it deems inferior, particularly from positions of influence.

Dismissing visible minority representation as inconsequential or trivial until some utopian, racism-free society emerges makes me question the end goal of many modern-day civil rights activists.

If the ultimate objective is genuine representation, diversity, and inclusion of marginalised groups, especially within the highest echelons of society, and yet, when achieved, there’s always a ‘but,’ then one has to question the true motivations behind DEI efforts. If an individual from a historically marginalised group achieves a level of power and influence, then such an event should be celebrated unconditionally, without caveats about persisting racism.

Many are reluctant to abandon the idea of institutional racism because the universal concept of racism has become an institution itself. It has morphed into an entity that creates and maintains careers, sustains livelihoods, elevates social status, and garners accolades. It’s therefore understandable that those who benefit from this institution would not want it to cease existing. This explains why these same people give lip service to DEI and racial justice efforts, yet consistently undermine these initiatives, whether directly or indirectly, whenever progress is made.

And this happens all too often. We saw it with the Obama election and his two-term presidency as US president. We also saw it with the appointment of the most diverse cabinet in British history. Not only were these events not enough to signify progress, but they also apparently signified how much progress hasn’t been made. Every step forward appears to be met with resistance, like climbing a steep hill while weights are constantly added to your ankles as you approach the summit. The journey becomes unnecessarily prolonged and needlessly arduous.

It seems that no matter how many milestones are achieved or barriers are broken, certain voices remain steadfast in their commitment to perpetuating the narrative of systemic racism, regardless of contradictory evidence.

Ada Akpala is the senior content officer of The Equiano Project.


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