Not very long ago, my colleague and I visited Dunfermline, Scotland, for local business. It was a vibrant town with Victorian Architecture in almost every corner of the town center. It was during one evening that my Cambridge – a born colleague of Indian descent and I were approached by an elderly couple, the lady in particular curious about our ethnicity. “So, where are you from?” she asked my colleague. When my colleague said that she was from Cambridge, the first red flag was raised with another question. “No, but where are you from originally?” With hesitation, we conveyed our Indian origins, me in particular, mentioning my Tamil ethnicity. What followed afterward were statements that could only be categorized as subtle racism.
She expressed her surprise that I did not look like a Tamil, for my skin was not dark enough. She then stated how Great Britain was a small island, with many South Asian immigrants crawling their way in and stealing people’s jobs. She did not hide her disappointment when she feared for her British culture and practices. With that, she ended her monologue by telling what most privileged white people say when they refuse to admit their racism, “You must know; I have many Indian friends, all of whom agree with me. You must understand that.”
To have an experience like that in Scotland, a country where I have mostly experienced warm and welcoming people, opened my eye to what many older generations felt. The United Kingdom held a rich history dominated mainly by white men. With the turn of the century, however, an ever-increasing amount of immigration from Asian countries followed. By the sheer population of the ever-increasing minority, many majority groups felt discomfort. Aside from the Asian community, there still exists hostility towards minorities from African Nations, the Middle East, and the Latin American community. It made me conclude that racism is still prevalent in British Society.
Most minorities in the UK have never experienced direct racism. Some, however, have been subject to Prejudice, Islamophobia, and Discrimination through indirect means such as seclusion in schools and universities and avoidance by Europeans from mingling with other communities. One of the most critical cases in recent years was the case of cricketer Azeem Rafiq, who revealed that he had experienced harassment from his teammates and fellow cricketers in the Yorkshire County cricket club due to his religion. Even Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, alleged that the Royal family had been unwelcoming toward her due to her African American heritage.
The situation of religious bias and racism towards the minority community in the UK stems from history and cultural differences. The British imperialist government created a hierarchy system with white Europeans on top and African and Asians at the bottom. However, as countries began to gain independence from their colonial powers, the tide shifted. In the 1960s, people from Africa and Asia were encouraged to come to England. Many who did often experienced racism and hostility. Discrimination and racism were not illegal in Britain until 1965. In 1968, the British Band, The Beatles released a song titled “No Pakistanis,” expressing their dislike towards the Pakistani community. The lyrics of an earlier version of the song go like this- “Don’t dig no Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs.” Which was a surprising contrast to their writing songs such as “Blackbird” and “All You Need is Love.”
As Migrant workers continued to pour in, many commonwealth countries like Kenya (1963), and Zimbabwe (1980), were gaining independence from their British Colonisers. This increased a sense of distaste for the British crowd toward immigrants.
Immigrants from African and Asian countries migrate to developed nations in the west for many reasons. Many do so to escape oppressive regimes, but most seek a better quality of life through healthcare, living, and education. Such amenities are still unavailable to many in developing nations.
Another reason for increased immigration also stems from the oppressive colonial times, with countries having their economy ruined and the lack of jobs available for people. A small aspect of society also has a “white superiority complex” ingrained in them. This belief root in colonial times, which forced many Asians and Africans to follow and obey the rules of British Imperialism by considering the British Monarch as head of state. An example was how Queen Victoria was proclaimed “Empress of India” in 1857. Countries like Nigeria (1884), Gold Coast (Modern Day Ghana, 1874), and Gambia (1888) were governed by Queen Victoria as the ruling Monarch. The colonial mentality is an internalized attitude and cultural inferiority felt by people because of British Colonisation, and they seek to change it through immigration. The colonial mentality still lingers today in former commonwealth realms. While efforts have been shown by calling out colorism and tackling collective depression, there is still a long way to go.
The African and Asian diaspora, who have now settled for many generations in the UK, however, see a slight shift among their white counterparts. With stricter actions taken against offenders and with the increasing number of Human Rights Movements such as Black Lives Matter, laws to tackle racism are being put into action more efficiently. An unlikely ally has also emerged against ethnic minorities through Pop Culture showcasing inclusivity in Movies and Television Shows. Many sports persons, such as Lewis Hamilton and Emma Raducanu, are also paving the way for minorities to excel in sports that were once dominated by the European majority. With all that, many prominent personalities like Shashi Tharoor have advocated for Colonialism and Transatlantic Slave Trade to be taught in British Schools for the British public to Educate and learn from history. Fighting against Racism is still a long battle that must be won, but needless to say, it is a battle worth fighting.
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