Xenophobia in the United Kingdom

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Xenophobia, including racism, is a phenomenon present in the United Kingdom. The extent and the targets of xenophobic and racist attitudes in the UK have varied over the course of time. The history of xenophobia and the United Kingdom is heavily linked to its relationship with its former colonies and citizens that comprised the British Empire, many of whom settled in Great Britain, particularly following World War II. It is also strongly linked to the attitudes and norms of the entrenched British class system.[1]

The UK has never implemented any laws that officially discriminate or segregate on the grounds of race or ethnicity. Furthermore, it has never been an offence for persons of different ethnicities to marry one another. It has never been the case that a British citizen has been denied the vote on the basis of his or her race or ethnicity. Racial segregation and discrimination were never mandated or sanctioned by law in the United Kingdom.[citation needed] Laws were passed in the 1960s that specifically prohibited segregation.[2]

Use of the word 'racism' became more widespread after 1936, although the term "race hatred" was used in the late 1920s by sociologist Frederick Hertz.

Studies published in 2014 and 2015 claim racism is on the rise in the UK, with more than one third of those polled admitting they are racially prejudiced.[3] Racism has been observed as having a correlation between negative factors, such as unemployment, and foreigners. Brexit has increased racist incidents were locals became hostile to foreigners or perceived foreigners.[4] Racism within the United Kingdom has resulted in cases of riots and racially motivated murders.

Black British[edit]

The slave trade[edit]

Within British society were slave owners.[5] By the mid 18th century, London had the largest Black population in Britain, made up of free and enslaved people, as well as many runaways. The total number may have been about 10,000.[6] Many of these people were forced into beggary due to the lack of jobs and racial discrimination.[7][8] Owners of African slaves in England would advertise slave-sales and for re-capture runaways.[9][10]

After abolition[edit]

Racism against black people grew in popularity after 1860, when race-based discrimination was fed by then-popular theories of scientific racism. Attempts to support these theories cited 'scientific evidence', such as brain size. James Hunt, President of the London Anthropological Society, in 1863 in his paper "On the Negro's place in nature" wrote,"the Negro is inferior intellectually to the European...[and] can only be humanised and civilised by Europeans.''[11]

By World War I, there were about 20,000 black people in Britain. Following disarmament in 1919, surplus of labour and shortage of housing led to dissatisfaction among Britain’s working class, in particular sailors and dock workers. In ports, such as South Shields,[12] Glasgow, London's East End, Liverpool, Cardiff, Barry, and Newport there were fierce race riots targeting ethnic minority populations. During violence in 1919 there were five fatalities, as well as widespread vandalisation of property. 120 black workers were sacked in Liverpool after whites refused to work with them. A modern study of the 1919 riots by Jacqueline Jenkinson showed that police arrested nearly twice as many blacks (155) as whites (89). While most of the whites were convicted, nearly half of Black arrestees were acquitted. Jenkinson suggests that the courts acknowledged their innocence and were recognising and attempting to correct for police bias.[13]

The colour bar existed throughout much of the country in the early 20th century. The landmark case Constantine v Imperial Hotels Ltd (1944) established an important step in the development of modern anti-discrimination law[14] and according to Peter Mason, it "was one of the key milestones along the road to the creation of the Race Relations Act of 1965."[15] Popular Trinidadian cricketer Learie Constantine was awarded damages at the High Court after being turned away from the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square, London in 1943. The proprietor believed his presence would offend American servicemen who were also staying there. Public and political opinion was in Constantine's favour over the case. In Parliament, then Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs Paul Emrys-Evans said the government: "most strongly condemns any form of racial discrimination against Colonial people in this country."[16] Although racial discrimination continued in England, this case was the first to challenge such practices in court. Critics regard it as a milestone in British racial equality in demonstrating that black people had legal recourse against some forms of racism.[17]

There were further riots targeting immigrant and minority populations in East London and Notting Hill in the 1950s, leading to the establishment of the Notting Hill Carnival.

The Windrush generation[edit]

Black immigrants who arrived in Britain from the Caribbean in the 1950s faced significant amounts of racism. For many Caribbean immigrants, their first experience of discrimination came when trying to find private accommodation. They were generally ineligible for council housing because only people who had been resident in the UK for a minimum of five years qualified for it. At the time, there was no anti-discrimination legislation to prevent landlords from refusing to accept black tenants. A survey undertaken in Birmingham in 1956 found that only 15 of a total of 1,000 white people surveyed would let a room to a black tenant. As a result, many black immigrants were forced to live in slum areas of cities, where the housing was of poor quality and there were problems of crime, violence and prostitution.[18][19] One of the most notorious slum landlords was Peter Rachman, who owned around 100 properties in the Notting Hill area of London. Black tenants typically paid twice the rent of white tenants, and lived in conditions of extreme overcrowding.[18]

Historian Winston James argues that the experience of racism in Britain was a major factor in the development of a shared Caribbean identity amongst black immigrants from a range of different island and class backgrounds.[20]

1970s and 1980s[edit]

In the 1970s and 1980s, black people in Britain were the victims of racist violence perpetrated by far-right groups such as the National Front.[21] During this period, it was also common for Black footballers to be subjected to racist chanting from crowd members.[22][23]

In the early 1980s, societal racism, discrimination and poverty — alongside further perceptions of powerlessness and oppressive policing — sparked a series of riots in areas with substantial African-Caribbean populations.[24] These riots took place in St Pauls in 1980, Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side in 1981, St Pauls again in 1982, Notting Hill Gate in 1982, Toxteth in 1982, and Handsworth, Brixton and Tottenham in 1985.[25]

21st Century[edit]

Racism in Britain in general, including against black people, is considered to have declined over time. Academic Robert Ford demonstrates that social distance, measured using questions from the British Social Attitudes survey about whether people would mind having an ethnic minority boss or have a close relative marry an ethnic minority spouse, declined over the period 1983–1996. These declines were observed for attitudes towards Black and Asian ethnic minorities. Much of this change in attitudes happened in the 1990s. In the 1980s, opposition to interracial marriage were significant.[26][27]

Nonetheless, Ford argues that "Racism and racial discrimination remain a part of everyday life for Britain's ethnic minorities. Black and Asian Britons...are less likely to be employed and are more likely to work in worse jobs, live in worse houses and suffer worse health than White Britons".[26] The University of Maryland's Minorities at Risk (MAR) project noted in 2006 that while African-Caribbeans in the United Kingdom no longer face formal discrimination, they continue to be under-represented in politics, and to face discriminatory barriers in access to housing and in employment practices. The project also notes that the British school system "has been indicted on numerous occasions for racism, and for undermining the self-confidence of black children and maligning the culture of their parents". The MAR profile on African-Caribbeans in the United Kingdom notes "growing 'black on black' violence between people from the Caribbean and immigrants from Africa".[28]

A report published by the University and College Union in 2019 found that just 0.1% of active professors in the UK are black women, compared with 68% who are white men, and found that the black women professors had faced discriminatory abuse and exclusion throughout their careers.[29]

British Asians[edit]

Starting in the late 1960s,[30] and peaking in the 1970s and 1980s, violent gangs opposed to immigration took part in frequent attacks known as "Paki-bashing", which targeted and assaulted Pakistanis and other South Asians.[31] "Paki-bashing" was unleashed after Enoch Powell's inflammatory Rivers of Blood speech in 1968,[30] although there is "little agreement on the extent to which Powell was responsible for racial attacks".[32] Powell refused to accept responsibility for any violence, or to disassociate himself from the views when questioned by David Frost in 1969, arguing that they were never associated in the first place.[32]

These attacks peaked during the 1970s–1980s, with the attacks mainly linked to far-right fascist, racist and anti-immigrant movements, including the white power skinheads, the National Front, and the British National Party (BNP).[33][34] These attacks were usually referred to as either "Paki-bashing" or "skinhead terror", with the attackers usually called "Paki-bashers" or "skinheads".[30] "Paki-bashing" was also fueled by the British media's anti-immigrant and anti-Pakistani rhetoric at the time,[34] and by systemic failures of state authorities, which included under-reporting racist attacks, the criminal justice system not taking racist attacks seriously, constant racial harassment by police, and sometimes police involvement in racist violence.[30]

Pub damaged in the 2001 Bradford riots between White and Pakistani sectors

Both the Bradford riots and the Oldham Riots occurred in 2001, following cases of racism. These were either the public displays of racist sentiment or, as in the Brixton Riots, racial profiling and alleged harassment by police forces. In 2005, there were the Birmingham riots, derived from ethnic tensions between the British African-Caribbean people and British Asian communities, with the spark for the riot being an alleged gang rape of a teenage black girl by a group of South Asian men.

In 2006, 1,543 victims of racist crime in Scotland were of Pakistani origin, while more than 1,000 victims were classed as being "White British".[35]

Kriss Donald was a Scottish fifteen-year-old boy who was kidnapped and murdered in Glasgow in 2004.[36] Five British Pakistani men were later found guilty of racially motivated violence; those convicted of murder were all sentenced to life imprisonment.[citation needed]

However, there are indications that the Scottish authorities and people are well aware of the problem and are trying to tackle it. Among Scots under fifteen years old, there is the sign that, "younger white pupils rarely drew on racist discourses."[37]

In 2009, the murder of an Indian sailor named Kunal Mohanty by a lone Scotsman named Christopher Miller resulted in Miller's conviction as a criminal motivated by racial hatred. Miller's brother gave evidence during the trial and said Miller told him he had "done a Paki".[38]

As of 11 February 2011, attacks on Muslims in Scotland have contributed to a 20% increase in racist incidents over the past twelve months. Reports say every day in Scotland, seventeen people are abused, threatened or violently attacked because of the colour of their skin, ethnicity or nationality. Statistics showed that just under 5,000 incidents of racism were recorded in 2009/10, a slight decrease from racist incidents recorded in 2008/9.[39]

From 2004-12, the rate of racist incidents has been around 5,000 incidents per year.[39] In 2011-12, there were 5,389 racist incidents recorded by the police, which is a 10% increase on the 4,911 racist incidents recorded in 2010-11.[39]

British Jews[edit]

Since the arrival of Jews in England following the Norman Conquest in 1066 Jews have been subjected to discrimination.[40] Jews living in England from about King Stephen's reign experienced religious discrimination and it is thought that the blood libel which accused Jews of ritual murder originated in England, leading to massacres and increasing discrimination. An example of early English antisemitism was the York pogrom at Clifford's Tower in 1190 which resulted in an estimated 150 Jews taking their own lives or being burned to death in the tower.[41] The Jewish presence in England continued until King Edward I's Edict of Expulsion in 1290.[42]

The earliest recorded images of antisemitism are found in the Royal tax records from 1233.[43]

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the number of Jews in Britain greatly increased due to the exodus of Jews from Russia, which resulted in a large community of Jews forming in the East End of London. Popular sentiment against immigration was used by the British Union of Fascists to incite hatred against Jews, leading to the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, at which the fascists were repulsed by Jews, Irish dock workers and Communists[44] and anti-fascists who barricaded the streets.[45]

In the 20th century, the UK began restricting immigration under the Aliens Act 1905. Although the Act did not mention Jews specifically, "it was clear to most observers" that the act was mainly aimed at Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe.[46] Winston Churchill, then a Liberal MP, said that the Act appealed to "insular prejudice against the foreigners, to racial prejudice against the Jews, and to labour prejudice against competition".[46]

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, undisguised, racial hatred of Jews became unacceptable in British society.[47] Outbursts of antisemitism emanating from far right groups continued, however, leading to the formation of the 43 Group led by Jewish ex-servicemen which broke up fascist meetings. Far-right antisemitism was motivated principally by racial hatred, rather than Christian theological accusations of Deicide.

Official interventions[edit]

The UK did have an ad-hoc asylum policy for cases of religious persecution but it was curtailed during the First World War by both the Alien Restriction Act 1914 and the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914.[citation needed] Despite restrictions, the UK was among the states which accepted many immigrants prior to, during and following WWII.

The Race Relations Act 1965 outlawed public discrimination, and established the Race Relations Board. Further Acts in 1968 and 1976 outlawed discrimination in employment, housing and social services, and replaced the Race Relations Board with Commission for Racial Equality[48] that merged into the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2004. The Human Rights Act 1998 made organisations in the UK, including public authorities, subject to the European Convention on Human Rights.[49] The Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 extends existing legislation for the public sector to the police force, and requires public authorities to promote equality.

Polls in the 1960s and 1970s showed that racial prejudice was widespread among the British population at the time.[50] A Gallup poll, for example, showed that 75% of the population were sympathetic to Enoch Powell's views expressed in his Rivers of Blood speech.[33] An NOP poll showed that approximately 75% of the British population agreed with Powell's demand for non-white immigration to be halted completely, and about 60% agreed with his inflammatory call for the repatriation of non-whites already resident in Britain.[50]

A 1981 report identified both "racial discrimination" and an "extreme racial disadvantage" in the UK, concluding that urgent action was needed to prevent these issues becoming an "endemic, ineradicable disease threatening the very survival of our society".[24] The era saw an increase in attacks on black and Asian people by white people. The Joint Campaign Against Racism committee reported that there had been more than 20,000 attacks on British people of colour, including Britons of South Asian origin, during 1985.[51]

Racism in the police[edit]

Various police forces in the United Kingdom (such as the Greater Manchester Police, the London Metropolitan Police, the Sussex Police and the West Yorkshire Police services)[52] have been accused of institutionalised racism throughout the late 20th and 21st centuries, by people such as the Chief Constable of the GMP in 1998 (David Wilmot); the BBC's Secret Policemen documentary 5 years later (which led to the resignation of 6 officers);[53] Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe[54] and the Metropolitan Black Police Association.[55]

The National Black Police Association which allows only African, African-Caribbean and Asian officers as full members has been criticised as a racist organization by some because of its selective membership criteria based on ethnic origin.[56][57][58]

Michael Wilkes from the British Chinese Project said that racism against them isn't taken as seriously as racism against African, African-Caribbean or South Asian people, and that a lot of racist attacks towards the Chinese community go unreported, primarily because of widespread mistrust in the police.[59]

Prison staff[edit]

Prison guards are almost twice as likely to be reported for racism than inmates in the UK; with racist incidents between prison guards themselves being nearly as high as that between guards and prisoners. The environment has been described as a dangerous breeding ground for racist extremism.[60]

Racism in the criminal justice system[edit]

Black teenage boys and young men are more likely to be sent to prison and more likely to get long sentences for homicide and other crimes. Disproportionately many black people are in prison. David Lammy stated, “Clearly when someone commits a crime, they need to be punished. However, we cannot have one rule for one group of people and a different rule for another group of people. As I found in my 2017 review of the criminal justice system, some of the difference in sentencing is the result of a ‘trust deficit’. Many BAME defendants simply still do not believe that the justice system will deliver less punitive treatment if they plead guilty. It’s vital that all parts of the criminal justice system work hard to address these discrepancies, so that the same crime leads to the same sentence, regardless of ethnicity.”[61]

After 2000, some argue that racism remains common, and some politicians and public figures – especially those linked to populism, such as Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party – have been accused of promoting racist attitudes in the media, particularly with regard to immigration.[62] However, race and immigration although related are not the same concepts.[63] There have been growing concerns in recent years about institutional racism in public and private bodies. Although various anti-discrimination laws do exist, according to some sources, most employers in the UK remain institutionally racist including public bodies such as the police[64] and the legal professions.[65][66]

Public sector employers in the UK are somewhat less likely to discriminate on grounds of race, as they are required by law to promote equality and make efforts to reduce racial and other discrimination.[citation needed] The private sector, however are subject to little or no functional anti-discrimination regulation and short of self paid litigation, no remedies are available for members of ethnic minorities.[66] UK employers can also effectively alleviate themselves from any legal duty not to discriminate on the basis of race, by 'outsourcing' recruitment and thus any liability for the employers' racial screening and discriminatory policies to third party recruitment companies.[67][68]

The United Kingdom has been accused of "sleepwalking into segregation" by Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality. Philips has said that the UK is fragmenting into isolated racial communities: "literal black holes into which no one goes without fear and trepidation and nobody escapes undamaged".[citation needed] On the other hand, the UK was commended in 2014 for its lack of racism by another member of a minority group. In fact, the author says that, from her perspective, it is a haven for inclusiveness, but loses points for its culture of grievance.[69]

Rise in Xenophobia under Conservative governments (2010-)[edit]

In the 21st Century, especially following the Conservative Party's election and introduction of the United Kingdom government austerity programme in 2010, and its introduction of the Home Office hostile environment policy in 2012, racist and xenophobic attitudes and effects have risen in the UK.[70][71][72][73][74][75][76][77][78][79][80][81][82]

Racism in Northern Ireland[edit]

Northern Ireland had in 2004 the highest number of racist incidents per person in the UK,[83][84][85] and has been branded the "race-hate capital of Europe".[86] Foreigners are three times more likely to suffer a racist incident in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK.[87]

According to police, most racist incidents happen in loyalist Protestant areas, and members of loyalist paramilitary groups have orchestrated a series of racist attacks aimed at "ethnically cleansing" these areas.[88] There have been pipe bomb, petrol bomb and gun attacks on the homes of immigrants and people of different ethnic origins.[89][90][91][92][93] Masked gangs have also ransacked immigrants' homes and assaulted the residents.[84] In 2009, more than 100 Roma were forced to flee their homes in Belfast following sustained attacks by a racist mob, who allegedly threatened to kill them.[94][95][96] That year, a Polish immigrant was beaten to death in an apparently racist attack in Newry.[97] Police recorded more than 1,100 racist incidents in 2013/14, but they believe most incidents are not reported to them.[88]

See also[edit]


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  • Jenkinson, Jacqueline (2009). Black 1919: Riots, Racism and Resistance in Imperial Britain. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. ISBN 978-1-846312-00-7.


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