The Independent's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

The shameless dismissal of black British people in this election shows exactly how racism in the UK works

We were virtually invisible when it came to election coverage. Now that it’s over, we’re being pushed aside yet again. But that doesn't mean we're going to stop fighting

Seun Matiluko
Tuesday 17 December 2019 12:19 GMT
Boris Johnson says 'watermelon smiles' remark was 'wholly satirical'

In America, the so-called “black vote” is considered extremely important. Presidential candidates recognise that in order to secure the nomination, they need to have the backing of the bulk of America’s largest minority group; the voting block that has been credited with the success of political parties since at least the election of Bill Clinton in 1992.

In the UK, the “black vote” is, of course, less influential. But more than that, it isn’t taken seriously at all. Thursday’s election, and the campaign period prior to it, was a testament to that. The concerns of black voters, let alone poc voters, were not focused on in the recent election. The dismissal was wide-ranging: there were few if any appearances from various people of colour during televised debates, black media personalities were totally overlooked as hosts and polling failed to take ethnicity into account.

While the picture in the UK isn't identical to the States, it remains that black people are disproportionately stopped and searched, criminalised and, according to the EHRC, more disproportionately imprisoned in the UK than in America. As author and poet Claudia Rankine famously wrote, “there is only one guy [a black guy] who is always fitting the description”. Yet the Conservative manifesto supports more stop and search powers, and longer sentencing. The impact that this could have on black communities was barely acknowledged by our mainstream media.

Black people are disproportionately killed in police custody. Many victims are working class and from working class families, which often means that they cannot afford efficient lawyers to take on the state. This has continually been ignored by our Conservative government, with the importance of legal aid never really entering public discourse.

47 per cent of black children live in poverty according to the Runnymede Trust. People, many of them people of colour, died in Grenfell tower due to poor cladding. Yet the impact of austerity on our communities was ignored in the electoral debates.

Black elders died after being forcibly deported from a country they had spent the bulk of their lives in due to the conservative hostile environment policy, which the current government affirms will only get more hostile. Yet despite some condemnations (particularly by non-white cabinet members) of the ongoing Windrush scandal when it first came to public attention in 2018, no real change has occurred, and the mainstream platforms seem to have moved on.

Indeed, a broader part of the Windrush discussion is about how black criminality is treated in comparison to white criminality. For instance, what of the British-Nigerian boy who, after being involved in gang violence, had the Home Office lobbying Nigeria to accept him for deportation, something that would never happen to a white criminal? Discussions about how many black people feel like second-class citizens in this country, were and continue to be ignored.

These are all things that affect the black community, regardless of political affiliation, and yet in media debates and discussions, they were left off the table. The main focus, when it came to anti-black racism, was on Boris Johnson’s numerous offensive comments, but yet at every interval, he was rarely challenged. On Question Time and in his widely publicised interview on This Morning, instead of focussing on the communities he’d hurt, he got away with lamenting the fact that “people dig out all sorts of articles” and that offended people were just going through his writing “with a fine-tooth comb” to find “things that can be made to seem offensive.''

Anti-blackness is global. Yet while black issues are on the agenda in America, in Britain, we are only 3 per cent of the population. Perhaps it’s logical that most politicians do not address many of our concerns; they don’t need to. It’s not insignificant that Adam Afriyie, a black Tory MP, has said that trying to include policies that appeal to black groups would be an unnecessary “political gamble”.

Of course, black people in the UK do not have homogenous views and perspectives, but a great deal of us felt hopeful about the potential of a Corbyn government in light of his inclusive campaigning, and his history of being an ally in the fight against anti-black racism. His party was the only one speaking directly to the multiplicity of these concerns in their manifesto, for example. This came in spite of certain Labour MPs, like Stephen Kinnock, discouraging Labour from being vocal about fighting anti-black racism, arguing that instead of focusing on this the party should instead focus on loudly fighting for the needs of the ‘white working class’.

Corbyn’s stance on antisemitism, and the structural issues surrounding it within the Labour party have been rightfully critiqued. But the creeping trend of suggesting that anti-black racism is treated with more sincerity than other forms of systemic discrimination (all the while in reality, it usually goes ignored) is growing. And that’s terrifying.

Perhaps comments by Kay Burley of Sky News after the election have been the most egregious, appearing to dismiss Ian Lavery’s concerns about Johnson’s anti-black racism by saying, “well he’s not an antisemite though is he?”

Of course it is true that there is cognitive dissonance amongst some on the left, who wrongfully criticise Jewish people for calling out antisemitism. However, divide and rule comments like these indicate how much ignorance there is about the pervasiveness of anti-black racism within politics, and erase the extent to which black people feel disillusioned in Britain. It is not a coincidence that many black British people have either moved back to the countries of their ancestors, or are contemplating doing so in the near future.

Anti-black racism is wrong, and all of our political parties are implicated in a long history of anti-black racism whose legacy has not subsisted. This is our country too, and while many of us felt upset and helpless on Thursday evening and Friday morning, we have to continue to fight for a better future. Whether that means increasing the number of black voices in political media, developing our already existing grassroots organisations, sharing more of our concerns on Twitter and encouraging the growth of new online shows like Newsroom UK, lobbying polling companies to start highlighting our views, or marching on the streets.

Racism will likely never go away, but we can demand political change. As our community continues to grow in the coming decade, we will keep fighting, and our voices will keep getting louder and louder until the black British vote is no longer one that can be ignored.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in