AN OVERVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF RACISM IN THE UK
Since the death of George Floyd and the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement, it has become even more evident that racism definitely still exists in the UK. At the time of writing this, two police officers have been arrested for taking selfies, yes selfies, with the dead bodies of two black women, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry and sharing them in a WhatsApp group chat.
It’s unfortunate to say that this isn’t in the least bit surprising due to the current climate we live in where racism is still very much alive and exists within the systematic structures in this country and elsewhere. Where did it start though? What’s the history of racism in the UK and the fundamental grounds on which it has stood on for so many years and still does until this day? We’ll start with Britain’s involvement in The Triangular Trade.
THE TRIANGULAR TRADE AND BRITAIN’S INTRODUCTION INTO SLAVERY
The Triangular Trade is the term for the 3-way trading system that existed in the 16th century up until the 19th century. It involved three different regions: Africa, America and Europe. It is estimated that as well as other things such as manufactured goods and cash crops, the triangular trade took at least 12 million Africans as slaves to different destinations across America and Europe and this system had great involvement from Great Britain. Their involvement increased when the Treaty of Utretch (1713) gave the British slave traders right to sell slaves in the Spanish Empire. This was very profitable for the British even though it meant worse than poor treatment for any human being whilst they took slaves through the Atlantic to sell them in North America. This passage was called ‘The Middle Passage’ and it is estimated that 2 million slaves died whilst on this passage in the hands of British slave traders from diseases such as smallpox, scurvy and measles.
This continued all the way until the early 19th century when public opinion finally decided to hold weight and people began to realise that what was happening was wrong. Resistances began to form and British slave ships were getting attacked and slaves were set free and eventually, the slave trade was abolished in Britain in 1833. This did not mean, however, that racism ended.
As many Africans and Caribbean people began to move to Britain upon invite from the British Government themselves, our people were still subject to racial injustice in the form of violent crimes and systematic oppression. There was a belief that those who were white were far more supreme than those who were black and this was evident in the laws that were passed such as the ‘Colour Alien Seamen’s Order’ (1925) which stated that any coloured men that did not have the documentation to prove that they were British were to be listed as ‘aliens.’ This belief became ingrained in the minds of a lot of British people and unfortunately, today still exists within the minds of a lot of other people. There were a lot of high profile cases in which a black person was killed with no grounds for doing so other than the colour of their skin, including Kelso Cochrane in 1959 and Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
In an effort to relieve the racial tension that existed in Britain, more organisations such as the Black People’s Alliance (1970) were formed, big strikes such as the Grumwick Strike (1976) took place and events such as the Notting Hill Carnival which was started by a woman name Rhaune Lasset-O’Brien who was born to a Native American mother and a Russian father, were created in an attempt to bring many people together. This was all after laws were put in place in 1965 which wasn’t THAT long ago, to prevent racist practices from taking place.
AND SINCE THEN….
It would be a lie to say that things are exactly the same as they were during the early days in Britain, where black people couldn’t even go into certain restaurants or other public places. However, there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made.
The mindset that exists in Britain that was built upon The Triangular Trade and laws such as the Colour Alien Seamen’s Order still exists and that can’t be disputed. From the death of Mark Duggan to what has happened to Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, many examples of the racist ideals that existed and were legally allowed all those years back are still alive today.
With that being said, it is ESSENTIAL that the Black Lives Matter movement continues not just in America but also here in the UK to prevent racial injustices from occurring and to get to the period in time where eventually, people are no longer judged by their skin but by the content of their character (Martin Luther King Jr, 1929-1968).
Written by Lore Adekeye. Social media handles: @loreadekeye (twitter) / @shemz_nl (IG).