Sunday, January 08, 2012

Race in Britain 2012: Has Life Changed for Ethnic Minorities?

The Independent
Jane Merrick, Brian Brady, Kate Youde
December 8, 2012.

Last week, as Gary Dobson and David Norris's 19-year escape from justice finally came to an end, the distraught parents of another young ethnic minority man visited the scene of their son's death.

Anuj Bidve, a 23-year-old Lancaster University student who was shot dead on Boxing Day, was killed for the apparent crime of not being white.

Nearly two decades after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, has anything changed? And what is life really like for young black and ethnic minority people in Britain today?

In the high-visibility worlds of the establishment, entertainment and sport, there are signs of progress: there are more than four times as many black and ethnic minority MPs in Parliament as there were in 1993. A Muslim woman takes her seat at the cabinet table every Tuesday. An African-born man is in charge of a FTSE 100 company. Black and Asian actors regularly take leading roles in prime-time TV series.

The population has changed since 1993: then ethnic minorities accounted for 5.1 per cent in England and Wales; the latest figure is 8.7 per cent.

Some would argue that the major dividing line in Britain today is not race but class, and that Stephen's killing captured the nation's interest only because he was from a "nice" middle-class family and had aspirations to be an architect.

But the statistics for ethnic minorities are bleak: black men are 26 times more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped and searched by police, while black men and women in their early twenties are twice as likely to be not in employment, education or training as white people. And black and Asian defendants are still more likely to go to jail than their white counterparts when convicted of similar crimes – and they serve longer sentences. A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) analysis of tens of thousands of cases found that in 2010, 23 per cent of white defendants were sent to prison for indictable offences, compared with 27 per cent of black counterparts and 29 per cent of Asian defendants.

The report, Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System, also found that ethnic minority defendants received longer sentences in almost every offence group. For sexual offences, white defendants received an average of just over four years in jail, but black defendants were sent down for more than five years. For violence against the person, the average breakdown was 16.8 months for whites, 20 months for blacks and almost two years for Asian defendants. The MoJ insisted that "the identification of differences should not be equated with discrimination", claiming that the disparities between ethnic groups could be explained by the seriousness of the offences, the presence of mitigating or aggravating factors and whether or not a defendant pleaded guilty.

Yet Lee Jasper, chairman of the London Race and Criminal Justice Consortium, said: "Nothing can so starkly illustrate the industrial scale of racism in the judicial process than these figures."

Last summer's riots paradoxically suggested something in society has changed for the better. The ingredients for widespread inter-racial violence were there, but it never materialised. However, Gurbux Singh, who was chair of the Commission for Racial Equality when Oldham and Bradford were torn by race riots in 2001, warned yesterday: "With the recession taking hold, when you have disaffected young people who feel they are right at the bottom competing with another community, I am fearful that the tensions can easily arise again."

In March 1993, a month before Stephen's murder, Stoke City player Mark Stein was called a "short, ugly, black, bean-headed twat" by an opponent on the football pitch. On Friday, Tom Adeyemi, the 20-year-old Oldham defender, was left in tears after alleged racist abuse was hurled at him from Liverpool's Kop. A 20 year-old man from Aintree was arrested last night in relation to the incident.

Last Tuesday, despite a plea from Stephen's mother Doreen not to rejoice, there appeared to be collective back-patting when Norris and Dobson were found guilty, as if the verdicts had cleansed Britain of racism.

Yet reminders of racial hatred were never far away. Yesterday, Subhash and Yogini Bidve, having flown to Salford to visit the scene of his kiling, were back in Pune for his cremation. Mourners watched a flower-filled open coffin carried through the streets.

There is nothing that can comfort them in their loss. But perhaps the prominent coverage of Anuj's death, and the impact the Lawrence trial has had, show that one thing has changed for the better since 1993, and that is ultimately because of one young man from Eltham: our public horror at racism has increased.

Read the rest here.

Comment: The headline above got me to thinking about how race is not understood even where well meaning articles like this one tackle the subject.

Race and ethnicity are not the same thing.  They are often collapsed into meaning the same thing but to really deconstruct race you have to understand how race is racialised by power.

Or in more exact words, how race is formed through socio-political and historical processes; and how race identities are made to fit a racialized power hierarchy.

Race may be made to cross over ethnicity but it does not explain ethnic difference(s), or racial power.

In South Africa, for example, both Afrikaners and English are collapsed into the white race.  But are they not separate ethnicities where language, culture, history, origin, point to an ethnic difference in formation?  What then is the purpose of merging both into whiteness?

Ethnicity is not race but the focus on ethnicity in race-based states is meant to obfuscate the power imbalance and historical brutality of race and racism (discrimination based on race).

So who are the ethnic races in Britain, if we assume there is such a thing?  And when do these races separate or return to ethnicities?  And for what reason(s)?

Are white people in Britain an ethnicity?  Are Scots, English, and the Welsh an ethnic majority when a one needs to be constructed for racial dominance (or alternatively racial normalcy)?

And, who are the ethnic minorities in Britain?  Do these minorities see themselves as a race or an ethnicity (or both)?  Or is the associated gaze a function of whiteness?

The point here is an area much discussed in postcolonialism theory.  Whiteness is constructed (since race is not real) in reference to power and its structural expression(s). 

The racial Other is constructed and deconstructed in reference to whiteness in keeping with the interests of power.

Inside of power then, the racial Other can be the ethnic Other while whiteness is assumed to be, on the face of power, a oneness (a default normality even).

But it is not.  It is all very misleading if the radical purpose is to deconstruct race.

Is Asian a race, or an ethnicity?  If it is the latter then how are Pakistanis and Thais a singular ethnicity?  And when do both become a racialized ethnicity and for what reason(s)?

Of course it is important not to assume that national categories like Pakistani and Thai are singular identities that seamlessly relate to ethnicity or race for that matter - and, I am not even layering the further 'jeopardies' of gender and class.

I am arguing for conceptual complexity here because to deconstruct the relevance of race we must confront the idea of race.

If we accept that ethnicities can be reduced to races then we can also assume that culture and language and heritage can be pinned to a racial essence and, of course, a racialized power hierarchy.

Such an assumption glosses over how the power of whiteness divides the world/reality into convenient descriptors that speak mostly to its interests and not the interests of those who are put into racialised identity cages.

In effect, such an assumption is premised on identity erasure and that is a violent function of racism.



Nazish said...

Hi Ridwan

Are you on facebook or twitter to follow you there too? Also are you writing from South Africa or elsewhere?


Ridwan said...

Hi Nazish:

I am not FB or twitter I am somewhat embarrassed to say.

At this time I am writing from South Africa - though the blog started in India and transitioned through time in the US and now South Africa.

Thanks kindly for looking in hey.


Nazish said...

Dear Ridwan

I thoroughly enjoy your blog. And will ensure that I come to visit it more often this year. Facebook and Twitter are quick ways for readers to get a snapshot of what you’re thinking about for the day hence I asked about it. Also they’re linked to blackberries and other cell phones so that makes it even easier to follow you.


Ridwan said...

Nazish I think you may be onto something and I will look to at the very least get a twitter account going.

My fellow blogger and sista, Aasia, has been telling me to get a twitter account for months now.

I think it may be time.

Thanks Nazish.


Kweli said...

I just caved in and got a twitter account yesterday. My rationalization: I want to network so I can get my writing out there.

Out where? I'm sure there is nothing out there!

Anonymous said...

Reading this reminds me of back in the day when I use to sit in the back of the class.

Love ya n miss you. Tell momz fatima hello

Boo boo

Ridwan said...

Hi Kweli:

I looked at the site yesterday and did a little reading.

Still confused and not signed up yet.

But Nazish my be right - need to get hooked on twitter.

Let me know how it works out for ya.


Ridwan said...

Hey Boo Boo:

Umm I remember you way back there. The years have gone by too fast but I miss those classes the most.

Happy New Year to you and Jr. I will see ya in July - planning my trip already.

Yeah I know it is far off but you know me - delayed at best. So I am planning early.

Lisa (from Chicano Studies) and I are planning on running a 10k in San Diego. You should join us - all that softball playing should have ya fit anyway.

Oh, I made it into the gym yesterday and it was murder after two weeks off.

A 10k seems like a whole marathon to me now.

I miss ya Boo Boo. Will holla to catch up.

I will tell momz u sent greetings. She will ask me randomly if I heard from you.

Stay sane in that place.

Peace and luv,