Something we don’t want to talk about

Racism is alive and well in “multicultural Britain”. Like most civilised people in the UK I hate to say it, hate to face the facts, because the facts are uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. Many of us respond to tales of racist abuse on our streets with a mixture of disgust, horror and disbelief. At minimum, they’re embarrassing to anyone who loves their country.

If we’re to believe the “received wisdom” that’s emerged during the past few weeks, racist incidents have become much more frequent, or perhaps more overt, since June 23rd, when a majority of our allegedly adult electorate voted us out of the EU. The effect of this rise in prejudice has been to tar all “Leave” campaigners with the racist brush, which is not at all fair. Admittedly, I haven’t spoken to many proponents of “Leave”, since almost all my friends and colleagues thought as I did and voted “Remain”, but my impression is that only a small minority of “Leave” voters are outright racists.

So whence comes this disgraceful blemish on the face of our society? Why has there been an apparent rise in racism?

In part, the problem is endemic. Cold statistics: black and many Asian people find their incomes (assuming they’re employed) are around two-thirds of those enjoyed by white people with comparable qualifications and experience. A black graduate has much less chance of securing a job than a white candidate with a similar degree. Muslim women face around four times the difficulty in securing jobs as white women do (and despite substantial improvements during recent years, women in general still don’t prosper as well in the workplace as men do). Immigrants from Eastern Europe are far more likely to occupy substandard and overcrowded accommodation than native-born British people; they’re considered less valuable.

These cold statistics are depressing enough, but the unpleasantness of the situation is brought into focus when individual cases are considered. Last week, a 40-year-old Polish man was attacked by six youths in London and died of his injuries. It might have been a random attack, but there’s a strong suspicion that he was assaulted because he was foreign (though his English was fluent). He’d done nothing to provoke the attack. At the time, he was eating a pizza.

Nadiya Hussain was born in Luton so she’s as British as I am, though her ancestry is Bangladeshi. (Mine is probably Norwegian if you look far enough back.) She and her husband Abdal, an IT specialist, have three children; a good, well educated, middle-class family. Nadiya became famous in 2015 by winning the final of a televised cookery competition called The Great British Bake-Off, attracting a following of fans not only because of her skill but also because of her personal charm and irrepressible smile. Everyone thought her success a major step in the fight against anti-Muslim prejudice. She’s now considered one of the 500 most influential women in the country, is a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers (her contributions are mostly but not entirely culinary), has her own television series in addition to regular appearances on other programmes, and has book contracts with major publishers.


She’s described (without overt resentment or anger) her struggles as a young mother, the social isolation suffered by many Muslim women in Britain and its effect on her confidence, and the racial abuse she still receives in the street – verbal insults, pushing and shoving, spitting. Determined to be a good role model to her children, she responds to this abuse with what she aptly calls the dignity of silence. But – to state what should be blindingly obvious to everyone – no one ought to have to respond in this or any other way to gratuitous nastiness motivated by nothing more than skin colour and dress code. The fact that Nadiya is a well-known and prominent figure (a “celebrity”, though she might not approve of the label) has enabled her to tell the public about such treatment. The inference is inescapable: if Nadiya Hussain faces such prejudice from total strangers, then it’s almost beyond doubt that the same fate befalls every other woman whose attire makes it obvious that she’s Muslim; and very few of them are in a position to tell the rest of us about their mistreatment, as Nadiya is.

All this makes me despair, love of my country notwithstanding. Black, Polish, Muslim… does the majority that voted us out of the EU contain a significant minority with so much prejudice, so much hatred, against you? I thought we’d outgrown such pathetic (and dangerous) nonsense.

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