• Bryan

Do You Think Britain Is A Tolerant Country?

A few weeks ago, broadcaster and former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips was a guest on Nick Ferrari's LBC morning show, when he was asked if he (a black man) thought the UK was a tolerant country.

It's a common refrain by people wilfully ignorant of what equality and a fairer society look like, to insist that the UK is very tolerant towards black people, especially when compared to other European nations. 

Trevor Phillips duly praised the UK for its tolerance towards black people, and then suggested to anyone who disagreed with the assertion, to try living in other European countries like Russia in order to appreciate how tolerant the UK was.

However, this misguided attempt at comparing the UK to other countries by using a non-existent tolerance-indicator or scale is flawed and unhelpful.

How poorly Russia or any other European country treats minorities should not be the gauge for establishing the quality of black people's lives in the UK. It should not be about how bad it is in other countries, rather it has to be about where the UK wants to be in terms of equality and fairness for all its citizens in the 21st century.

It is also problematic using the word 'tolerance' to define the relationship between the majority white population and black and other minorities in the UK. It is an unfortunate choice because tolerance is about something or someone you don't like, but you are prepared to endure the presence or existence of that person or thing.

But the fundamental issue is why should black people have to rely on concessions by white people in order to live and prosper in their own country

The commentary and discussion in this country about race and equality tends to come across as if white people were making too many concessions to black and other minorities. As if they were making concessions to visitors, lodgers or even squatters staying in their home.

That premise is wrong, and people need to move away from the mindset that because the majority of the population is white, therefore white people own the country. And it is in their gift to allow or refuse black and other minorities equality and fairness.

Being a citizen of this country as a black person is like living in a house with housemates who jointly own the house with you. However, your housemates are acting like you are just their tenant without a stake in the property.

They disconnect the power supply to your room and deny you access to the kitchen and other important facilities in the house; notwithstanding that you all jointly own the house and that you are contributing to all the bills.

Black people and other minorities are owner-occupiers of this country and therefore discussion about their status and circumstances should not be about tolerance and concessions from white people. The UK belongs as much to black people as it does to white people.

Therefore, action must be taken to eliminate the structural inequalities that prevent black people from standing shoulder to shoulder with white people, such as the systemic discrimination revealed by the David Lammy report covering policing and the courts.

The need to 'level-up' the disparities in outcomes for black and white people in this country has never been greater, as recent evidence shows that structural inequalities in a variety of areas such as employment and housing, have contributed to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black people.

One can only hope that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent most of his career as a journalist race-baiting and insulting black people, was sincere when he announced an extensive inquiry into race inequalities and pledged to tackle racial discrimination.