THE BLOG

Time To Tackle Race Relations In The UK

09/10/2017 12:14
smartboy10 via Getty Images

In the 1960s my father was a victim of racist graffiti - 'No Blacks - Go Home' was sprayed on the pavement outside his home in Birmingham in the UK after a news story on how he was trying to join the West Midlands police force after passing the initial exam. 

More than 40 years later we are seeing an increase in hate crimes, almost 6,000 reported in 2015/16 an increase of 27% post Brexit, according to West Midlands police. This begs the question - why aren't we making progress in race relations in Birmingham? One of the most diverse cities in the UK.
 
Friends in the UK and abroad often tell me that they think the UK is one of the most open countries in Europe and in the world when it comes to diversity. Yet I feel that recent protests led by the right wing EDL group in Birmingham City Centre sends a very different message.
 
While communities are living in relative peace in Birmingham, there is no doubt that tensions are rising - is this because racism has always been there, but is now surfacing? And because migrant communities continue to live in fear of losing their culture and religion?
 
It's been a sizzling pot for some time. Back In January 2011, Baroness Warsi spoke of how Islamophobia had become socially acceptable in the UK.
 
As a British woman of Pakistani origin, I myself have endured racism thoughout my life and career spanning 20 years working for local, national and international organisations. It's something you get used to fighting on your own.
 
I've had to deal with racist bosses and colleagues, well educated colleagues who've told me their family would never accept a 'brown' person in their family and in one London office, just a few years ago, I was told by colleagues that I was the third 'brown' person to be employed in my line of work in the history of the company's existence. The previous two left their jobs after filing complaints of racism. 
 
I can recount how colleagues felt really awkward in discussing cultural issues and racial issues, and I ask myself why in this day and age people still feel at unease in celebrating other cultures?
 
I believe the fault lies on both sides, migrants who fear losing their culture and non-migrants fearing the unknown.
 
British Asians I know still speak about 'white people' like they are still the unknown and a world apart from them. They speak like victims. And they push the blame on - some South Asian migrant communities have turned their backs on new migrant communities from Europe. So we are now seeing a growing trend in racism between different migrant communities.
 
Incidents of overt and covert racism are rife, you just need to scan the news to see whats going on. Recently, the BBC reported on the Old Bailey's first non-white circuit judge constantly being mistaken for a defendant rather than a judge!

I have travelled and worked in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and north and south America - it has been an eye opening, educational experience for someone who was born and brought up in Birmingham. And so when I'm in my hometown, I still find it hard to understand why integration is not happening the way it should.
 
And despite many efforts to promote better understanding of cultures in cities such as Birmingham the gap seems to be widening.
 
That's why the focus of my latest art installation tackles negative attitudes towards migrants.

And to promote integration , workshops have started where migrants and others can come together to air their concerns and talk face to face about issues they want to resolve.
 
While racism is always going to be an issue in societies where integration is lacking, dialogue is a step in the right direction in promoting better understanding between communities and better still through the arts.
 
The authorities, migrants and non migrants all have to come together and have a responsibility to start having those awkward conversations which are currently stifling societies, traditionally priding themselves on diversity.

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