THE BLOG

Is Racism the New Black?

15/12/2014 10:39 GMT | Updated 11/02/2015 10:59 GMT

The United States prides itself on being a melting pot, intertwining cultural, religious and racial differences in the hope of finding freedom and, most importantly, achieving the American Dream. Nevertheless, today's reality would contradict this idea given that the USA's social construction is not founded upon assimilation but rather multiculturalism. The Grand Jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the death of unarmed Michael Brown is a confirmation of the cultural and racial divide. Despite the progress made in race-related issues including the black freedom and justice movement and, in more recent years, with the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the USA continuously struggles to desegregate itself and grow towards racial equality. Presidencies have repeatedly and fruitlessly promised 'change' and 'hope' to the electorate, but disillusionment and outrage felt across generations have proven to be a recurrent theme.

The USA's racial divide has encouraged me to reflect on Britain and its progress towards racial equality. I was born during the year of Stephen Lawrence's murder, and today as a black woman in my twenties, living in the 21st century, I can acknowledge the fact that Britain has come a long way since then, yet I believe there is still a long way to go. British society is often described as multi-cultural, and the rising representation of ethnic minorities in politics, music, arts, media and other agents of socialisation, is a product of greater tolerance and change in social attitudes. However, despite progress on the small screen and in the high-visibility worlds of these establishments, this is not reflected in the real lives of individuals of ethnic backgrounds who according to the Guardian, 'are 26 times more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped and searched by police'. Or who enter a department store only to be followed around by the 'discreet' security guard watching their every move, or who, better yet, are encouraged by careers advisers to 'westernise' their full name because the employer may struggle to pronounce their 'ethnic' name. Despite graduating with a prestigious degree, or gaining years of valuable work experience, a report conducted by MPs indicated that women originating from an ethnic minority background face discrimination at every stage of the recruitment process. Accordingly, even if candidates possess identical education, experience, skills and work history, gender and race also play a significant role in the candidate's profile.

It seems the only time we attempt to confront the race question is when a life is taken and announced on the news. Otherwise, the issue is kept hidden in the wardrobe amongst other short-term issues and discarded until it comes back into fashion. Why is race a topic that is given up so easily? Why do we need a tragic event to reawaken our concerns about social inequality? Why do we believe that living in an era in which the president of the United States is of Kenyan descent is an indication of the end of racism? Why are we still pushing for greater representation and equality in society when it should already be the norm? Why should job seekers put his or her name in a smaller font or in a less visible place on a CV in order to be considered by the recruiter? Why do we fail to notice racism because it is presented in a subtle manner?

When it comes to addressing race, it seems there are more questions than dignified answers. There are more problems than solutions. There is more fear than courage. There are more surveys and data than action. There are more deaths than survivors. There is more despair than hope.

The truth is, although we may no longer live in the shadows of the past, traces of our history remain in the present, and resonate on a widespread level.