Grime artist Stormzy has stated on Instagram that he was a victim of “racial profiling” at Snowbombing Festival, an event at which he was supposed to perform. Beginning with “first and foremost, f*** Snowbombing”, Stormzy explained: “My manager and all my friends who were at the festival were racially profiled, targeted and aggressively handled because they ‘had reason to believe someone was carrying a weapon’. The security guard targeted them (despite no one fitting the description).” Stormzy, who has expressed support for Black Lives Matter and is a vocal advocate for BAME communities, promptly withdrew from the Austrian festival in protest of this treatment. This comes after the agency for fundamental rights in the EU (FRA) last year described how racism towards black people was “widespread and entrenched” in the EU.
For many black people, Stormzy’s story is not an unfamiliar one. In schools, the ability of black children has been routinely underestimated, having serious consequences on attainment. Last year, Idris Elba at the House of Commons expressed how black actors on British television are too often cast as “petty criminals”. In certain recruitment settings, you are less likely to be offered a job if you are black. In the UK, black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs, despite white people being more likely to carry them. It has also been revealed that the Met Police “use force more often” on black people.
Indeed, part of growing up in a black family was discussing why it is important to be wary of the police – referred to elsewhere as “the talk”. I recall black members of my family being regularly pulled over by the police for no reason. Grime artist JME shares similar experiences on his YouTube Channel playlist titled “Chatty Police”, where he documents how the police repeatedly pull him over, despite being unable to provide a legitimate explanation as to why. The police can feel like a hostile or confrontational entity, rather than a protective one, for black communities. History proves that this harassment of black communities can boil over, examples including the Brixton riots in 1981, the London Riots in 2011, and Ferguson in 2014.
While racial profiling of black people by the police is a massive, and potentially lethal issue, Stormzy’s experience illustrates how racial profiling is also an everyday epidemic in all corners of society. The viral stories of “BBQ Becky”, “ID Adam”, “Permit Patty”, and “Cornerstore Caroline”, which comprised of white people calling the police on black people for engaging in normal daily life, demonstrates how absurd profiling by white people has become. These white people were heavily ridiculed and the situation was portrayed as comical. However, while it might seem amusing to many at first, these situations are a stark reflection of the insidious racism plaguing our societies. In the cases of “Permit Patty” and “Cornerstore Caroline”, they sank so low that they called the police on black children, with “Permit Patty” reporting a girl to the police for selling water, and “Cornerstone Caroline” falsely accusing a nine-year-old boy of groping her. Absurd examples in the UK include the Met Police stopping Liam and Dijon Joseph for exchanging a fist bump, and in Camden police violently arresting an innocent black man while the white suspect escaped. Like Stormzy and his companions at Snowbombing Festival, these black people were all accused of criminality and illegality simply because they were black.
As becomes apparent, it is not true that racial profiling prevents crime. In actual fact its senseless usage does little but to perpetuate stereotypes and racial bias towards black people which results in potentially far-reaching and terrifying consequences. For example, in 2018, the University of Canterbury explored “shooter bias”, a shocking study into the issue of how darker skinned people are more likely to be shot than their white counterparts.
As Stormzy’s experience, and the experiences of many other black people discussed here, shows, stepping out into a society that is so suspicious of your blackness feels dangerous. It feels hostile. It feels ostracising. It is a society where you are always a suspect. It is a society where you are constantly on trial. The crime? Living while black.