This House Believes That Britain is Still a Racist Country

17/05/2012 07:28 BST | Updated 16/07/2012 10:12 BST

Holly McCann writes in proposition of this week's motion:

Britain today cannot be labelled as racist in comparative terms. Admittedly, the progress that has been made in cross-cultural relations since the height of the British Empire should not be belittled, but this does not authorise us to claim that we have eradicated racism in the UK. Although public manifestations of racist attitudes are certainly not well received by the majority, the very presence of racial attacks refutes any suggestion that racism no longer exists in Britain. Furthermore, it is to the awkward majority that we must look in order to recognise our inability to overcome cultural dividing lines.

In 2010, 43,426 recorded hate crimes were said to be racially motivated. This is an increase of over 3,000 from the previous year. Yet simply presenting these figures on a page does not reflect the debilitating implications that racist attacks can have on the victims involved, nor does it accurately portray the severity of remaining pockets of racism within Britain. Take the recent acid-attack on a 29-year-old woman, originally from Cameroon, in Salford less than two months ago. Random and unprovoked crimes such as these demonstrate the undeniable prevalence of racist attitudes in the minds of some Britons. To suggest that this country is no longer racist would be to demean the shocking and painful ordeals that many victims of racial hate crimes endure. Such victims are guilty of nothing, but are targeted purely due to racial and cultural differences.

The term 'racism' can no longer be simply defined as the prejudice of white Britons against ethnic minorities. Britain is unquestionably a multi-cultural country, and the notion of a British identity today encompasses a plethora of different ethnicities, cultures and heritages. Yet it is not until the divisive lines between these groups are overcome that Britain can claim to be a truly integrated nation. While overtly racist attitudes may be held by a minority of Britons, racial segregation at the community level is preventing the total abolition of cultural tensions.

Admittedly, many members of ethnic minorities may feel more secure when living amongst those with whom they have a shared heritage and a common culture, but when such segregation exists, the suggestion that racial tensions have been abolished has no platform to stand on. Until there is total integration, and total equality of opportunity, cross-cultural tensions cannot be eradicated.

Racist attitudes in Britain are certainly less overt, and undoubtedly less tolerated, than earlier. However, it cannot be claimed with confidence that we are no longer living in a racist country, and much of this problem lies with definition. Yes, there are blatant displays of racial discrimination, hate crimes being one example and discrimination in the work place being another, but it is not optimistic to hope that the legal institutions and social conscience of modern Britain would go to great lengths to prevent and punish these. It is the overwhelming imperative to act and speak within the boundaries of what is politically correct that has drawn most attention to the racial differences between members of the same British nation. In our determination to avoid the accusation of racism, and our dithering over what term to use to refer to fellow citizens of different cultural backgrounds, we risk drawing too much attention to cultural dividing lines, and consolidate instead of conquer them.

Freya Berry opposes this week's motion:

Twenty-eight years ago, my mother emigrated from India to England to lead what she believed, guided by countless Enid Blyton books, would be a jolly good time of marshmallows, picnics and strawberry sunshine. Now that I've grown up and read the same dubious-yet-awesome literary matter, I can confirm that she was cheated with respect to the picnics and sunshine (though marshmallows, I believe, are readily available). What never entered Blyton's idyllic worlds, however, was racism. This is partly because there were no émigrés in Blyton's books, beyond the odd 'exotic' - and temporary - character. Yet, despite this I have never, in my glorious 20 years of existence, believed that Britain is a racist country.

I am, thanks to joint Indian and English heritage, slightly brown: approximately 'Eastern Spice' on the Dulux colour chart. I get the odd curry reference from my friends. Aged 10, I was called the P-word while on a camping holiday (where else?), whereupon I was forced to explain that I was in fact of Indian descent to the errant youth, and then what a P-word was to all my friends - I believe I used the term 'Mudblood' as an analogy. Harry Potter never fails to be useful.

There have been many depressing news stories of late about police racism: Stephen Lawrence, ethnic minorities' over-representation in stop-and-search, and so on. I am approximately the size of a hamster and about as threatening, so perhaps understandably I have never experienced racist policing; but I would imagine that a profession given increasingly moronic amounts of power and weaponry by the government will only attract those who most have a gripe against certain sections of society and will abuse their positions to show it.

I am also, naturally, outraged by the stupidity of the BNP and those who believe diversity to be some kind of stranglehold on culture; those who say, defensively, 'but Britain's full!' and then conveniently forget about our many thousands of expats, flopping like landed salmon along the beaches of the 'Costar del Sole'.

But I have never, for a second, felt myself not to be a British citizen; never felt it some kind of triumph of integration to willingly sit in the local chippy, or intimidated by some shallow moron willing to judge on appearances alone. I don't notice, because I have never thought that I have not belonged: it has never occurred to me that, because of the colour of my skin, I would be less able to succeed. It is this blissful ignorance of my colour that, I believe, shows that Britain is not a racist country. The only time when I become aware of my skin? As I sit smugly on the beach in Cornwall, surrounded by holidaymakers frantically dolloping on the sun-cream and fake tan. Because if The Only Way is Essex has proved anything, it's that everyone, really, wants to be a little bit brown.'