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Sarah Williams

#NotAllBrits is not good enough

Racism in the UK has been emboldened and encouraged by the Brexit vote [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 June, 2016

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Blog: If your first response to hearing about a racially motivated attack in the UK is thinking 'not all Brits are racist,' you're part of the problem, writes Sarah Williams.
Britain, we need to talk about something. As your friendly neighbourhood Yank, someone who lived among you for six years [paying taxes from day one as an immigrant] and with legal permanent residence in your country, I have seen enough about British daily life to know that most of you are not racist.

In fact, I would go a step further - most Brits I have met [no matter how they voted in the EU referendum] are fairly switched-on, egalitarian people.

It is a lovely country full of cheerful queuers, weather-bemoaners and a great history of self-deprecation that keeps the populace humble.

I had to lead with that, because what I am about to say is going to be a hard pill to swallow, especially coming from an unwashed, ill-educated colonial.

Britain, you have a problem with racism.

I know, I know - I can already hear your regionally accented shrieks. "Did an American just say we have a problem with racism?" Yes. And who better qualified to address the issue than someone from a country of 330 million, all immigrants, which still has yet to achieve true multi-culturalism?

So, Un-United Kingdom, I repeat: you have a problem with racism - and it is on the rise.

It has been emboldened and encouraged by the Brexit vote, because, let us be frank, racists will use any excuse to punish those with a different accent or skin colour - Brexit was merely the spark held to the long-dry kindling of racism in the UK.

Only two days ago, a Muslim-owned halal butchery in the West Midlands was firebombed in what seems to be a racially motived, Islamophobic attack. The attacker, a white man, hurled a petrol bomb into the shop while workers were still inside.

So, Un-United Kingdom, I repeat: you have a problem with racism - and it is on the rise.


One worker was lucky to escape with his life. Yet I have seen comments [sadly, some from people I know] that we must not assume this attack is racist in origin. In a mind-boggling display of hypocrisy, these are the same people I have heard tar all those practicing Islam with the same brush; or accuse all "Yanks" of being the same, simply because we are from the same country.

Yet they will be quick to point out, post-Referendum, that not all Brits are racist.

And this is not an isolated incident. Friends have overheard migrant workers shamed in pubs and shops; a video of an immigrant being shamed by track-suited yobs has recently gone viral.

But you do not have a problem with racism, many of you insist.

A BBC reporter, Sima Kotecha, was attacked with the racial epithet "Paki" recently in Hampshire. Last weekend, two Polish men - one elderly - were severely beaten by an "Englishman" in East London. A mosque in Birmingham was attacked, with EDL members waving flags bearing the slogan, "Rapefugees not welcome".

But, many of you continue to insist, you do not have a problem with racism.

John O'Connell, of the anti-racism group Far Right Watch, said more than 90 incidents had been recorded in the past three days alone, ranging from "verbal abuse up to physical violence".

But you do not, honestly, have a problem with racism.

Admittedly, your racism is certainly not as bad as other countries I have encountered - I can think of at least two other English-speaking countries [*looks sideways towards the Southern hemisphere*], and one French-speaking country, with far worse problems and histories.

But that does not let you off the hook. Not being as bad as America does not let you off the hook. Being generally amiable, tolerant and self-deprecating does not let you off the hook, as charming as you are.

So let us recap the caveats:

- You are not as racist as America
- Most Brits are not racist
- You are lovely
- Tea

And those caveats, sadly, are the entire point of why I am writing to you, my lovely islanders: in the week since Brexit, I have noticed a dismaying trend among you - that of denial.

When someone relates a story about "racist Britain" [ok, let us be honest, it is mostly England], many of you are simply responding: "Oh no, that's terrible. It's so sad that a few bad apples make all of us look bad." Or "Thank god it's just a minority of us - most Brits aren't actually racist at all."

Read more: Hate crimes surge in post-Brexit Britain

But let's get down to brass tacks. When you hear a documented story about racism in your country, here's how you should not respond. You do not say: "Only a minority of us are racist."

It does matter.

Saying "not all Brits are racist" in response to a rise in racist incidents is much like the #notallmen hashtag - popular amongst "meninists", #notallmen is nearly always trotted out in response to documented stories about rape or sexual assault - because it is not about the victim, right? It is about making sure you defend your maleness and make sure that women know that not all men are rapists.

Cut the nonsense. No-one believes all men are rapists - just like no-one believes all Brits are racists. Just enough Brits. Just a new story every day.

Enough that minorities are scared. Enough that there is a documented rise in racist attacks. And sadly, that means that enough racism already existed in your country for there to be a wave of racism following Brexit.

Now before you protest again, let us talk about racism.

Racism is the institutionalised practice of placing one race below another in society. It is Britain's history of imperialism and slavery. It is America shooting black children. It is "go home you Pakis" - just one such case of which we have already mentioned, and have probably all seen with our own eyes.

It is natural black hair not being seen as professional - it is women in saris not being taken seriously. It is people having to live in ghettos or certain neighbourhoods because people do not trust their religion or skin colour.

Eventually, those people assimilate and their lives get easier. And Britain is a country where that assimilation has, over decades and centuries, been relatively smooth.

But that is what racism is - it is a history of violence and oppression, perpetrated by the dominant race, and in Britain's case, that's you pink-and-white folks, against the less powerful race. And we are all a little bit racist. Yes, even you.

So with that inherent racism and distrust of other tribes [no matter how funny your TV shows are or how gamely you endure your terrible weather], I tell you this, Britain: It is not enough to respond "Not all Brits".

It is not okay that your first response to hearing about a racist attack is to defend yourself and your country - what is wrong with you? What a shame! It is as shameful as hearing a woman was raped and responding, "not all men are rapists".

It is as shameful as hearing a woman was raped and responding, 'not all men are rapists'.


That is pretty appalling, right? So please, get a grip and stand down.

It is simply not enough to say "I'm not racist" either. You get to just exist, neutrally, as a non-racist white person? How easy for you. How nice. You get that option because you are white. People with slightly more melanin or a different accent do not get that option. No, sorry. You do not get to sit this one out. This is the future of your country at stake.

When it comes to racism, you are either an active part of the solution or a passive part of the problem. Take it from someone with a country full of race problems - do not go down this path of defending yourself as a "white person".

When it comes to racism, you are either an active part of the solution or a passive part of the problem.


Stop fighting. It makes you look insecure - and it is frankly appalling. So just admit the facts: Britain has a race problem. See how easy that was? And now we can begin working creatively, with the best of British pluckiness and stiff upper lips to combat it together.

See, if you deny a problem, you then cannot help be part of the solution - because there is no problem right? So the first step is acceptance.

Now, take a deep breath and work with me - let us, as white people, use our platform and position of white privilege and actively counter racism. How you do that is up to you.

When I was an immigrant in your country, naturally, the subject of migration came up [mostly in the form of, "OMG, you're from Los Angeles? Why would you move to the UK?"], and quite often, what these Brits ended up saying to me on the topic shocked me.

It was usually something along the lines of, "I wish we had more immigrants like you." Or "America knows what we go through with the EU - you guys have the same problem with Mexicans." I am not even going to address those two statements and how livid they make me. Because these conversations offer us an opportunity to exploit our privilege to actively counter racism.

Because every time - and I do mean every time, with the persistence of a British bulldog American eagle - I confronted the speaker. I responded simply: "I'm an immigrant."

The response, more often than not? "Yeah, but you don't count."

"Why? Because I'm not brown/Polish?" An awkward silence would inevitably ensue.

And sometimes, the person making the statement was my red-brick-educated boss or my boyfriend's sister or parents. Sometimes it was a client, or a friend.

And I did not always have the energy. And sometimes people mocked me or stopped talking to me. I lost friends. It is not easy pointing out people's racism - as a matter of fact, it sucks. It is horribly uncomfortable.

But imagine a world where men called out other men on their sexism, and people of the same race called out others of their race on their racism? Imagine the difference it could make. We do not have to be aggressive. We do not have to spend hours arguing. But we do need to stand up for our fellow Brit and our fellow human.

Imagine a world where men called out other men on their sexism, and white people called out other white people on their racism? Imagine the difference it could make.

Take it from your friendly neighbourhood Yank - I've watched white Americans deny that we're racist for quite a long time. And, truthfully, we are a much more multi-cultural society than people viewing us from the outside can see.

But we've got a long way to go. And we've taken hundreds of steps back by denying that we have a problem with race. So please don't follow us.

You are today headed down America's path. If you keep denying your racist issues, you will become more and more like a country where a Donald Trump presidency is an actual possibility.

You can stop this now, Britain. But you can not do it by saying "not all Brits". You cannot do it by saying, "I'm not a racist." That is simply not good enough. 


Sarah Williams is a freelance journalist originally from Los Angeles, living and working in Dubai. Her areas of incisive cutting-edge coverage include politics, business and cake. 

Follow her on Twitter: @MissusBojangles

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