“Oh, but we’re not racist here”
Have you ever had a conversation that ended with the other person saying something about racism being exclusive to a specific country?
Oh, but we’re not racist here. Racism is a US thing.
I personally have had those conversations. I think that idea comes from the mistake of thinking racism is just the violent, blatant events we see on the media. The type of racism where white people oppress or diminish black people in a way that is too obvious to not see. But there are more types of racism, more subtle but equally wrong and damaging types. Types of racism that exist in all corners of the globe where people have differences, not just in countries where black and white people co-exist. Systemic racism usually encapsules these other types of quiet racism and this is what I talk about today.
What I do when I hear stuff like this is, first of all, take a second to breathe. I understand the conversation might be a challenge. And it might also be an opportunity for me and the other person to learn. Those opportunities can’t be wasted. So I breathe. After that, I bring up the facts. A lot of us only believe things when there’s a number that proves them. This is a totally valid point of view, one I often identify with.
Here are some numbers for you.
That’s usually my answer. I live in the United Kingdom, and there’s a really good government website with tons of data about ethnicity.
Let me highlight some of the most useful things I found there. You will find references to two of the biggest non-white communities in the UK: the black community and the Asian community. As you read on, I invite you to think about this: how do these facts compare to what happens in the country you live in?
6 to 7 years old
76% of students in the UK who are 6 to 7 years old met the expected standard in maths in the 2018 to 2019 school year. And black students specifically reached the 74% mark for the same age and school year. So black students were and are not far off the average. Asian students reach the 78% mark for the same age, with Indian students leading the way within that group with 85% -incredibly accomplished subset of students.
14 to 16 years old
Moving on further into the educational life, 43.3% of students get a ‘strong pass’ in English and Maths in their secondary education tests. These tests are known in the UK as GCSE and are usually done when students are 14 to 16 years old. The average for black students, however, is 38.8%. Note the new gap here. Asian students still perform much better than the average in their GCSE, reaching the 50.2% mark. Indian students again lead the way within the Asian community with a 62% average.
16 to 18 years old and beyond
And moving further ahead, students in the UK do their A-Level tests to gain entry to university. The overall average of students who get the top mark in 3 subjects of their A-Levels is 13%. The same average for black students is 5.5%. The average for Asian students is 11%, with the Indian students leading with 15.5%.
So what’s the story with education?
So we see two very different pictures in the black and Asian communities, but both pictures tell a similar story. For black students, what we see is that, as we look at data from early education onto higher education, the performance gap widens. Black students perform virtually the same as other students in the early years, but fall behind in masses as they move on to high school, college and university.
And for Asian students, we see that they go from leading the way with a difference of 10% or 20% above average in the early years, to being below average or just slightly above in later education.
Black and Asian students are not less able to achieve top marks, and they are not less intelligent. The data from earlier educational stages proves this. But there are social, financial and racial hurdles behind those numbers for both the black and Asian communities. The gap appears or widens as students reach higher education and they have to face more and more of those hurdles.
Find this data and more in the Education, skills and training section of the Ethnicity facts and figures website.
Stop and search
This is something that a lot of people link to the United States almost exclusively. But the facts clear up that misconception very quickly:
Between April 2018 and March 2019, there were 4 stop and searches for every 1,000 white people. Compared with 11 for every 1,000 Asian people. And 38 for every 1,000 black people.
So if you’re Asian in the UK, you are almost 3 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. If you’re black, you are 9.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched.
There are voices saying that stop and search keeps us safe. They say that, if people have nothing to hide, stop and search isn’t a problem. But it is. Stopping and searching non-white people in such disproportionate numbers generates fear amongst their communities. It also reinforces racist preconceptions about black or Asian people being criminals that society needs to be protected from. Perhaps more importantly, it causes a lack of trust in policing which can in turn cause a lack of reported crimes in these communities.
Find this data and more in the Stop and search section of the Ethnicity facts and figures website.
For this part, I’ll focus on the black communities only. Between April 2018 and March 2019, black people were more than 4 times as likely as white people to be detained under the Mental Health Act in the UK. As defined in the National Health Service website:
The Mental Health Act (1983) is the main piece of legislation that covers the assessment, treatment and rights of people with a mental health disorder.
People detained under the Mental Health Act need urgent treatment for a mental health disorder and are at risk of harm to themselves or others.
Wait! Is this a bad statistic? Black people are more likely to get treatment for their mental health issues, and that’s good, isn’t it?
Let’s talk about what this really means. Studies show that, broadly speaking, black and white people seem to struggle with their mental health equally. Maybe the struggle is not about the same things, but the frequency is very similar. However, white people tend to access treatment at earlier stages of their condition. Black people, however, and especially black men, often don’t access treatment. This is due to cultural misconceptions around seeking help, fear of the medical system, lack of time or resources or even lack of social or family support. Their conditions deteriorate more and faster due to this.
The fact that black people are detained more often than white people under the Mental Health Act is a reflection of this problem. The act comes into play when the situation is volatile and the person is a threat to themselves or to others. Sadly, black people are more likely to get to that point. This also means that by the time they get assessed and treated, their condition takes much longer to improve or disappear. And often it never does.
Find this data and more in the Health section of the Ethnicity facts and figures website.
And what’s up beyond the United Kingdom?
Well, there is a comprehensive study carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights or FRA. It covers countries in all of the EU and it highlights data like this:
In 2016, 76% of young black people in the EU were not in work, education or training, compared to 8% of the general population.
In the same study, people of Asian descent in countries like France, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Spain and many others in the EU were asked if they thought their ethnic background was linked to them being stopped by the police. 47% of them said yes. And in Greece specifically, that number went up to 89%.
Racial disparity, discrimination, the legacy of colonialism and other consequences of blatant or institutional racism are the context and the explanation for that type of data.
So is it all bad?
I found that data like this helps me explain that racism does exist where I live, and the impact it has on people’s lives.
But data is an open door that lets everything through. On that same website, I also found data that highlights really positive things linked to ethnicity. I’ll share that with you very soon. Bear with me…
What can you do?
At the beginning of this article I invited you to reflect on how these facts compare to what happens in the country you live in.
If you know the answer, share it with the world. What did you discover?
And if you don’t know the answer, I encourage you to search for data like this for the country you live in. If the data doesn’t exist, ask about it. Ask your political and social leaders to collect it and make it public. It’s an efficient way of changing people’s perception about racism and racial disparity. It’s a good way to educate yourself, raise awareness and to ultimately change things for the better.