Just last month, we all bore witness to one of the greatest performances to ever grace the BRITs stage. Winner of the British Album of the Year, Dave, took to the stage to deliver an unforgettable performance of his hit song ‘Black’. With lyrics like “Our Prime Minister’s a real racist” and “Black is being guilty until proven innocent”, the 21-year-old amplified the voice of Black and White Brits alike. While some of us were in awe and prouder than ever, others deemed the performance racist and yet another example of race-baiting.
As if the trolling on Twitter wasn’t enough, more than 200 people took to Ofcom to report Dave’s performance; and 39 complaints were made exclusively against British grime artist Stormzy, who took home the award for British Male Solo Artist and performed a medley of his tracks from his album ‘Heavy Is the Head’. Both performances by Dave and Stormzy weren’t anything new, they simply said everything we’ve been thinking for years. From the Windrush scandal, to the treatment of figures like Raheem Sterling, racial tensions in Britain have been at boiling point for a while. Thankfully, there’s a new generation of Black Brits who aren’t afraid to speak up against injustice and racism. However, in a country that claims to champion free speech and self expression, it seems as if there’s more criticism for those commenting on racism than for those who are actually racist. Take Dawn Butler for example, the Labour MP caught flack for calling Conservative narrative racist and was vehemently told that her comments were “rude and offensive”, whilst Boris’s comments were an “unfortunate slip of the tongue”. Or what about Afua Hirsch, who so bravely went on national TV to convince the British public and Piers Morgan that Meghan Markle was treated in a racist manner, only to be met with racism herself.
The behaviour that Britain displays towards unapologetic, outspoken black people is odd. It’s commonly understood that every other ‘ism’ is wrong and not up for debate; yet when it comes to discourse around racism, everybody has something to say and instead of taking accountability perpetrators deflect and gaslight. We’re told to be grateful to be here, to stop playing the race card, to get on with life, even when every area of our lives is plagued with the fact that we are seen as ‘other’. The reaction to racism being called out is reflective of the country we’re living in. Rather than dealing with the truth of what’s being said, society becomes defensive placing the blame elsewhere.
The facts still remain. In the run up to the 2017 general election it was revealed that Diane Abbott, one of Britain’s most visible black female politicians, received 45% of all abusive tweets sent to female MPs. After the Brexit result, race crimes rose dramatically across the country. Most recently, a teenager had to take legal action against her school where she was repeatedly kept out of classes because her natural hair was considered to be breaking uniform rules. All of these events show that racism is still rife in the UK, it just remained hidden for years. Speak to any black person you come across and they’ll have encountered similar stories of racism; varying from micro-aggressions, to discrimination, to outright abuse.
The question here isn’t ‘Is Britain still racist?’ – statistics and stories can tell you that for free. The question is, why is Britain more concerned with being called racist than actual racism? For a country that for so long has hidden their racist views behind Commonwealth work, Red Nose Day initiatives, and the fact that Britain is statistically the least racist country in Europe, it might come as a surprise that they are being called out for the very thing they work so hard to fight against. However, the fight against racism doesn’t absolve Britain of the responsibility of creating some of these problems in the first place. It seems as if the British public are completely disengaged and refusing to accept the truth about racism – yet the truth still stands. As Dave put it, “it is racist, whether or not it feels racist.”
Written by Sayo Olu