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  • Florence Adeoye

‘Racism? - Not here! Not there! Not anywhere!’

The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 sparked a wave of international protests – building a global resistance against racism, state terrorism, and Eurocentrism. However, many still view racism as exclusive to the United States. As a Black woman living in Britain, I have found claims of racism being non-existent here, laughable. A cursory glance at the Prime Minister's record on race is enough to understand how normalised racism has become in Britain. Boris Johnson, whose bigotry has been excused as 'gaffes' by the media, has called Black children "piccaninnies", has written that Africa is a mess, but we can’t blame colonialism', and greenlit the publishing of an article arguing that ‘Black people have lower IQs’ whilst editor of The Spectator. This unsubtle racism must not be cast aside as ‘not that bad’.

The British government has woven racist myths and beliefs into the capillaries of society, especially through education. Our curriculum erases the British Empire and its worldwide exploitation of people and resources – skipping over centuries to arrive at the story of Britain as a great industrial power. Concealing the murderous voyages of imperialism curates a false image of Britain as a generous caregiver to the inferior and unruly, leading many to feel emboldened in acting out their racist beliefs. This ignorance can be linked to cases of police brutality, such as the unjust murders of Joy Gardner, Mark Duggan, and Sean Rigg. Instead of national outrage, the deaths of Black people in police custody are too often met with media questioning of the victims' behaviour and history, or an insistence that the force used must have been appropriate. These statements are regurgitations by those who have digested ideas about Black people being ‘savages’ and ‘immune to pain’.

The disconnect experienced by young Black people from their history is what leads many to fail to understand that our experiences of racism are not just 'blips' or everyday growing pains. This lack of connection fooled a younger version of myself into thinking that racism belonged to an age long ago, despite the very recent existence of things like the colour bar. The colour bar meant that it was legal to bar someone from housing, employment, and public spaces on the basis of their skin colour. This was not addressed by a change in the law until the 1965 Race Relations Acts, which meant that this discrimination was accepted and legal during many of our parents' lifetimes.

Although it is not the sole solution to transforming society, I have personally seen how a History education has given me the skills to understand and critique the way that our nation has been built. Learning how people fought against racism in the past can inspire us to work towards the construction of a world that does not revolve around our subjugation.

Unravelling centuries of history cannot and should not be done overnight. Education is something that takes time in order to be effective. It needs to be coupled with actions that directly oppose and dismantle structures of oppression and white supremacy. This further requires us to engage with the past with different tools and perspectives that are different from those that have oppressed us. As Audre Lorde famously said, ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’.

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