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Racism is rife in this country, too

12 June 2020

It is time for systematic change in Church and society, argues Arlington Trotman


A a Black Lives Matter protester in Bristol, on Sunday

A a Black Lives Matter protester in Bristol, on Sunday

MANY white Americans are calling emphatically for an end to racism and racist police behaviour. They have been prompted by the gruesome death of the African American George Floyd while under arrest by Minneapolis police officers (News, 5 June). Not since the civil-rights demonstrations of the 1960s have so many American whites joined forces with black people in such diversity, and across so many states, to plead for justice and freedom.

While Mr Floyd’s shameful killing focuses the issue there, however, it should be remembered that black, Asian, and minority-ethnic (BAME) people in the UK continue to suffer the persistent indignity of racial hatred, both overt and subtle, and all the ills of systemic oppression.

Racism is indisputably rife in this country. BAME communities, despite making up 14 per cent of the UK population, are:

  • twice as likely to die in prison, police, and immigration custody as white British people;

  • excluded from clerical leadership, and failed by mainline Churches’ discrimination and racism;

  • twice as likely to die from Covid-19 as white British people (News, 5 June);

  • subject to high levels of unemployment (nine per cent among BAME people was the highest in 2019, compared with four per cent among white people);

  • over-represented at almost all stages of the criminal justice process; more likely to be imprisoned, and more likely to be imprisoned for longer, than white British people; nearly three times more likely to be arrested than white British people; and more than four times more likely to be stopped and searched than white British people;

  • lack similar opportunities in education, housing, and public services to white British people’s.


INCREASED political will in the Church and in government, as well as respect in society, is urgently needed. Despite progress in community relations — for example, after the publication of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report — BAME people are victims of structural racism and discriminatory attitudes and policies, as evidenced in Brexit, the hostile environment, and Covid-19.

White racist attitudes and practices have been evident for decades. Black people have endured violence, murder, and blight, and this has been silently tolerated by some, perpetuated hatefully by others, and put into fatal effect by police. But the status quo is being challenged anew by the call to action to defeat racism. Christians are compelled by their faith to join in making this call, and to respect the dignity and humanity of African Americans, and the African diaspora everywhere.

What can be done? First, there needs to be increased political will to hold to account the Cabinet and its agencies — especially Education, Health and Social Care, Work and Pensions, Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Home Office, and the Ministry of Justice.

To eliminate all forms of racism in the criminal-justice system, measures should include: requiring all police cadets and judges to serve a proportion of their internship with a black and Asian family; and an immediate assessment of police tactics on arrests of BAME persons, and independent scrutiny of filed police reports within one day — especially, but not exclusively, with regard to persons of African Caribbean and African heritage — to ascertain whether officers may have broken the law.

The second area to address is education and training. Teaching staff and parents, particularly those of BAME heritage, should be listened to carefully with a view to improving teacher-family relations and educational under-achievement by primary and secondary pupils. Boards, heads, and teachers of educational institutions should receive training on institutional and personal racism its elimination. Appropriate penalties should be imposed on those who fail to comply.

There should be more modular teaching on the history of transatlantic enslavement and its legacies, such as racial inequality, and on responding to the numerous personal expressions of racial hatred, both public and private.


THE third area in which radical change is needed is in the Churches. Senior clergy should be given regular masterclasses on racial inequality. These could take place, for example, in the House of Bishops or on ministry study days.

Regular diocesan — or, for Methodists, circuit — “town halls” should be convened, so that senior clergy and ministers can get to know and appreciate better BAME parishioners and church members, and model ministry to them. The aim would be to enable genuine participation at all levels.

Furthermore, preachers and theological educators should be encouraged and enabled to refer regularly in their sermons and lectures to racial inequality, so that, even when the issue is not in the headlines, they can increase understanding and unity among clergy and the people.

Lasting progress can be achieved only when white British people, en masse, accept that racism restrcits their freedom, too — at least psychologically — and join black and Asian people in the struggle for lasting change. Let us together harness this unique moment.


The Revd Arlington W. Trotman is a former secretary of the Churches’ Commission for Racial Justice, and a former Moderator of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe. arlington@awtrotman.co.uk.

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