Mutation and evolution are essential to an organism’s survival. Viruses mutate, adapting to their host in order to effectively replicate themselves. Racism is no different.


Becoming subconsciously racist

Racism has changed in tandem with society becoming socially progressive. Today, most people are not explicitly racist. For instance, only 18 per cent of the British population believe that certain racial groups are born less intelligent, according to The Conversation. The George Floyd protests in June last year saw a variety of ethnicities on the frontline, fighting to stop racism.

Racism is not only explicit. It is implicit too. Today, despite the fact that you may have several ethnic minority friends or love a spicy tikka masala on a Friday night, it’s likely that you hold subconscious racial views about ethnic minorities that you’re probably not even aware of. This is the hard truth.

As a young, black man, I see myself as the epitome of an active anti-racist partisan. I have even created a petition to include black-British role models in our school curriculum. Therefore, taking a Harvard Implicit Association test, I was confident that I would be giving myself a pat on the back! The test found that I preferred white Europeans to black people. Clearly, I hold unconscious racial beliefs that I did not know I had. Racism, explicit and subconscious, is also in the institutions that exist; such as schools. I believe this is how we acquire a taste for negative racial attitudes.

Children and young babies are ‘race blind’

Very young children do not see ‘race’ the way that we do; namely, in terms of the grouping of people based on physical and social attributes. Unlike skin pigmentation, which is an inherent feature, race is largely a social construct. Its life began during the transatlantic slave trade, with the purpose of dividing the human race into subraces. This was a way of reinforcing white supremacy and justifying the mass enslavement of millions of Africans.

School perpetuates a misrepresented version of history

Today, the education system but also the media are responsible for presenting things in ‘black and white’.

Cast yourself back to your school experience. From reception to Year 13, how many white-British role models can you recall? I can name Winston Churchill, Shakespeare, and Mary Wollstonecraft — amongst others. Now, how many black-British role models can you name? I can only name Olaudah Equiano. That’s one black-British role model after 15 years of education. It may of course be different for you. Your curriculum may have been a lot more diverse than mine.

Nevertheless, there is an acute lack of positive black-British representation in the curriculum. This is despite the fact that black Britons have contributed greatly to British society. Take Margaret Busby, who became the first black-British female publisher in 1967, with Alisson&Busby. Or even John Edmonstone, a professor at Edinburgh University who taught Charles Darwin taxidermy. Some say, that Darwin’s theory of evolution would not have happened without Edmonstone’s teachings.

Let me put this misrepresentation in perspective. In 2016, nearly 8 million people attended school between the ages of three to 16 in England. There is a strong chance that 8 million under-18s are receiving an incompetent education that does not represent the contribution of black-British people throughout history. This creates a false impression that black people have not contributed to society. Psychologically, black kids learning about fellow black-British role models helps with vicarious reinforcement — or imitation. It leads to having positive racial self-esteem and pride in your race; a race that has been sidelined from mainstream society.

An incompetent government makes for an incompetent curriculum

Unfortunately, the racial utopia that I have just described will probably not happen any time soon. This government, elected to represent the needs of society, does not understand the importance of black-British role models for the children of today and tomorrow. This may be because there is only one black cabinet minister in the Conservative government. But regardless of the reason, it’s clear it can no longer be trusted to accurately represent British history.

In fact, in July of last year, the Schools Minister Nick Gibb rejected a proposal to review the English curriculum by adding more black-British representation. Incidentally, I remember meeting him in Year 11, about two years ago now. He came to my school for a Q&A session. As the school’s Minister, I felt it was important to ask him about the curriculum. This was my questions: ‘Black people have been in this country for many centuries. Therefore, why is there a lack of positive black-British role models in the curriculum?’ I expected him to beat around the bush like a typical politician. But his answer was direct — and revealing. ‘Black people have not been here for many centuries. They came in the ’50s’. WOW!

A call to action!

Clearly, we cannot rely on the government to create a fair curriculum aimed at challenging systemic racism. This means that any negative associations we may have are likely to remain. So we must rely on ourselves:

  1. We must address the fact that we have subconscious biases and negative perceptions about other people.
  2. Next, we must challenge our biases. Avoid microaggressions, like asking someone with afro hair if you can touch it. If someone has a non-typical English name, such as Adarabioyo, do not mock it. Respect this person’s birth name.
  3. Do not generalise Africa. When, or if, you say that people from Africa do not have enough water, ask yourself: ‘Which countries specifically do not have water? Africa is a continent, not a country.
  4. Have empathy. Black people, believe it or not, are human beings! We have emotions like anybody else. Understand that it is difficult to be in a country that can only see you as ‘black’. Understand that people’s subconscious biases mean that black people make up only 1 per cent of senior roles in the public sector.

Racism in the UK

This article does not seek to present a definitive answer to stopping racism. I can only speak of my experience and interactions as a young, black man. I am not the spokesperson for black people. But what I am trying to do is raise awareness of the fact that we all have subconscious biases that affect how we see other people; especially black people.

Until society can all share the same slices of pizza, racism will continue. It is an ongoing problem in the UK, regardless of the progress made. Racism affects many ethnic minorities and can lead them to experience impostor syndrome and a lack of belonging. Though it may not affect you, being empathetic and respectful of other people’s experiences is the first response to dealing with this problem.

I will close with a quote from the late and great Nelson Mandela:

 ‘No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love’.