Manchester City footballer Raheem Sterling recently spoke about racist abuse he endured in a game against Premier League rivals Chelsea. Following this abuse, he discussed the issue of racism in the media and how two young footballers at his club, one black and one white, both bought homes for their mothers but the white player received positively worded coverage whilst the black player’s actions were negatively covered. He touched upon the media bias that exists and how this affects perceptions of minorities in wider society.
Since this, several black members of the football fraternity have come out and criticised the rise of racism including ex-Liverpool player John Barnes who in a BBC interview drew a comparison upon negative coverage of Muslims and Blacks in society who commit crimes and have their background questioned whilst whites who do similar crimes do not.
He observed that racism must be viewed in a societal context rather than compartmentalized. The media, he noted, is less a reflection of society than an influencer of it.
Looking at society, racism has been a defining feature of relations between ethnic minorities and their indigenous counterparts in the West since long before the post WW2 boom in immigration which saw millions of workers arrive from the colonies to work and repair the shattered Empires which once directly ruled over their ancestral homelands. Whether it was the physical enslavement of millions and profiting from the slave trade to extracting precious raw resources, the idea sold to build public opinion domestically was couched in the projection of superiority of the European or white race and the burden to civilize the uncouth barbarians from the rest of the world.
This mindset has never been addressed intellectually, instead, reality has forced a change in behaviour. It was the exhaustion of fighting WW2 and the rise of American power that challenged the order of the old European empires. This change, in reality, forced these empires, which had fought bitterly to colonise the rest of the world for their resources and political influence, to release these lands from direct rule by creating artificial nation states that would remain dependent upon them. It was the reality of the massive loss of life during two world wars and material destruction which necessitated the large-scale immigration in order to rebuild. This is what led to the influx of black migrants in the 1950s and 1960s as part of the “Windrush generation” and the migration of large numbers of South Asians in the 1960s and 1970s to perform low skilled and labour intensive tasks. Immigrants took roles such as cleaners, taxi drivers, factory workers and labourers
It was the necessity of confronting communist thought from the Soviet threat which meant that these previously cruel and unforgiving empires had to build ostensibly warm relations with former colonies around the world and facilitate the culture of such people who migrated to them.
Relations with Muslim states like Turkey and Pakistan were warmed as these nations formed the frontline of global conflict. This period saw the development of the concept of multiculturalism where immigrants from various countries were told that they could hold on to their native cultures and values. Laws such as the Race Relations Act 1965 were introduced which made discrimination a civil offence (rather than criminal) in public spaces. This was amended in 1968 to make it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services based on a person’s background. This was the basis of Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in which he railed against immigration, quoting a constituent of his who feared that in coming years “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man”. Polls in the 1960s and 70s showed strong support for such views, with a NOP poll finding that approximately 75% of the population agreed with Powell’s demand for non-white immigration to be halted completely and approximately 60% agreed with the demand for the repatriation of non-whites already residing in Britain.
All this meant that the deeply ingrained feelings of racism which have developed across centuries in society were driven underground by legislation rather than conceptual discussion.
Racism is an inherent part of establishment-thinking in states like Britain as it ultimately stems from the idea of nationalism, the key concept which binds countries such as this together.
This concept builds a sense of togetherness based upon shared history, culture and language which is overwhelmingly white in nature, hence views even native-born descendants of immigrants as not quite the same as those born of white lineage. Whilst many individuals within such societies, including those of a white background, may reject racism due to personal beliefs, it is the evidence of structural racism which permeates government and institutions of State which affect minorities. The Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence, published in February 1999, found that the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist.
Media coverage of crimes involving minorities disproportionately focuses on the ethnic or cultural background of the criminals as compared to those of white criminals engaged in similar offences. This generates stereotypes that affect the daily lives of minorities and how they are perceived;
Muslims are seen as terrorists with any politically motivated violence is linked to Islam, Blacks are seen as violent criminals and thieves and Asian men are seen as rapists or paedophiles.
This is despite these crimes not being unique to these racial groups. A recent survey for the Guardian found that:
- 43% of people from a minority background felt they had unfairly been overlooked for promotion at work
- 37% of people from a minority background felt they had unfairly been stopped for stop and search by police
- 55% of people from a minority background were mistaken for an employee rather than a customer
- 62% of people from a minority background had been stopped going through security or customs at an airport
These stereotypes and behaviours are further picked up by far-right and nationalist parties who then campaign on thinly disguised anti-immigrant campaigns.
Fundamentally, European countries are at best tolerant of even descendants of immigrants. Immigrants and their descendants are expected to assimilate into the existing dominant culture and any challenge to it based upon their unique values to the established cultural norms is received with hostility on a societal level. This is in contrast to any cultural change, no matter how deep, being considered upon its merits if championed by the indigenous population.
This is the legacy of using nationalism as a concept to bind a society together to form a State.
In Islam, attributes such as race, history and language are not the defining attributes when binding people together to form a society and State.
It is the adoption of common values and beliefs, such as the equality of worth of all races in the eyes of Allah (ﷻ) and the superiority of any individual being measured by piety only that develop harmony between people of differing backgrounds. The concept of nationalism itself is deemed illegitimate or haram. In a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) he said,
“He is not one of us who calls for asabiyyah, (tribalism/nationalism) or who fights for asabiyyah, or who dies for asabiyyah.” [Abu Dawud]
It can, therefore, be understood that unless a society can embody at an intellectual level how to bind people together cohesively without resorting to attributes such as language, race or history it will never be able to rid itself of racism regardless of how much legislation is enacted to this effect.
 See, https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/dspace-jspui/bitstream/2134/21458/3/Collins_984497.pdf
 The Macpherson Report—Ten Years On,Twelfth Report of Session 2008–09, House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 14 July 2009, pg 2, https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmhaff/427/427.pdf