Have you ever wondered why we have entities such as Black Medical Society, Society of Black Lawyers, the National Black Police Association, Black Professionals Networks etc?
When I was researching the British National Party (BNP) for my book, Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain I came across a video in which a BNP member expressed her confusion that black people say they want to be part of British society, but segregate themselves out by entities such as the MOBO (Music of Black Origin) Awards; Black Police Association; Black Nurses Association; and Black Teachers Association. Something that she actually saw as being racist.
Ref: THE REAL BNP VIDEO
On the face of it, her argument may actually sound reasonable… that is until you take account of the historical context in which black people were not accepted and were discriminated against in various organisations and institutions from churches to housing to professional institutions as well as communities as a whole. It was largely as a result this that entities were set up to represent the interests and needs of black people.
It’s perhaps difficult to believe, however, there was a time when black people were not made to feel welcome in some churches in Britain. Sometimes they were just made to feel uncomfortable because of their exuberant worship, on occasion they were actually asked not to come back. This led to the formation of “black churches “where black people could freely express themselves and worship God without judgement.
For housing, black people were also discriminated against, I don’t know if you are old enough to remember the times when there were signs in house windows that said – “ No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish” Even without the signs, black would knock on a house door where there was a “Vacant Room” sign in the window. Requesting to rent a room, the person would be told that the room had just been rented out.
There was similar discrimination in the workplace that meant highly skilled professionals were rejected for jobs in line with their qualifications and capabilities. In 1965, the Race Relations Act came into law in order to prevent discrimination on the grounds of race. Followed by the 1976 Race Relations Act. Although the legislation provided a legal framework and guidance on how people should be treated, it had no control over people’s hearts and minds. As such it may have helped to reduce discrimination, but it in no way eradicated it. I still remember one of my brothers having a telephone interview in the early 1980s. The interview went well and he was asked to come in and meet the manager face to face. Getting to the office, the manager stared at him in shock and told him that he had thought that my brother’s surname – Popoola, that he was Greek. Under the circumstances, it was no surprise that he did not get the job.
It’s the barriers that people of colour faced in all areas of life that have led to the setup of entities that support, represent and guide them.
It’s questionable how much things have improved over the years. People of colour have been known to have applications rejected on the basis of their names. One of the reasons for blind applications that can only go so far in masking the identity of applicants. Even with a name like Smith, I recall a manager finding every possible reason not to employ the candidate when he realised that she was of mixed heritage. Statistical reports such as the Race Disparity Audit show that people of colour are still discriminated against. Whilst not every person of colour will speak of negative experiences, a lot will have direct experience or at the very least, perception of being disadvantaged and unsupported.
The problems don’t just exist in employment. I frequently read stories of black people with great reviews on Airbnb being rejected by hosts only for a white friend to request to book and be accepted. The list goes on and on.
It would be great to say that the bodies to represent and support people of colour are no longer necessary and I very much look forward to that day. I hope we can all come together to end the need for such entities. Sadly, that day has not yet arrived.
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