Over the past few weeks, Mary has received a significant amount of correspondence from constituents who wished to share their views about race and racism in the UK, and abroad.
In a wide-ranging letter, Mary has now contact the Prime Minister to highlight these issues, and share her constituents thoughts on these issues. You can read the full text of the letter below:
Dear Prime Minister
I am writing to you regarding issues of race and racism, both in the UK and abroad. This reflects the large amount of correspondence I’ve had from my constituents on the subject.
The first issue I would like to raise is the matter of the Britain’s exporting of ‘riot control’ equipment to the US. This equipment includes tear gas and rubber bullets, which have seemingly been used against peaceful protestors in the US as part of state-mandated violence. I am sure that you are aware of Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade Emily Thornberry’s call for an immediate suspension of these exports pending investigation into their use, as well as Dawn Butler’s cross-party letter signed by over 160 MPs calling for the same measure. If the Government is supplying the US with the means to suppress protests, then they are assisting in violence against civilians and are complicit.
It is also important to remember that these protests across the world are not simply the result of George Floyd’s death; this was purely the spark. Black Lives Matter activists are protesting against the systemic racism that still exists in society and that massively reduces the life chances of black people. This is especially true in the US where there is widespread police brutality, often only highlighted due to it being recorded by members of the public.
It is with this in mind that I believe you must publicly condemn the President of the United States, Donald Trump, for his incendiary rhetoric – for example, his quoting of the racist, 1960s Florida police chief, Walter E. Headley, saying that ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’. This language is dangerous and abhorrent and I am very concerned that you have not criticised it.
However, while the US’ problems with racism have been in the spotlight, we cannot ignore our own problems. Just as the US have George Floyd and Tamir Rice as well-known victims of structural racism, in the UK we have Sean Rigg or Jean Charles de Menezes. Only last week, neo-fascists and racists marched through London, while the people of colour who speak out against racism are subject to the most horrific abuse. Your own language has often added to this problem and, like Donald Trump, inflamed the situation.
Sadly, the Government has not dealt with structural racism. A key failing of the UK Government with regards to race has been its treatment of the Windrush Generation. Wendy Williams’ ‘Lessons Learned’ report found that the Home Office had shown “ignorance and thoughtlessness” on issues of race, while many of the victims are still without compensation. This should be rectified as quickly as possible.
Furthermore, the Windrush Scandal was not an accident, it was part of a hostile environment fostered by this Government for immigrants, especially people of colour. While this continues, scandals such as Windrush will continue, and the Government must abandon this approach. This means an end to the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ policy and the closure of cruel detention centres. While the Home Office may make noises about ending the systematic racism within the Department, this has to be backed up with firm action.
In addition to this, the Government has displayed an alarming lack of transparency regarding Public Health England’s report into COIVID-19’s impact upon the BAME community. It is disappointing that the published report included a number of key failings, such the lack of recommendations to tackle the problem highlighted.
This subject is particularly relevant due to the tragic death of Belly Mujinga. While I welcome the decision by British Transport Police to re-examine the case for prosecution, there are still questions surrounding the circumstances of her death. Seemingly, Ms Mujinga was in a public-facing role, despite underlying health conditions, with little or no access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). I believe that there needs to be an investigation into these circumstances and the PPE provision to staff who interact with the public. Belly Mujinga’s death is a tragedy, but we must learn if it was avoidable in order to get justice for her family and to protect other workers.
Fundamentally, the Government must combine changes to education with efforts to remove the socio-economic barriers that feed racial inequality and that fuel prejudice. Firstly, I would say that there is a need to add black histories, as well as that of British colonialism, to the national curriculum. This would allow children to be educated on issues of race and racism and better inform people’s views on these matters.
Secondly, there should be a concerted effort to add people of colour to other areas of the curriculum, such as in English Literature, art and music. Children cannot be taught as if black culture is somehow separate to British culture.
Finally, this Government must remove the socio-economic barriers which stand in the way of black people in Britain. Black people are more likely to live in poverty, and this seriously affects their life chances, both economically and in terms of health. Reducing the economic inequality, which has grown massively over the last decade of Tory Government, would be an important step in tackling both racial inequality and racism in society.
It is vital, especially at this time, that you use your position as Prime Minister to address issues of racism, not to suppress or hide from them. I would be grateful if you could write to me and detail how you will do this in the short and long-term.
I await your response with interest.