The Double-edged Whiplash of the British Colonial Past: Witness Report, UK June 2021
(NB: Not an academic essay, more a personal essay)
To say we live in interesting times, may not be of much comfort to those struggling to cope during the fall out of the current global pandemic, and recent political changes in the United Kingdom.
However, as we in the United Kingdom slowly transition into a life similar to pre-lockdown in March 2020, the sociological landscape is fascinating.
(And the Kingdom much less United as the separate nations of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland exercise their discretionary powers to keep their citizens safe from Covid-19).
Sociology is the science of society, and although my undergraduate social sciences degree is long past, like most university disciplines it is still, on occasion a useful lens to discern and understand societal shifts as the British become islanders again, and separate from Europe.
However, sociology just like any other “ology”, such as:
has political biases within in it, and all ologies can be used to justify varying standpoints. Or to put it another way, as Mark Twain once said we have:
“Lies, dammed lies and statistics”.
Further each new development in the field of any “science” or “ology” is really only as useful as the number of people who know about it.
1. SCIENCE AS A WEAPON
In the last 18 months we have globally witnessed the use of science, as a political weapon by governments all over the world.
We have witnessed extreme reactions to the pandemic by global leaders, which resulted in hugely differing policy decisions, all backed by “science”.
Science became just another ideological tool, (wasn’t it always??), even though the global cooperation of scientists is the only reasons we have vaccines so quickly.
For example, Angela Merkel, the German leader who has a background in science, steered her country adroitly through the Covid-19 crisis, whereas the not so scientifically educated politicians completely buried their heads in the sand, at least initially.
In the UK and the USA for example, politicians dismissed initial warnings from the World Health Organization about Covid-19 as unimportant and some countries still continue to do so, such as Brazil.
The approaches of these politicians have resulted in varying death rates in these countries, with the UK still being one of the highest death rates per capita and the Brazilian rate still increasing, despite the introduction of vaccines. Brazil is second highest in the total number of recorded deaths to the USA.
Of course, the global pandemic is not the first-time science has been used as a political weapon.
As recently as my own university education, social psychologists were discussing how the size of the skull affected intelligence in those of African descent.
The same was said quite widely until the 1950’s about women. These “scientific” facts were used to suppress freedoms, property ownership, and liberty then, and are still used in certain branches of social psychology that continue to be taught today.
2. BLACKLIVES MATTER
The global actions in response to the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and resultant rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement, temporarily shifted attention from the global ECO movement, although as yet, we have seen little effects on policy.
Like most popular movements, the Black Live lacks distinct aims and leadership, as it is primarily an expression of rage against the regular murders of black men by police in the USA.
However it made these murders more visible to a wider section of society, and the protests against the murder of George Floyd became a symbol which every one could coalesce around, to demonstrate their anger and frustration with the insidious racism that exists in the USA, and indeed all over the world.
Public demonstrations of between 15–26 million people across the USA in 2020 inspired similar demonstrations worldwide.
Increasingly local groups or “chapters” of the Black Lives Movement are campaigning locally to improve local law enforcement policy and the proposed BREATHE Act, which is seen as a modern-day civil rights act, is gaining visibility.
In the UK, although there were public demonstrations in support of the US Black Lives Movement, which led to statues of slavery owners being defaced or toppled (as in Bristol) the backlash to these demonstrations was more significant.
The current British Prime Minister Boris Johnson commissioned a report on racism, published in March 2021, which was condemned by the United Nations as attempting to “normalize white supremacy”.
The report denied that any institutional racism existed, especially in policing and health. (read more about that report HERE)
Sociology collects data as well as personal views, which can illuminate what lies behind all of the “statistics”.
After being away from the UK for many years, and then returning to a backwater in 2014, where the natives are racist, violent and inhospitable I am in a unique position to view the United Kingdom from the side lines, whilst living here.
The complete devastation of most of country due to austerity measures introduced after the global economic recession of 2007 was shocking/
— Public services, such as social support services and libraries had been decimated
- Youth and community centres relegated to history books
— Many small towns boarded up and left to decay
— Whole areas full of unrepaired streets and pavements
Public spending was cut to pre-World War II levels, as a proportion of national income and the hardship was very visible.
Unsurprisingly in a worsening economic situation, racism between different racial groups was increasing fanned by the far right.
(These austerity cuts are also blamed for the lack of adequate PPE for medical staff, and lack of preparedness for this current global pandemic)
I had witnessed first-hand in London the national political shift to the right, the increase in racism, and increasing geographical racial segregation, during the years 2005–2008.
As an irregular jobbing executive assistant who worked in the City of London, the NHS, and corporate companies including the media (BBC, Guardian Newspapers), the overwhelming whiteness at senior levels was completely normal. (Although quite shocking at the Guardian Newspapers HQ where I was subject to racist remarks, and saw only one other non-white face who was an accountant from the Finance Office!!)
However, the cultural sector, normally more liberal, in which I primarily worked became increasingly hostile in 2005. There was a clear sense of being “pushed out” of London, from other “non-white” artists across London too.
In fact, since then most of my peers have not only left London, like myself, but also left the country permanently.
In 2015 the West Midlands, which is one of the regions of the country’s most hit by the recession, has a “non-white” population is at 35%, which is not reflected in the workforce.
There has also been a steady increase in in racially motivated physical violence.
Apart from a token “black face”, all white collar (office jobs) continues to be completely white across the region. Largely determined by recruitment companies which feed most local government, local industry and service based sectors.
JUNE 2021 UK SNAPSHOT
They say a photo can sum up a thousand words, but I don’t have a photograph to sum up the new sociological and political landscape in Britain, or more correctly in England, today, just a few poignant facts.
1. Britain is a country which has rapidly aged
Over 20 per cent of the population is over 65 years old. Fertility rates have dropped and young people are waiting longer before they start families.
2. Cheap labour left after Brexit
The most visible, or the most discussed in the popular media are:
· Care Homes Staff
· Hospitality Staff
· Medical — nurses and doctors from abroad face long delays for visa processing, despite the ongoing shortage in England of trained medical staff
The results of Brexit are only now becoming clear to the 52% of the population who voted for it.
The withdrawal of EEC grants for everything from farming to university research is now resulting in job cuts.
Almost laughably, most English people appear surprised at the consequences of closing their borders and leaving Europe. (The most recent “shock” being the lack of people prepared to pull pints in pubs for minimum wages)
The lack of willingness of the British population to fill the gaps of European workers was highlighted last year when government leaders asked for a “land army”, to bring in the rotting crops in the fields.
This attempt to replace 80,000 migrant workers, excluded due to the Covid-19 lockdown and visa restrictions, failed spectacularly. English workers are seen as unreliable, and not working hard enough by farmers. English people simply did not have the discipline, incentive or desire to pick the crops.
Aircraft had to be chartered to fly in Romanians and other Europeans to ensure these islanders had fresh fruit and vegetables to eat.
3. Brain Drain
After Brexit , 10% of financial firms and approximately 80,000 employees, left England as the City of London, relocating abroad. 31,600 of Brits left even without jobs to go to after Brexit and applied for residency in Germany since 2016.
During the global pandemic around 1.3 million workers are estimated to have left England. 700,000 of whom were living in London.
Many were from the food services, accommodation, or retail industry. 30% of construction workers are estimated to have left and manufacturing and transport were also affected.
Many of these workers were skilled workers whose absence will be increasingly felt as Britain emerges from lockdown, but for example, skilled workers such as machinists, would find visas hard to obtain and are unlikely to return to the UK.
Since the service sector makes up such a huge part of the English economy, some would say international financial services and education were the only thriving economies of significance in the United Kingdom, especially now that English manufacturers and farmers are struggling to remain competitive in the European market.
Anecdotally, the biggest symbol of the brain drain may prove to be the fact, that however many cronies the current government leadership colluded with,
The UK GOVERNMENT SPENT AN ESTIMATED 37 BILLION UK POUNDS
ON A TRACK AND TRACE SYSTEM THAT DOESN’T WORK.
Now, the astute amongst you will probably see that as a reflection on the UK’s political policy and preference for developing “herd immunity”.
However, there was a public about face on this, even if the thousands who lost family members will always claim it was vicious, unnecessary and cruel decision made by the government in the first place.
In economic terms, herd immunity, also proved to be a false path, as the country was forced to stay in lock down longer, and in the absence of test and trace may have to return to nationwide lockdowns repeatedly.
(Herd immunity proponents did not inform us of the increased likelihood of even more dangerous “variants” of Covid -19 being the result of viral spread, and these Covid 19 variants making the possibility of herd immunity virtually IMPOSSIBLE)
National policy shifts may also have been provoked by:
· increasing numbers being forced to rely on food banks for food,
· the high Covid-19 death rate
· the affects of Covid-19 on NHS staff
· realisation of leading politicians that herd immunity was not going to work
and fear that the of the nickname “plague island” for the UK may stick in the global memory and scupper all chances of the economic recovery.
4. The Far Right Continues to Strengthen
The lack of any credible alternative to the increasingly popularist Tory party, where the current prime minister has been reported to determine policy after reading the national newspaper headlines (according to recent revelations by the Government Advisor Cummings), has resulted in a country that continues to drift to the right.
Recently reflected in the remarkable “The United Kingdom is not a racist country” report, which was severely criticised for its inaccuracy by the United Nations.
The “private thick lensed bubble” of the current political leadership of the country has now become a joke globally, and an economic burden on the majority of the population.
5. Double Whiplash
So, I called this essay the double whiplash as of course not every person in England is a low IQ beer drinker, who got their job through their “crony” connections, who gets very upset when they can’t go to Europe every year on holiday and who hates “darkies”.
IS The Future UK ALL WHITE?
So as a person of colour, which to many Englishers, means that I am not English, what will the future look like?
1. England continues to be segregated along racial, and economic lines.
Scotland and Wales reclaiming their nationalism, and some would say their “independent thought”, as they diverge from national policy
Partly due to the more rural nature of Scotland and Wales, their political leaders have adopted different policies during the pandemic, which in both cases have led to lower infection rates, and lower death rates.
In a small country like the United Kingdom, it’s difficult not to hear the historical echoes of Cholera and the Black Death, and the fear of the “pox is here, the pox is here” close the gates … close the borders.
2. Economically Segregated
Despite the food shortages and fear during the global pandemic the governments furlough scheme did effectively keep the middle classes happy.
However, the “working classes” were never more aptly labelled as the only ones working during the pandemic, and primarily dying, as they were the ones who continued to work.
Sociological reordering of value according to need almost happened!
As worldwide we all realized the danger that front line workers placed themselves in, and how essential they are for a society to function. By front line workers I mean:
· The bus drivers, train drivers
· Supermarket staff
· The delivery staff
· The carers of older people in their homes and in care homes
· The nurses
As well as all other medical staff.
These people continued to work, and these groups suffered the largest fatalities.
White collar workers (office staff) were sent home, and paid to stay there.
RETURN TO THE STATUS QUO
However, the lack of adequate pay rise in 2021 for the nurses, many who died caring for Covid 19 patients, caused only a momentary political ripple DESPITE weekly banging of pots being touted as a way to thank nurses during the pandemic.
Ironically nurses themselves suggested dropping hospital car parking fees instead of banging on pots every Thursday evening.
Of course, at the beginning of the lockdown in Britain there was a huge ground swell of support for medical staff, and bored top-class chefs cooked and delivered gourmet food to them, others provided lunches so they could take a rest during breaks — but this was short lived.
A certain number of medical staff (not just nurses), still died due to a lack of adequate PPE.
A certain number of bus drivers and supermarket assistants still died before proper protection measures were introduced for them to work safely.
MOVING ON THROUGH FORGETTING
It is a normal psychological response of humans to want to forget the “unpleasant” in order to move on.
Although an enquiry has already begun into what actions were taken at the beginning of the Covid-19 epidemic, it will take a few years, and the politicians who were responsible for the decisions taken during this particularly dark time will have no doubt moved on by the time it delivers its “considered” results.
TO SUM UP: COMBINED RESULT OF BREXIT & PANDEMIC ON THE UK
So, in June 2021 in Britain there is a lack of
· Low paid labour
· Young people
· Skills — high calibre talent
There is also an:
· Aging population
· Reluctant youth (reluctant to take low paid minimum wage jobs)
· Increasing racist violence and discrimination
· Increasing racial segregation geographically and economically
As the United Kingdom continues to lose its prominence globally in financial services, and it’s higher and further education sector becomes more and more unpopular due to tighter visa restrictions, and dropping standards it will be interesting to see what happens next.
Personally, I find myself in a position not unlike many others of my age, gender and ethnic origin — completely ignored by the labour force despite their “talent shortage”.
The simple fact that I am not white and not a male does result in that fact that there are few economic opportunities for me in Britain and I am not alone in this situation.
Moreover, as the far-right flourishes and continues to influence politicians and the increasing numbers of unqualified young people the UK does become an increasingly dangerous place to live.
Will the UK be forced by its skill shortages and worsening economic situation to accept that it is not a “whites only island”?
Will the UK finally acknowledge the racist hangovers of it’s colonial past and begin educating itself and its younger generations to embrace a human centred approach to opportunities and embrace its non-white citizens?
Probably not until the “crony” system fostered by the public education system is completely dismantled and new hires and promotions are based on skills rather than background, and until the “give them a black token”, policy is removed.
The Labour Party may return to power in the UK at the next general election (although the current opposition party leaders it’s difficult to see how) and the pendulum may swing again.
I for one, will not be betting on that happening anytime soon.
IMPORTANCE OF BEARING WITNESS
Since the recent police killings of black men in the USA only got attention because they were captured on video — this highlighted the critical nature of bearing witness globally.
Ignoring the abuse of power, by politicians and police forces who are employed by us, condones their actions and behaviour.
During my research for this article, I was struck by a Tory MP’s comment that the increasing austerity cuts to public spending were not “really getting any opposition”.
How many thousands of lives would have been saved in England if the NHS had been prepared for a global pandemic, and PPE supplies had not run low due to funding cuts?
We must all continue to act as witnesses by voicing our disagreements with the consequences of political decisions all around us, where ever we are.
We live in interesting, and dangerous times.
What do you think? I would be interested in hearing your comments.