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The Personal is Statistical: "Do they know that I'm brown?"

Posted on 21 November 2017 by Keeva Rooney, Researcher .
Tags: British Social Attitudes, Racial PRejudice, Racism, The Personal is Statistical

In our monthly series, The Personal is Statistical, we'll be talking about where statistics have interacted with our personal lives. They are a bit different from the blogs we usually post, but we hope you'll enjoy reading them. In this blog, Keeva Rooney reflects on her experiences of racial prejudice.

 

Keeva Rooney

Most of us would like to think that these days instances of racism are few and far between. However, data using the British Social Attitudes survey (BSA) shows that one in four British people admit to holding racially prejudiced views. Shockingly, the number of those who admit to this has never fallen below a quarter since 1983 when the survey was launched.

This result was unexpected to some. This is 2017 after all. With positive attitudes to same-sex relationships and transgender people at an all-time high, the proportion of people who say they’re racially prejudiced seems to buck the trend towards a more socially liberal society. However, for those of us who belong to BME groups, like me, the results are far from surprising.

The worst (or at least, most obvious) instances of racism I have ever encountered happened while studying at university. I was living in a small town and, while I loved living there, the low numbers of resident ethnic minorities in the area meant that I stuck out like a sore thumb. The racism I experienced mostly included a few stares or whispers, but at its worst I was called racial slurs or yelled at by passers-by. It’s clear I’m not the only one to experience racial abuse. According to recent Home Office statistics, in 2016-17 hate crime increased by 29% on the previous year (the largest annual increase to date); 78% of reported hate crimes were racially aggravated. This reflects a genuine rise in hate crime, as well as an increase of people identifying and reporting it. 

As a mixed race woman, racial prejudice has permeated almost all aspects of my life. My dad is white Irish and my mum is British-born Guyanese. When they met in the 1980s they experienced a lot of hostility to their relationship, from both the white and Caribbean communities. They were optimistic that things would change for their children and therefore never prepared my brother and I for the racism that we would later encounter.

As someone whose partner is white (and who themselves is a product of an inter-racial marriage), it is very interesting to look at trends in attitudes towards inter-racial relationships. I remember being very anxious when meeting my partner’s family, and one of the first questions I asked my partner when meeting his grandparents for the first time was ‘do they know that I’m brown?’. They loved me, of course, but statistics show that my fear was not unfounded. Other data from BSA shows that in 2013, 22% of people would ‘personally mind’ if someone in their family married a Black person, and 21% were intolerant of a relative marrying an Asian person. Although these numbers have dropped significantly from 1983 when those that would mind a relative marrying a Black or Asian person was 57% and 51% respectively, a staggering 44% of people asked said that they would ‘personally mind’ if a close relative were to marry a Muslim. We still have a long way to go for inter-racial and inter-faith relationships to be accepted.

When it comes to racial prejudice I share my parents’ optimism. I believe that with time and education, instances of racial prejudice will decrease. For those that already admit to having racial prejudice, there may be some more work to do. For the rest of us, it’s time to take responsibility to actively challenge these views and opinions. If we don’t then racial prejudice, racism and hate crime will continue to be a presence in our society and BME people will continue to suffer the consequences.

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