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Akala on Racism in Great Britain

akala on racism in uk
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“Racism is still alive, they just are concealing it.” As a teenager in Queens New York, this lyric always stood out to me from Kanye West’s debut album. I was a young man figuring my way in the world and long before then I knew that race would play a part in my life’s journey, what a trip it has been so far.


But Race is not solely an American conversation, as Akala makes evident. It is a worldwide burden and Great Britain has done very little to offer hope.



“I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their colour.” — MALCOLM X



This excerpt of Akala’s take on racism in the UK stems from a comment made by Katie Hopkins in the Sun newspaper. The columnist, in 2015, referred to migrants, risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean sea, as cockroaches.


About the great risks these human beings take in search of a better life Katie Hopkins said, “No, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play the violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.”

Plus, in doubling down she added, “Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984’, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.”


People like Katie Hopkins exist all over the world, and on the entire planet there seem to be a way of thinking that gives way to this sort of callousness.



What is going on with Racism?

In a hall setting, in front of an audience, Akala educates us.


“We talk about race, we tend to focus on individual acts of prejudice. Which is why UKIP often come up because they will say things that we overtly find offensive. But unfortunately, the issue of race is a lot more insidious and it takes a more historical look to find the difference between individual bias and structural racism and privilege,” Akala clarifies.


“The idea of Great Britain was intimately tied to the fact that Britain has invaded almost every country on the earth. Literally.”


At the very root of it, Race is a subject of power. And you do not have to be a nation to practice its oppression. We have all bought into the idea that the colour of one’s skin declares a certain status in which we may begin to define ourselves.


“No. Literally there is a map. You can google it,” Akala cheerfully invites.  


“And so the idea of our greatness was intimately tied to this idea of empire. Which was intimately tied to what Rudyard Kipling calls the ‘White Man’s Burden.’ To go and civilize all these stupid brown folks that have been writing and having civilizations for thousands of years,” Akala says sarcastically. “But let us forget all of that.”



“Racism is a much more clandestine, much more hidden kind of phenomenon, but at the same time it’s perhaps far more terrible than it’s ever been.” — ANGELA DAVIS



I love that about Akala. He never misses a chance to throw a subtle jab. He reminds you of something you probably never considered and moves on as if he just got bored talking about the weather.


“And so if we fast forward to today,” Akala continues. You can see the wheels turning in his mind as he stares blankly downwards, more focused on his words. ”When we talk about structural racism in Britain, do we have the same institutional disparities in rates of imprisonment that they have in America? Yes, absolutely we do. Do we have the same disparities in terms of who is dying in police custody? Yes, in fact with do.”


“In 2011, we were told that we loved Libya so much that we wanted to bomb democracy into them.” He takes a quick pause. “Less than five years later, we are leaving people fearing the same conflict to drown in the sea while giving a woman space in a national newspaper to refer to them as cockroaches.”


Katie Hopkins lives for the attention. It is almost too easy to dismiss her if only she were an outlier. Though her comments are troubling, it is more worrying that she has an active fan base who buy into and spread her hateful rhetoric.


“And when you refer to Human as cockroaches that is a mandate for murder. Let’s be clear about that. The moment that human beings become non-human, that is a mandate for murder,” Akala says, gesticulating with his thumbs pressed against his index finger, jabbing the point home into the air.


“There is a long historical parallel of that.”


“Today. Germany,” he slows down as he squints. “The country that bombed this country in our grandparents lifetime – so theoretically, the grandchildren of Nazis – can get in and out of England easier than the grandchildren of people from the Commonwealth who fought against the Nazis.” He pounces into a lean forward. “And where did they come from?”



“Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome.” — ROSA PARKS



“When we talk about immigrants, do we mean people from Australia and New Zealand,” Akala asks daring the truth from you. “Didn’t Boris Johnson go to Australia and say ‘hey, we are culturally the same?’ Was he talking about the aborigines when he said that?”


“We call them expats,” the moderator chimes in.


“Right,” Akala agrees. “White people have such a different way of classifying themselves that white immigrant are expats and non-white immigrants are immigrants. So when we say immigrants, if we go to border control. We can go there. We go look at who is there. It is not a bunch of white people from New Zealand.”


“So we have structural forms of privilege and bias, that are much more insidious and much more difficult to overcome. And the reaction to Africans and Asians coming here post World War II, to rebuild the country after the Queen’s German cousins bombed it. The reaction to them was one of general hatred. It’s illogical,” he emphasizes.


“These people who have formerly being colonized by Britain had fought in both world wars. And they gave 4.5 million volunteers, for those who don’t know. When we talk about ‘being saved by America,’ we want to talk about being saved by India and Russia, that would be a bit more accurate. But that is a bit inconvenient.”


“But the reaction to those people and their descendants has being one that is about structural bias and privilege,” he Akala says, struggling a bit, trying to wrap it up in the plainest terms for those listening.  


“The greatest metaphor for this might be Cherry Wharf in Tower Hamlets. If you look at that predominantly Bengali community that has to look at Canary Wharf every day. How many people work in Canary Wharf other than having to clean the toilets?”


“I suppose what I am saying is that there are bias and bigotry everywhere in the world. The country my grandparents come from, it is pretty much generally accepted that they do not like gay people.” There seems to be some disappointment as he admits this. But then Akala quickly and more excitedly points out who is to blame.


“What is interesting is that race even plays a role in that. In Jamaica, we have disgraceful homophobia. No one ever says it is because of Christian fundamentalism.” His gesticulations begin to intensify like there is a greater conversation that he would love to explore. “Even though it is justified in explicitly Christian fundamentalist terms. Because only Muslims do bad things because of their religion. Because we know almost all the Muslims in the world are brown. Whereas when a German wings pilot crashes and kills a hundred and fifty people deliberately, or the man in Norway kills ninety people. I was in Australia when that happened. It’s like a uniform, the agreement is that white people will be portrayed differently.”



“Our true nationality is mankind.” ― H.G. WELLS



“The Australian media referred to Anders Breivik as having ‘terrorist-like tactics.’”  He sits back, stroking his chin. As if to beseech, ‘what further proof do you need of racial privilege.’


“Yea. Yea,” the moderator echoes.


“I mean think about that. This guy kills almost a hundred people and he is just almost a terrorist,” Akala chillingly points out.


“And he had written a crazy thing about Muslims,” the moderator humbly adds.


“I mean he was a terrorist by any standing. The idea that white is right isn’t just the European idea. It is an idea that has had insidious implications,” Akala says repeating his word of the day, ‘insidious.’


“Because no matter what, the seven hundred people that were left to drown off the coast of the Mediterranean, were they white, wouldn’t have been left to drown and they certainly wouldn’t have been called cockroaches,” Akala ends opening his palm with a twist, emphasizing the obvious. He looks sullen, in pain, as his passion for his struggle weighs on him.



“Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.” ― JOSEPH FORT NEWTON







The audience applauds and Akala brings his fingertips together before a gentle bow.  


Points well made.


But what is going to change?




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