Despite London’s multicultural image, racist attacks are still a reality

We are fortunate that we have the social, emotional, and legal resources to help us speak up, but there are many who can’t.

We are fortunate that we have the social, emotional, and legal resources to help us speak up, but there are many who can’t

On May 17, my brother, a female friend and I were racially abused and attacked as we walked home in north London. Our abuser’s rage was triggered by our not speaking in English and his abuse initially began with shouts of “this is England, speak in English”.

He followed us, threatening in graphic detail what ought to be done to “Pakis bitches”. Worried, we called 999 for assistance. Before the police could arrive, the abuser called my brother a “Paki c*nt,” hit out and ran away, still shouting racist abuse. The police, when they arrived, compounded our shock, disappointment and sadness with condescending, rude and intimidating behaviour.

Since then, hundreds have reached out to tell their own story, both of experiencing racist attacks in London as well as of the difficulties in reporting them. The sheer number of lived experiences suggests that despite the city’s ‘multicultural’ PR image, racist attacks continue to be a part of our lived experience, and the emotional, cultural, and structural difficulties in reporting help keep these invisible.

The attack demonstrated to me that reporting a hate crime requires immense mental stamina and extensive cultural, emotional and linguistic skills. Moreover, few second and third generation non-white Britons report hate crimes, accepting that these will not be taken seriously. This adds to the informal knowledge base amongst recent arrivals that law enforcement bodies do not take racial hate crimes seriously.

At the same time, many who are visiting or have recently moved to the country may not be familiar with the processes of reporting. Even I instinctively dialled 911 before remembering the correct number. The curt ‘ambulance or police’ initial response further threw me, and still makes me wonder how someone without requisite language skills or in a more vulnerable state would cope.

The police responded quickly to our call but their attitude flags up a second layer of difficulties in reporting a hate crime. The officers seemed to lack sensitivity training and understanding of the difficulties of reporting a hate crime and appeared resistant to acknowledging it as such. It was only our insistence on explaining our experience of racial abuse in detail that eventually led to registering our complaint.

Since then, it is only our persistence that seems to be pushing action on the case. Few victims, either non-white Britons or recent arrivals, and even fewer tourists, would be willing or able to continue against such structural resistance.

Amongst many who are in the UK on student, tourist, or even highly skilled visas, there is an additional fear that insisting on reporting a hate crime, and flagging up the institutional resistance to these, may result in being penalised by immigration authorities who may refuse to extend work visas, or reject a future application for such a ‘troublemaker’.

Furthermore, increasingly I see similarities between suffering racist abuse/attacks and sexual violence as both engender a deep sense of shame in the victim. The humiliation, shame, and agony of being reduced to one’s biology and then attacked for it, is often overwhelming for many victims.

Many of us who didn’t grow up in the West have an intellectual knowledge of racism but no personal experience. It can take us years to even begin articulating that we may be victims, or to even accept it can happen to us, that all our education, hard work, achievements can be rendered meaningless by biology. Often it is easier to not report a racist hate attack, if only to maintain the semblance of a human self.

Experience of racism also comes with a sense of victim-blaming, even by the victims themselves. Since the attack, many non-white Britons have told us that ‘this is normal’, and that they accept it as a part of their lives. They tell us the ‘precautions’ they take, including living in minority dominated areas, curtailing quotidian activities, and most importantly, ‘not making a fuss’.

In the past week, we have been negotiating this minefield of emotional trauma and institutional resistance. We are fortunate that we have the social, emotional, and legal resources to help us speak up but there are many who can’t. And that knowledge is the worst part of our recent ordeal.

Sunny Singh is a novelist and academic. Her new novel, Hotel Arcadia, will be published by Arcadia Books in 2015

15 Responses to “Despite London’s multicultural image, racist attacks are still a reality”

  1. Dave Roberts

    Where abouts in North London, when, what happened afterwards? This is short on details.

  2. Sparky

    “The curt ‘ambulance or police’ initial response further threw me, and still makes me wonder how someone without requisite language skills or in a more vulnerable state would cope.”

    Exactly what were you expecting? I’m mystified. “Press 1 for Japanese, Press 2 for French, Press 3 for German, Press 4 for Urdu…” or “Hello, this is the emergency services. My name is Sarah. How may I best direct your call to send the most appropriate emergency service to your aid?” How would someone who didn’t speak English as a first language understand that any better? Really, please enlighten us what your ideal response should be.

    “The attack demonstrated to me that reporting a hate crime requires immense mental stamina and extensive cultural, emotional and linguistic skills.”

    When you say it require “immense linguistic skills”, do you mean its requires immense linguistic skills to understand the phrase, “ambulance or police” or to simply to start speaking English at all? Surely 2nd and 3rd generation non-white Britons speak English? A reasonable expectation, I would suggest.

    “At the same time, many who are visiting or have recently moved to the country may not be familiar with the processes of reporting.”

    That’s the case with every country in the world one visits. I would hardly expect the system to be the same in France as the UK. What point are you making? If you’re saying it’s more difficult for foreigners to report crimes in other countries, then yes, it is. But that’s the case with any crime. if I had my suitcase stolen in Paris, it would be more difficult for me to deal with the French police than if it happened in London. That’s nothing to do with whether it’s a ‘hate crime’ or not. Would I blame the French police for not speaking English? No. Would I complain about the telephone system because it was in French? No. Would I write an article with a subtext critical of the entire French emergency response system to non-French speakers? No, I wouldn’t. I’d learn to speak French.

  3. jester

    As a native English speaker I’ve found the 999 system to be overly curt, and abrupt to the point of actually making the situation worse. The 911 operators in the US do a much better job of being professional, getting the help mobilised and also keeping the caller calm and together.

    Also, many emergency situations involve multiple emergency services, so the initial question is not always easy to answer.

    I say this as a trained first responder.

  4. Mike B

    The attacker in this case began by insulting the writer because he was not speaking English. This comes after Nigel Farage has made his well publicised comments about being on a train and not hearing English spoken. What might this tell us? Firstly that an atmosphere of hate can be given a false legitimacy by supposedly mainstream politicians. So Farage and UKIP are not conventional Fascists, true but they give a cover to racist and bigoted ideas. The far right such as UKIP get an easy run in the media. Apart from a few honourable exceptions such as James O’Brien they are not challenged rigorously. We need to be as unswerving in rejecting ‘soft’ bigotry as the more hard type.

  5. Dave Roberts

    Sparky. I agree and you have encapsulated exactly what I have been thinking about this whole article. A google of the writer shows a great command of the English language and the whole thing is vague on details. I am waiting for answers to my questions below.

  6. Terence Sommer

    Don’t worry about it.

  7. Terence Sommer

    I am so sick of people complaining about ‘racism’. It means nothing. It goes in one ear and out the other.

  8. swatnan

    Its worrying. That ‘Racism’ is still as strong as it was in the 80’s according to a report out tioday, particularly amongst the white working class manuals and professionals.
    Its a coincidence that ‘911’ was mentioned, because 9/11 is the exact reason why racism is on the rise again, after falling in the 90’s. Until we tackle Islamofacism and people like Chowdray and Abu Hamza types head on, we are not going to see a decrease.

  9. Dave Roberts

    Having thought about this more and had a good look at the article I am more and more unhappy with the whole thing, it’s just not right.

    There is no explanation of were the alleged events took place except very vaguely “north” London. There is no time of the day or explanation of what the three people were doing there. The aggressor, who we have to assume was white and must have been sober because we aren’t told otherwise, seems to have, out of the blue, decided to abuse the writer and her two companions because they stood out as Asians in the area they were in. There are many other assumptions we could make but let us deal with these first.

    First of all where?The photo doesn’t help because it is a stock shot of the Notting Hill festival. Nowhere in London are Asians unusual.

    Neither are any one of dozens of nationalities that live in the capital. From her appearance Ms Singh could well be Spanish, Portugese or Italian. Possibly also one of the thousands of south Americans who have made London their home. Could it be that the incident occurred because she was speaking Hindi? Unless she and her fellow female companion were dressed in saris or salwar camise how could her abuser know what the language was that was being spoken?

    We come now to the number that was dialled to call the police. It is claimed that there was difficulty in initially contacting the police because she ” instinctively dialled 911 before remembering the correct number”. A google of Ms Singh does not reveal that she has lived in any of the countries which use those numbers for emergencies.
    Te most famous of course is the USA but also featured are Canada, Fiji, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay and Uruguay.

    Her own country uses 100 and Spain where her bio says she as lived for some time 112. Even the Catalan police Los Mossos de’l Squadra use 112. Why 911?

    The article continues with more statements which require explanations. ” The attack demonstrated to me that reporting a hate crime requires immense mental stamina and extensive cultural, emotional and linguistic skills”. Actually all it requires is a command of the English language and the right number but you can’t get high flown rhetoric out of that!

    She continues. ” Moreover, few second and third generation non white Britons report hate crimes, accepting that these will not be taken seriously”. No evidence is produced for this statement and that there is massive reporting of this type of offense. The 2004 British Crime Survey sowed 87000 ethnic minorities and 92000 white people reported these crimes ten years ago just as she did recently.

    Somehow this non reporting is then communicated to people that these generations have never met, listen to this. ” This adds to the informal knowledge base amongst recent arrivals that law enforcement bodies do not take racial hate crimes seriously”. How has this been communicated, telepathy?

    The whole article is littered with these contradictions, I could go on for an hour but I don’t have the time. There are a few points I will leave you on. Ms Singh’s CV claims that, amongst other things, she won a Spanish literary prize the Mar De Letras in 2003 for her book Nani’s Book of Suicides. The web site of the organisation has no record of either her or the book.

    At the beginning of the article after describing her and her friends run in with the racist on May 17th she says, ” Since then, hundreds have reached out to tell their own story, both of experiencing racist attacks in London as well as the difficulties of reporting them”. Who are these hundreds of people, how does she know of them, what is the source of her information on these attacks in just over a month?

    James Bloodworth. Your site is a valuable source of information and discussion but a simple look at the racial psycho babble of this article should have alerted you to the fact that there is more to this than meets the eye.

  10. otis

    there is still racism in the london and its sad but in general the uk is more tolerant than many countries especially india. i spent 6 months there mostly in west bengal but i travelled everywhere. the racism towards the people of the south east- sikimese/tribal states as well as the few african people i saw and even darker skinned indians was truly awful. please to pretend to be ignorant and think that being judged on your biology or skin toned is western phenomenon as its far far worse in india and if you’d like me to give you details on what i heard/saw let me know.

  11. globalcitizen2222

    Racism in UK is very similar to racism in India……if u are rich either in India or UK…u will never face any racism.,,,if u are poor and dark then in UK there is a lot of racism …in India it depends ….but with money in both countries u can and will be treated like god….in fact Uk is way more money obsessed than India. I just find UK including london a very sad, grim and ugly place to live,,,its a depressing country and only very desperate poor or very desperate rich want to live in UK now…most normal people would never live or visit UK….and in fact even most normal British cant wait to retire and leave the Uk for good,

  12. globalcitizen2222

    Ive read the entire detail of this person tweeting this incident …it happened when this group was walking late night after a dancing and drinking session at club kali…an asian gay club in tuffnell park. First of all walking late night anywhere in the world means inviting trouble – sorry but after some initial research it seems the author of this article is obsessed with racism in UK and might be exaggerating a bit…i am indian too and have faced racism too..but i dont walk around alone at nights in places where it could be racist. Uk is a bad country for many reasons…no culture…broken society…too much violence and crime…so obviously it is expected to be racist. My question to other Indians like Sunny Singh…if u are so bothered by racism then why live in Uk…why not leave it (like i did) and move to india or another country where u are better accepted? Fact is these indians dont want to move…but they want to sit and complain…it isnt easy for cultures to mix anywhere…and try going to the police in india for a similar issue!!!!

  13. Studentoflife

    Two wrong doesnt make it right globalcitizen2222. U have missed the point. Writer is just putting an observation.

  14. Max

    So your saying Brits are racist and are entitled to be so and if people that are born here or from another country, who poor and dark skinned should accept. You are pathetic excuse for a human being and bring shame on descent British folk that do nor going around attacking people due to their colour or creed. Being attacked by a racist thug is not being obssesed with racism. It is reality. Quite clear you are idiot.

  15. Max

    So what are u saying 1000’s of racist attacks in UK are made up because non whites are making it up due to being over sensitive. So you would have us believe in ur wharped sense of reality all individuals without CCTV footage and a pocket diary and independent witnesses is a liar and be accused of making up bogus articles. Yes we all know that no one is ever violently attacked or abused in the streets of the UK how could anyone ever suggest such a thing? Or is it you are one of them hence your denial.? Idiot !

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