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Racism infects every part of our lives

Even simple things such as booking a holiday or applying for a credit card become much harder. Have you experienced racism as a consumer?

One unusually warm spring day last year, I took a day trip from my London home to a nearby seaside town.

As I walked from the station to the seafront, I noticed stares in my direction and made a mental note people like me often make. Was I the only brown person in town?

Later, I got talking to a local whose passion for her home town was as inviting as the sunshine beaming down on the beach. As a long list of recommendations kindly tripped off her tongue, one sentence, delivered with disarming ease, hit me.

‘Some people around here don’t like coloureds.’

There it was. Recognition that my mental note served a purpose.

Common occurrences

If you’ve never faced this sort of exchange, you may think it’s a one-off. I wish it were, but recent events have raised awareness of how common occurrences like this – and much worse – are.

Black Lives Matter has shown how institutional racism pervades every facet of Black people’s lives, including the opportunities available to us as consumers.

Booking holiday accommodation with a name like mine is rarely straightforward. I’ve stopped being surprised when my online requests are denied as friends with ‘English-sounding’ names are approved right away.

An uneasy feeling about revealing my British-Sudanese heritage has been well founded when applying for credit cards. The nationality stamped in my British passport is somehow not enough proof of citizenship.

Research shows I’m far from alone. A Harvard Business School study found people with ‘Black-sounding names’ less likely to have bookings confirmed by third-party hosts on Airbnb, a study at St Andrews University School of Management found Black people more likely to be denied loans.

Questioning how consumers are treated

Which? was set up in 1957 because our founders questioned the way consumers were treated.

That remains our driving force. But our campaigns, products and services must address everyone’s needs to reflect the diverse make-up and experiences of all of us in the UK.

We’re keen to hear your experiences: have you experienced racism as a consumer? Let us know in the comments.

If you’d rather discuss your experience privately, please do email yourstory@which.co.uk

Comments

Thanks for sharing your experiences Reya, although I’m shocked and saddened to read this. I think we can easily forget that just because some incidents can be subtle or non-confrontational (if that’s even the right language to describe the online examples), those everyday occurrences are really exhausting.

Until travelling with him, I didn’t believe my father-in-law would be stopped at immigration for travelling with what they deemed a ‘white family’ – or mistaken for a waiter at events due to his Anglo-Indian heritage. He is always humble and good natured about it, but I find it ridiculous.

I remember being in awe when you first joined Which? of your presentation style and natural flair on camera. I’m sure you have inspired many already, and will continue to, as such a positive and vocal role model.

Completely agree with you @charlotte-slayford, it’s sad that this is still the situation in our society in 2020. Over the past few months I’m been much more aware that living in the Cotswolds, rural England really isn’t very diverse and I’m worried that situations such as what @reyael-salahi has experienced will take longer to change.

Thank you @reyael-salahi for sharing your experiences as we all need to take action and talk more to help communities change. It’s something I blogged about recently to try and help encourage more conversations in the workplace as a way of trying to help others with ideas on talking more about those subjects we find uncomfortable. https://horizoncomms.co.uk/making-a-change-for-the-better/

I’ma bit uneasy about “racism” entering the Which? portfolio. Why? I am not sure but I doubt it will achieve anything that other more specialist organisations can do better.

I’m also uneasy about focused campaigns such as black lives matter, imported from the USA where attitudes seem very different, including the way the police are structured and behave. All lives matter, of whatever colour, religion, nationality or political persuasion.Such bandwagons, and retrospective inquisition on matters such as slavery, seem opportunist rather than constructive.

I was brought up in a city with a mixed population and went to university where diversity existed. I saw no widespread issues. No more than where I currently live.

There will always be people with prejudices. We have seen that in NI and Glasgow for example, where religious differences seem to be used to create conflict by a minority.

I think we must be very careful whenever we deal with this topic to do it in a constructive way, not one that simply ends up creating more tensions.

Which? are generally careful to keep politics and religion out of their Consumer work. Should they also steer clear of racism and leave that to other more knowledgable organisations?

Malcom, you are right that there are organisations that are better set up specifically to campaign about racism and I don’t think that is what Which? is planning to do. However, what these months of protest and learning have shown is that it is not just the huge and obvious injustices that we have to tackle, it is the everyday disadvantages that black people face that impact so heavily on their lives. As pointed out by Reya, there are numerous instances where the colour of your skin or the name you have can affect your experience as a consumer and that absolutely falls under the remit of ‘Making consumers as powerful as the organisations they deal with in their daily lives’.
Which? also has an obligation to represent all consumers, and the consumer issues that they face, so it is right that the issues faced by minority groups are considered as well. They may well be different from those faced by non-minority groups.
Of course all lives matter and no-one is arguing that they don’t, but, it is right that in this time of outcry the focus is on the issue at hand. If one house is on fire, the fire brigade turn up and put water on that house, they don’t say ‘all houses matter equally’ and spray water over the whole street. If one person is starving, you don’t deny them food because all people can get hungry, you feed them first before the person that’s had two meals already today. It isn’t denying that there are issues in other places, just that there is a particular issue here that really needs urgent attention now.
The BLM movement may have been sparked by protests in the USA, but that does not invalidate the problems faced, and genuine concerns raised, by black people and all minorities in the UK. There are clear and numerous examples of both overt and more subtle issues that black people in the UK face both with the police and wider society that are clearly similar enough to those issue in the US to make this a very valid movement.
Just because you haven‘t witnessed these things happening in your experience, doesn’t mean they are not happening when you aren’t there or are not looking.
We should absolutely be dealing with these things in a constructive way and building up consumer rights and experiences so that they are equal across all ethnicities is an entirely valid thing for Which? to be doing.

Robin Landman OBE says:
29 July 2020

Malcolm, I profoundly disagree with you. The reason you saw no “widespread issues” of racism is because you are White. Unlike you, as a Black male growing up in London i faced explicit racism, from other school children, from she assistants, from police. As a student doing a degree in Portsmouth, I faced the same from other students, some staff, and later doing a PGCE I was driven out of the student accommodation by racist members of the rugby club who would later go on to be teachers. My experiences were by no means exceptional. The reason Reya’s article is timely is because Which? has always approached Consumer interests from a White perspective. As the UK is no longer (if it’s her been) ethnically homogeneous, it is time that Which? recognises that fact and incorporates that factor into its investigations and reporting

I, too, sympathise Reya, but it is easy for me to do that as a white male living in the UK and never bothering about looks and derogatory comments. I like to think I am racially tolerant and treat people as people rather than as ethnically similar or different. I do, however, find myself being cautious when speaking to a coloured person simply because there is so much publicity around the subject of race and I am anxious not to make unwitting mistakes. This is partly because I don’t know many coloured people intimately and those in organisations I go to are not so much friends as fellow participants. This attitude is, for me, positive discrimination, and I dislike it because it shouldn’t be necessary.
I believe it is true that coloured people are more likely to be made uncomfortable because the predominant population is white, though, these days that has changed somewhat. When a boy in school a coloured gentleman came to our class and it was quite an experience for us to see him. Unfortunately there is a section of the population who actively dislike anyone who is markedly different from themselves. I don’t know whether this is a simple reaction or anything sensibly thought through, but It has to be accepted that these people exist and no amount of government legislation and public opinion will change them. They exist in other areas and attack anyone who they take a dislike to for any reason. This should not skew the general nature of most people in the UK to live and let live and help each other out.
While it is right to highlight the injustices that occur in any section of the population, I also believe that no one section should be made a special case because of who they are. That applies to me as much as anyone else. Sadly, if you are susceptible to and tuned in to the unfortunate comment you will usually find it now and then. How you react to that is a measure of how peaceably you can get on with life.

I totally agree with that Reya and I also fully accept that while there is injustice – more than just unpleasant comments – this is a matter of concern and shame for all of us. I don’t belittle the problem and certainly wish for the level playing field so that we can exist in harmony with one another on a equal footing.

Great column, Reya, and it’s appalling that this happens in the third decade of the 21st century. I’m so sorry you have experienced this, and so often.

It’s reminded me of being in Florida back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (2001) with my then-partner, who’s British Indian. We kept being stared at, and it took us a while to work out why, as back home in London, mixed couples are unremarkable and ordinary. It was grim for him and infuriating for both of us.

I’d like to think that nearly 20 years later things might be better, but apparently they’re not. That’s absolutely shameful. Thank you for writing this.

I hope the BLM moment is a watershed and the beginning of positive change. It’s way, way overdue.

Thanks to @reyael-salahi for sharing her story here. This also appears in the August issue of Which? Magazine.

It may seem somewhat unusual or unexpected that we’re addressing this subject head-on in a consumer forum. As @hrose notes in his intro to this in the magazine:

An investigation in 2017 by Consumer Reports (CR), our American counterpart, found that car insurers charged higher premiums in some postcodes predominantly populated by ethnic minorities, in a way that couldn’t be explained by risk data alone.

In 2019, CR reported that African Americans were more likely to have chronic pain symptoms dismissed by doctors. And this year, CR used its research to highlight the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Hispanic communities.

These are just three recent examples of CR journalism that has exposed some of the systemic racism and discrimination faced by US consumers.

And, following June’s global anti-racism protests, it has prompted some difficult questions about our own work. Because the truth is that we haven’t done enough to investigate and report on the racism faced by consumers on this side of the Atlantic.

Our consumer landscape – from retail and travel to health and finance – needs more scrutiny. On p9, my colleague Reya El-Salahi shares some of her experiences.

So we need to do better. Not with quick fixes or tokenism, but with a sustained commitment. And we must do more to be representative of UK consumers – by better reflecting diversity with the experts we use, the people we feature and the images we choose.

We want to hear about your experiences too. If you’ve faced racism as a consumer, please email yourstory@which.co.uk.

Thank you to those who have shared their stories in the comments so far. As always, please remember our Community Guidelines, and to be respectful of people’s views or experiences. You can also share your story more privately as both Harry and Reya have noted at yourstory@which.co.uk.

lee mason says:
5 August 2020

Respectful of peoples views unless YOU disagree with them. You are opening up a can of worms if WHICH are to become political

Again, this is not accurate. You’re welcome to disagree so as long as it remains a respectful and constructive conversation. There’s a lot to learn from others’ viewpoints and experiences, but learning does not happen if the conditions aren’t right. This is why we ask: if there is something you disagree with, criticise the argument, not the person making it.

We moderate comments on Which? Conversation not out of agreement or disagreement, but out of whether they adhere to our Community Guidelines and the Terms & Conditions of the site. When something does not meet what’s outlined therein we’ll take appropriate action.

Reya; I thought long and hard before entering this topic as I guessed that many would bring (perhaps unintended) baggage. But I believe this is exactly what the W? founders would have wanted: an open and honest discussion about racism and consumerism.

Being reared as a white male in an essentially black neighbourhood brought home the fact that most white males are essentially racist. Not necessarily by design but because of our upbringing and possibly our genetic race memory.

I was reared as a god-fearing, Christian family member, yet can remember distinctly how the non-white population was always referred to in condescending and often derogatory terms. It took me a long time to realise that racism might in fact be hard-baked into our mores. And especially, it seems, among those who should know better.

Okay; we can argue this is because of a primal, survival imperative, where we chose to kill those who appeared different. But I would hope we’ve moved beyond this. Sadly, as those who keep arguing that ‘all lives matter’ seem unable to realise, racism goes to the root of our reason and culture and it seems we haven’t.

It’s courageous to start this topic, Reya, and it’s only the start of an enormous uphill battle. But eventually, I believe that society will realise the value of all its members, and not simply those with a similar skin shade. Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.

I hesitated to bother to give my honest view in the first place because such sensitive topics arouse emotive responses.
@angus-farquhar ”Just because you haven‘t witnessed these things happening in your experience, doesn’t mean they are not happening when you aren’t there or are not looking.” is a misrepresentation of what I was trying to convey, or a misunderstanding, and precisely why this sort of discussion is so prone to misinterpretation or, worse, condemnation. That is a comment I should have expected that is inappropriate, I do not say racism does not exist; I see the news.

My concern is how Which? expect to change anything on their own. It seems to me there are other organisations more capable at investigating racism and trying to deal with it. IConsumers are all of us and are not exclusive to Which?

I disagree with the statement that most white males are essentially racist. I am not, nor are my boys.

Malcolm: racism is often very subtle and manifests in hundreds of different ways. If we assume language is a tool of thought, as Chomskey has argued, then looking at the large number of compound words starting with ‘black’ can be educative.

Just off the top of my head

blackguard
Blacklist
Blackmail
Blackballing
Black arts

In English we often assign ‘black’ as a prefix for actions seen as unpleasant or antisocial. Even in the comparatively enlightened world of the computer hacker, ‘Black hats’ ate the bad boys; ‘White hats’, the good. The symbolism of white as positive and black as negative is pervasive in our culture. “Good guys” wear white hats and ride white horses; “bad guys” wear black hats and ride black horses. Angels are white and devils are black. The definition of black includes “without any moral light or goodness; evil, wicked, indicating disgrace, sinful,” while that of white includes “morally pure, spotless, innocent, free from evil.”

Internationally, the generalized application of “tribal” in reference to Africans, as well as failure to acknowledge the religious, cultural and societal diversity of African people, is a decidedly racist dynamic. It is part of the process whereby Europeans and Americans justify, or avoid confronting their oppression of third world peoples. Africa has been particularly abused by this dynamic, as witness to the pervasive “darkest Africa” image. This image, widespread in Western culture, evokes an Africa covered by jungles and inhabited by “uncivilized,” “cannibalistic,” “pagan, “savage”peoples.

So we each grew up with stories, novels, films, TV shows and language which has played a major role in conditioning us to see ‘Black’ as a negative concept.

This use of language is extraordinary dangerous to a society; it acts on the subconscious as a filter to degrade and dehumanise those who appear different. Hence many refer to BLM protestors as ‘savage’ and ‘destructive’ and we start to see actions such as those of Trump, where Federal officers in unmarked vehicles appeared to forcefully seize protesters from the streets and detain them without justification. They have also fired tear gas and less-lethal munitions into crowds of demonstrators.

Evidence emerging today from Police in Portland confirms, however, that the Graffiti being daubed around the city was the work of a single white man and suspicion is growing that far right groups of white protestors are causing the violence in many US cities.

So as the white majority we may claim not to be racist in any way, but any good Psychologist will confirm that our upbringing cannot but fail to have an effect, albeit subconscious, perhaps.

It’s a little like any inherent issue: the first step is admitting there’s a problem. Then steps to fix it can be taken.

There is no doubt that racism is an issue, as there is with other forms of discrimination. It is not new. It has been admitted a long time ago. I want to find out the extent to which it affects consumers through business and services – both private and public.

I hope Which? will concentrate on consumer issues that might be detrimental to those of other races and leave outright racism to more appropriate organisations.

You might see “black” as a negative concept. I don’t. Racism involves a lot more than black people. We don’t want any whitewash ( tongue in cheek, Ian, just to avoid any misunderstanding 🙂 ).

As far as I can see looking at the origins of the words you list they do not have racist connotations. However I think this Convo should concentrate on looking at where discrimination based on race is taking place in consumer matters rather than debating whether we are all rascists (or not).

It’s not as simple as whether they have racist origins, Malcolm. The problem is that many terms which embody negative connotations are almost invariably associated with the word ‘black’. Put another way, how many reassuring, complimentary, warming terms have ‘black’ in them?

Is this all racist? I doubt it, because the human race was afraid of the dark for thousands of years before racism reared its ugly head. But as our language has developed, words such as ‘black’ and ‘dark’ have become synonymous with evil.

But it’s important all of us do consider what being racist truly involves. Otherwise how can we possibly deal with its corrosive and destructive effects on society?

There are more races than black, Ian. And there is white persecution and discrimination as well. However, my hope is that Which? focus on consumer detriment shown to be purely down to race. If I want a discussion about the concept of racism I’ll look elsewhere.

We soon learned to lighten the darkness. I hope this Convo might do the same. Meanwhile I’ll try to arrange, hopefully, a game of bowls with my good friend from Goa who, incidentally, was unanimously voted in as Lady President of our county bowls association.

If this is the aim of the Convo, why don’t we just let it get in with looking at where detriment occurs, its extent, and how we should deal with it?

Well, most non-white peoples tend to identify as Black in Western Europe, and I’m curious as to where you can find examples of “white persecution and discrimination” anywhere in the Western world and certainly not in Russia or the East, generally.

But the issue of racism is less to do with individual reactions to individuals and more to do with the cultural and systemic racism that blights the lives of so many.

As I’ve tried to show, Racism is surreptitious in the way it skews our perceptions. And obviously, you’re free to say it doesn’t affect you, and that’s your right. But there are numerous examples of racism in the UK and especially in our institutions. I’m both astonished but delighted that Which? has chosen to make this an issue, front and centre.

I’d rather concentrate on what Which? hopefully will do on this topic. But maybe you have forgotten Bosnia? For example. However, it is irrelevant to what I imagine is the aim of this Convo.

No; haven’t forgotten Bosnia. And you will notice I mentioned the way some Welsh speakers are regarded as an example of prejudice and bigotry, earlier.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to tour South Africa and I distinctly remember my stay in beautiful Pretoria.

After settling in my hotel room I decided to take a look outside the window and all I could see were crowds of black people happily going about their daily lives and not a white face in sight. For the first time in my life I was overcome with a feeling of apprehension and trepidation at being the odd one out in a predominantly Black Country. My fears were later unfounded by the wonderful polite and friendly reception I received by the staff there which carried on for the rest of the tour both in Durban and Cape Town. A holiday situation however, is a little different from permanent residency as I was just passing through at the time.

Immigrants whether they be black, brown or white will also bring with them a different culture, religion or creed that often needs to be nurtured and continued on arrival, which can initially prove a trifle alien and strange to the natives and can disrupt their habitual mode of tradition, expectations and longstanding practices which is more recognisable if your skin is a different colour and your mode of dress is wholly determined by your religious affiliation and beliefs and your accent is difficult to understand, all of which inhibits communication and ultimately understanding of the differences that can lead to racist intolerance and unacceptable behaviour. It is a natural reaction in all animal species throughout the globe.

Acceptance takes time, patience and understanding on both sides in order to come to terms with the differences. Unfortunately, immigrants will be the ones who will be faced with the most difficult task of relinquishing some of their inherent cultural practices, as it is they who have a moral duty to respect the laws and historic practices of the new country they are inhabiting passed down from their ancestral forebears, albeit some maybe
highly questionable and unsavoury.

My trip to South Africa, apart from a wonderful holiday, made me realise the importance of fitting in with and respecting the traditions of the local people and in turn it broadened my outlook on both the pros and cons of the way other countries live their lives.

Thank you for that very perceptive contribution to the Conversation, Beryl.

I have been trying to think of any examples of Which? magazine going out of its way to test or report on any products or services that are especially relevant to black and minority ethnic communities or particular religions. Most cultures have unique foodstuffs, make-up products, cooking vessels, clothing, medical conditions, travel needs or banking arrangements – not all of them in every case, of course – so I hope we can look forward to some of these important aspects coming under the spotlight in the foreseeable future – hopefully not in an opportunistic or tokenist manner.

I wonder whether the thumbs up and down could be turned off for this Conversation; I feel that the negative indicator is being used in a discriminatory manner against some contributors. We must respect other people’s right to their opinions and their right to express them. To keep this Conversation going in a balanced way we should remove the deterrence of a severe down-marking or the patronisation of excessive up-marking.

John, the thumbs issue is interesting. Out of 18 comments. 10 are from Which?, 5 from regulars so I wonder where the thumbs have come from? The current thumbs system has, in my view, generally worked well and I think should remain.
I do not doubt, as I said earlier, that a degree of racism is present in the UK, depending on what part of the country or city you look at. However ”racism infects every part of out lives” seems to me to be a gross generalisation, particularly when the word “infect” is chosen. The last thing we should do is to introduce language designed to inflame.
Jon mentions problems in the USA as a reason we should tackle it here. Fair enough, we can learn from others. But the attitudes I believe in parts of the USA are quite different, as they are in other parts of the world – India, China, (ex)Serbia for example – and should not be used to judge the UK’s position. He also introduces COVID-19 under the racism heading; have Which? reviewed the work going on examining genetics and the virus? It may be more to do with race than racism.
My concern, expressed at the start, was not that racism exists (as do other forms of discrimination) but where Which? are going with it. If they wish to examine the detriment directly suffered due to race in consumer matters than I expect them to take a better approach than just quoting perceptions and anecdotes. So publish the data you have that shows how, all other things being equal, race has been used to disadvantage people in insurance, holidays, loans, accommodation and other relevant issues. I will willingly support that approach and any action to stop that.

I am already in the doghouse (with pleasant company) so am quite willing to accept another tranche of thumbs.

Malcolm, You mentioned language multiple times in your post and how we should be careful of its use, but you have to acknowledge that the language you have used has undertones that you may not realise or intend.
“I do not doubt, as I said earlier, that a DEGREE of racism is present in the UK” implies that there might be a little bit but it is only small and isn’t an issue. This is patently untrue. You can talk to any BAME person in the UK and they will be able to recount numerous instances in their daily lives, from microagressions about their appearance or ‘suitability’ to full on overt racism.
You said that my previous post misrepresented what you said initially, but I think it is a fair interpretation given how you phrased it, and I am not the only person to have noticed that. By stating that you haven’t seen much racism, without any qualifying statements, it implies that you don’t think it exists in any quantifiable way, whether that is what you meant or not. As you say, language and the use of it are very important and we all need to be careful how we use it so that we don’t confuse the issue or (however unintentionally) miss-represent the facts or what we believe.
You also said “My concern is how Which? expect to change anything on their own.” And that is a valid point. Working alone, we would not achieve anything, but by adding our voice and perspective to the conversation alongside other organisations and people that work in their specialist areas, we will certainly be able to facilitate a lasting impact. Working alone we achieve nothing, but working together to form consensus we can be part of a bigger movement ensuring that all people are treated equally in all walks of life. This is just one element of that process that we are tackling at the moment.
Finally, you said that if we “wish to examine the detriment directly suffered due to race in consumer matters than I expect [you] to take a better approach than just quoting perceptions and anecdotes. So publish the data you have that shows how, all other things being equal, race has been used to disadvantage people in insurance, holidays, loans, accommodation and other relevant issues.”
Which? is an organisation renowned for its research and as such I don’t think it has ever been implied that we would base anything we do on ‘perceptions and anecdotes’. This is just the beginning of a process that should have been started a long time ago and you can rightly expect that we will carry it out with the same rigour, diligence and care as we would any of our other investigations and research projects. What we have stated so far is that we have failed to look at problems from the perspective of the BAME community. Going forwards we will start to look at how they might be affected in different ways to the rest of the population and whether there are specific consumer problems that only they face. If and when we uncover evidence of this then we will publish it, just as we have in the past when we uncovered bias towards women, older people, or disabled people. It is simply one more perspective to have that we have unfortunately failed to look at until now. The promise is that this will now change.

@angus-farquhar, I don’t wish to prolong this but do not want what I try to say misrepresented. I do think racism exists, as do other forms of discrimination. I did not say “there might be a little bit but it is only small and isn’t an issue” and if Which? wish to interpret my comment in that way they are wrong.

“Which? is an organisation renowned for its research and as such I don’t think it has ever been implied that we would base anything we do on ‘perceptions and anecdotes’.“. I was responding to the introduction to this Convo which is essentially anecdotal. I was simply suggesting that to have a meaningful discussion we need hard facts on which to base it. I hope that is what Which? will now do.

You did not acknowledge that I said “So publish the data you have that shows how, all other things being equal, race has been used to disadvantage people in insurance, holidays, loans, accommodation and other relevant issues. I will willingly support that approach and any action to stop that.

This type of discussion should surely avoid what can be seen as personal criticism, as the Convo guidelines require.
(“You can’t agree with everyone all of the time, but when you do disagree please be polite and speak to them as you’d like to be spoken to. Critique the argument being made, not the person making it.“). Views and opinions on both sides should be respected as contributing to a constructive discussion. That, I accept, can be difficult with a sensitive topic such as this.

Hi Malcolm, I again come back to your point that the use of language and how it is interpreted is key here. I never implied that you said these things, merely that the phrasing you used to express your opinions can be interpreted in a way that is different from what you intended and often this can lead to unfounded disagreements or, unfortunately, be used to reinforce ideas you don’t necessarily endorse.
As I said in my previous post, this is the start of a process and it must begin somewhere. Anecdote is how you first understand that there may be an issue, once there is enough of it then it become clear that there is a need for deeper, more rigourous investigation. That is the next step on the path we are on, but you can’t expect it to be the first, otherwise it wouldn’t be a conversation or a process. We have stated our intention and asked people to help us identify areas we need to look at. Once we know where to look, we can then start to investigate and ultimately do as you suggested and publish the data that will allow you to support what we are doing. We can’t do that without first asking people to help us identify the problems that need addressing.
I apologise if you feel that you have been personally targeted by my comments, but I think I have made every effort to identify your words and arguments and present my case against them. At no time have I mentioned you personally, only your words and the interpretation of them. As you say “Views and opinions on both sides should be respected as contributing to a constructive discussion” and I respect that completely so lets not take personal offence and keep this as a civil discussion.

Thank you @reyael-salahi for sharing your experiences in the magazine and again here. And thanks to @jon-stricklin-coutinho for posting my editor’s letter above, which I hope offers some useful context.

Just to briefly address the question about whether Which? magazine should cover racism and discrimination in consumer markets. For me, the primary purpose of our investigative work is to uncover consumer detriment in the markets that we cover. We have a fine heritage in doing so and our investigations have been central to the magazine, alongside our product testing, for decades.

Some of the detriment faced by consumers will, sadly, be discriminatory in nature. And we’ve done plenty of work over the years that has exposed discrimination. We’ve done numerous pieces about age discrimination, for example – in the car hire, travel insurance, car insurance and mortgage lending markets. To give another example, in 2006, we published an article about sexism faced by women when dealing with some garages and tradespeople. One of my favourite Which? covers, from 1975, depicts a north-south divide in health outcomes, with people in the north of England benefiting from fewer GPs, fewer hospital doctors and less spent on their healthcare. A form of systemic discrimination, you could argue.

As my editor’s letter acknowledges, we don’t have a similar track record on covering racist discrimination – and I think we need to do better.

Like others, I have been surprised and saddened to hear Reya’s examples of racism with holiday bookings and credit card applications. I think it is appropriate for Which? to include items such as these within its overall remit.

I think it follows that this Convo should be a good place to discuss how Which? might effectively act to eliminate these types of discrimination.

I doubt that this will be an easy task, so it is good to see the challenge being set out.

Racism is simply prejudice and bigotry against those who appear different. Over many years I have found it to be endemic in our society and the recent BLM issue has revealed it quite starkly.

The popular–white–response to the BLM protests has been to argue that the very slogan itself is flawed; it should read All lives matter, which of course they do, but that neatly misses the point of why the slogan first appeared.

In July 2013, the movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin 17 months earlier, in February 2012. And it’s tempting to believe this is essentially a USA problem. But there’s been a wealth of research in the UK that suggests a similar phenomenon exists here. Specific to juvenile arrest in the UK, evidence suggests that Black youths are up to 3 times more likely to be arrested than White youths (Huizinga et al., 2007).

In the US research at Harvard (Roland G. Fryer, Jr.) found that although black males aged 15-34 make up 2 percent of the population they comprise 15 percent of all deaths by Police action logged in 2015–five times the comparison number for whites. One in every sixty-five–or 1.5 percent–deaths of a black man in the US is a killing by police.

When the evidence is as glaringly obvious as that it becomes very apparent that something is seriously wrong. The BLM slogan was intended to create awareness of a major problem that was affecting the lives of the black community disproportionately.

Of course, this is nothing new; humanity mistrusts anything that appears slightly different. In Wales the Welsh are often singled out for a series of implausible reasons, but mainly for speaking Welsh.

We ought, as a species, to have evolved beyond stereotypes, beyond bigotry and beyond mindless condemnation. But as Reya shows it seems the human race still has a long way to go.

Phil says:
1 August 2020

Important to understand that BLMUK is a separate and distinct organisation to the American BLM. It was founded in 2016 and seems to be very secretive about it’s aims and leadership. It has no website which is surprising but on it’s “Just Giving” page it’s stated aims were to “Abolish imperialism, abolish capitalism and abolish the police” This was edited out but the “abolish the police” aim is still on the page, tucked away in a later paragraph.

Quite obvious that its intentions run further than fighting racism and some organisations have sought to distance themselves from the movement after statements it published were deemed to be anti-semitic. It’s also published a ‘hit list’ of statues it wants torn down, including Nelson and Gladstone, because the subjects had some association with slavery. As a black colleague told me this does nothing to fight 21st century racism and the inevitable backlash is making things worse.

Reya has given us examples of how racism can affect consumers, and that is obviously within the remit of Which?

I spent my working life within universities and was not aware of racism, though I saw examples of sexism. Neither seemed to affect the relationship between students and staff, and during the time I ran our student-staff committee not a single case of racism was reported. On the other hand, women staff in some fields struggled to progress in their careers.

I look forward to Which? becoming more inclusive in future. I am grateful that so much of the useful advice on the website is freely available to all and not just to those who can afford to pay a subscription.

If you were to ask a street full of people if they thought there was a racist problem in the U.K. most would probably say that there is. If you were to ask the same people whether they felt personally responsible for it, most would vehemently deny it. Therein lies the conundrum. Those who study such things, should, by now, have a clear set of statistics and analytical data to show where the problems lie and exactly what it is that is being done to those with other racial characteristics and by whom. There are two forms of action. An attempt to reform attitudes is one. Here one is talking to a population who, in the main, feel they have done nothing to be ashamed of and don’t need to be reformed. One is also addressing those who don’t give a damn and have their own agendas. These hard core elements are not going to be swayed by rhetoric.
The second approach is to target those areas that have known to be racially corrupt and home in on specific activities, trends and outcomes. Maybe, by process of elimination, these areas can be transformed. People may still have to put up with invective in the street and in the football stadia because there will always be a minority who think that way what ever you do.
Stand, once more in the street and look around. It is full of busy families and trades people going about their daily lives and trying to care and look after each other. It is full of life and the minutia of society interacting and living together. This is the picture of Britain I recognise and celebrate.

Rather than focussing only on ethnicity, we should remember that the Section 9(1) of the Equality Act 2010 defines race as including “colour, nationality, and ethnic or national origins“.

The UK has far too much prejudice towards foreigners, even white Christian Europeans, let alone those of another ethnicity or religion. Fortunately I live in London, where this is rarely the case, but there is blatant prejudice in other parts of the UK.

Racist consumers don’t like being served by foreigners, particularly in the hospitality industry, even though these foreigners often give better service than Brits. This racism was a clear motivation for 37.44% of the UK electorate to have voted for Brexit in 2006. It can also work the other way, whereby British service providers and employers treat UK-resident foreigners less favourably because of their nationality or different native language.

There seems rather too much emphasis on language and not enough on communication in the above exchanges. They are not the same.

Language is a system of communication that relies on verbal or non-verbal codes to transfer information.

Communication is a way of interchanging messages or information between two or more people, focusing on the message and things like empathy, body language, facial expressions and intonation..

Businesses thrive through communication regardless of the shared language which they use to target audiences, and discrimination in business is not confined to race alone. I don’t think The Chancellor of the Exchequer The Right Honourable Rishi Sunak MP, would experience any discriminatory problems in his negotiations with the financial and banking fraternity, and neither would Boris Johnson, whose surname was borrowed (changed) to his maternal great grandmothers maiden name who was married to his Turkish great grandfather Ali Kemel.

It’s undeniably true there exists a problem with class discrimination as well as race in this country which has its historic roots in status, wealth, education and background. Universities teach ideologies to students where seeds are sewn capable of producing highly intelligent individuals capable of using language that misinterprets the facts in order to gain monitory wealth or to prove their point.

What cannot be taught in universities is empathy, compassion and wisdom, which is earned through maturity and experience and the ability to recognise everyone, irrespective of the colour of their skin has their own story to tell. The experience to acknowledge and accept the differences between each unique individual human being and the reason they are the way they are, largely depending upon the place and circumstances of their origins, their ancestry, their environment and the colour of their skin.

I’ve just restored a thumb on your post about your South African holiday, Beryl. What I suspect we will start seeing is a a lot of thumbs being changed as those with strong views start to learn about this topic.

Thanks Ian. I acknowledge this is a sensitive subject and some would prefer it to quietly fade away into insignificance, but that is also the fundamental problem with the thumbs system. When communication is thwarted nothing gets solved and a new topic will come along that takes precedence over the previous one only to reappear again months or years later.

Paul says:
1 August 2020

I wonder whether a female white person would have experience hostility or unwanted advances if she were to walk around an Arab city? In fact I know she would and even here in areas with large non white population theres plenty of unwanted attention from men

Phil says:
1 August 2020

There was a video doing the rounds a few years ago of a white woman walking through New York which showed just that.

Phil says:
1 August 2020

Racism occurs in many forms between many races and cultures, and even within some of them, depending on tribal, caste or geographical circumstances. it will be a long struggle to eliminate it universally. The BLM cause in the UK is currently targeting institutional racism which is seen as the most intolerable form. I suspect that absolute perfection is impossible but every step in the right direction is valuable.

Gotta love some whataboutery. What’s this got to do with UK consumers, Paul?

lee mason says:
5 August 2020

i see my post got took down because i said “the UK is not a racist country” Let us talk about black on black gang violence, muslim grooming gangs of white girls, slavery in the north{textile industry} ect. DISCUSS

Unfortunately this is not the case Lee. We’ve moved your earlier comment into moderation as, in the other part of your comment (the text of which you didn’t include here), it read as though you were directly attacking the author of this piece with the intention of provoking an emotional response. We specifically ask community members not to troll or flamebait in the Community Guidelines, which you have agreed to before posting your comment.