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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

As a British-born Indian I know this is an incredibly complex and emotive topic. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s I’ve faced a fair amount of racism myself, direct and almost certainly some indirect. It got to the point where I would often ask my partner (who is white British) to contact holiday lettings as she seemed to have more success than I when I used my Asian name. Racism is also prevalent between ethnic groups. I don’t use my Indian (Hindu) name to order Indian takeways from the mainly Bangladeshi/Pakistani (Muslim)-owned Indian restaurants!

However, having different heritage or skin colour hasn’t stopped me from educating myself (to degree level) or having a half decent career and living in an affluent area (in stark contrast to where I was brought up on an estate in a fairly grotty part of London). Indians (Hindus), Chinese, Japanese, Jews generally, all seem to excel in education and professional careers. All have suffered racism – historically.

Those ethnic groups I mentioned above don’t seem to suffer as much racism as other groups such as Blacks and Asian Muslims. Why is that? Because for generations these groups have worked hard to change the home-grown public’s perception of them. Just look at the stats on education and salaries. None of that has been handed to us on a plate.

Is there something going on within other ethnic groups that seems to generate or strengthen feelings of racism in others? Is it a case that the behaviours of a significant minority within those ethnic groups are tarnishing the image of the overwhelming decent behaviours of the majority [of the ethnic group]? If that’s the case then there are two solutions:

1. the behaviours of the significant minority having a disruptive influence within their wider ethnic minority group need to be managed – only the ethnic minority group in question can resolve this
2. the groups who possess the racist feelings need to stop generalising and projecting the influence of a tiny minority to their perception of the wider ethnic group. Not all young Muslim men are terrorists or grooming-gang rapists and not all black men are gun-toting drug dealers.

As for ‘stop and search’ a significant amount of all crime is influenced along ethnic lines. The police need to use ethnicity as a factor when targeting a particular area. A white (middle-class) male friend of mine has lost count of the number of times he was stopped by police in the Wirral as a young man. That’s because in the Wirral young white males are the most likely to commit crime. That’s why they are targeted.

It would also be helpful if people outside ethnic groups stop thinking for us? The Guardianistas (and I say that as a Guardian reader!) think we are all offended by Christmas or Easter so introduce bans on references to them. Christmas is Christmas, it is not ‘Winter holidays’. We don’t think Usborne books portraying afro hair should be taken off the shelves in Tesco. Not every phrase featuring the word ‘black’ should be banned in case it causes offence. Not all Asians want to join the police or the armed forces or be an MP or judge – we’re quite happy being doctors, engineers, lawyers, retailers or IT professionals – so enough of your quotas. Employ us on talent.

All ethnic groups have one thing in common: being in a minority. However, not all ethnic minority groups seem to think racism is a significant enough hindrance to bettering themselves. We do not all play the victim card and I fear Black Lives Matter is only making things worse for all us ethnic groups.

A very well reasoned and thoughtful piece which touches many bases on its travels. I like the way you look at attitudes and reflect on perceptions, as causes, and wonder at some of these that are labelled racist and are probably not quite so clear cut. Those defending the minority cultures do sometimes look for examples to quote and those typecasting, from a different background, often describe traits that are not as common as they say they are. We are often left with a politically correct version of society which doesn’t match the reality. The prejudices do need to be rooted out as do those who besmirch the society they live in.

I strongly agree with Vynor’s comments and appreciate that you have offered points of view that most have not thought of and many would be reluctant to express.

While some racism is the product of totally irrational hatred, much of it is born of ignorance and insecurity which society should be able to redress. What I admit to not being able to work out yet is how much racism is innocent or unintentional – and possibly therefore excusable up to a point – and how much is deep, heartfelt abhorrence for which ingrained culture is responsible. Ultimately, all racism has to be regarded as intolerable whatever explanations are offered for it.

Although I could understand the sentiment behind it, on first reading I didn’t like the use of “infect” instead of “affect” in the title of this Conversation as it brought me up with a jolt – but I recognise that is what is needed to shake out some embedded negative attitudes.

Hi Fat Sam – I’m wondering if you used to post as ‘Fat Sam, Glos’ in the previous version of Which? Conversation. I do miss some of our early contributors.

You and others have done well for yourselves thanks to effort. Many NHS staff are not white British. My neighbours are Indian. He is a consultant and she was the one person who welcomed me when I moved to my present home.

Like John, I have uncertainties about racism, but I am unsure how we move on.

Hi @wavechange, yes, it is me, I happened across this Which? conversation in one of their regular emails.

Thanks all for the feedback. I hope I’ve helped open the door just a little to have proper debate on the subject without anybody being labelled PC-brigade or racist.

“you have offered points of view that most have not thought of and many would be reluctant to express.” The essence of a good debate. But I guess many are inhibited from expressing their views, if they would like to present information or question the intent or premise of the topic to develop the issue, when the integrity of the commenter is brought into question rather than discussing the comments they make. This was most apparent in the way thumbs were dispensed – from possibly dubious sources – at the beginning of this Convo.

Contrary views can easily be debated without denigrating the commenter and can only add to the value of a Convo.

To take the debate to a deeper level in order to explore some of the latent and underlying injustices associated with racism, we need to question the reasons why it endures at a collective, institutional and personal level.

Racism is connected to all other injustices that persist, despite recent advancements in health, wealth and education, it has its roots in an evolutionary process of consciousness that continues to expand the way we view the world in a more enlightened and holistic way.

For example, we have come a long way since the days of accepting slavery and other barbaric practices as part of our normal way of dealing with the laborious unpleasant tasks we face on a daily basis, partially due to the advancement in technology that has enabled us to focus on and think more about why the human race is so unequally divided and prejudiced when we are all descendants of the same ancestors, none of us more than 50 cousins related with the same genetics, genealogy and molecular anthropology, the DNA of the same people who left Africa some 70,000 years ago.

A fair comparison would be to say that we evolve collectively through stages, as we do from childlike innocence and vulnerability through to adolescence where self-interest predominates over altruism and finally to a stage of maturation and responsibility,

So in response to some of the questions raised by (I will refer to him as just Sam without the self-appointed adjective as this would immediately incite a reason to discriminate his physical appearance from the real considerate and thoughtful person that exists beneath the self-image he portrays.

I think there is still a long way to go before the evolutionary process continues along its relentless path to a world where the consciousness of its inhabitants has evolved sufficiently as to overcome the setbacks such as wars, greed, immature self-interest and discrimination that will inevitably impede and hinder the procedure.

Overcoming these obstacles is key to any advancement in solving the racial and the many injustices we see today. I hope that Sam will teach his offsprings the lessons of survival in the present divided world that perceives only the physical, the material and the form before the true unseen beauty that lies beneath the exterior human physical form, that bears no relation to the colour of the skin or the size and shape of the body.

Malcolm: the thumbs system was converted to registered users only on 27th May; this topic wasn’t started until two months later–28th July. So when you say

This was most apparent in the way thumbs were dispensed – from possibly dubious sources – at the beginning of this Convo.

then the thumbs, of which there were an extraordinary number, I grant you, must have been from logged–in users.

I am well aware of that.
It was interesting to see how many contributions came from a Which? staff in the early stages.

I can also confirm that some of the down thumbs were neutralised by other commenters so, because the marks are netted off, the real extent of the prejudice against some contributions was disguised. I asked for the thumbs to be disabled for this Conversation because they were inhibiting the exchange of views but my request was ignored. Not necessarily an act of discrimination but thoughtless nevertheless.

Hi Beryl, it’s ok ‘fat sam’ is a reference to my (now dearly departed) cat Sam, who was, by cat standards, obese. As far as I know the word ‘fat’ is still an acceptable adjective so I wouldn’t worry about causing offence 😉

I teach my (young) children that there is no place for irrational prejudice of any kind. Thankfully this is echoed by their school which puts these values at the heart of their teaching. But I will also be teaching them that the best way to fight prejudice is to rise above it and focus on their own achievements and let others worry about theirs.

Sam, I am sorry to learn of the passing of your beloved fat cat Sam and delighted to hear your children are responding well to the good advice coming from their school and yourself. Losing a family pet is very traumatic for everyone but it can help to teach children that everything dies eventually and that life is too short and precious to dwell on prejudice and preconceived ideas and opinions. I don’t know the colour of fat Sam but he was obviously very well fed and cherished before he passed on.

SamO. says:
11 October 2020

I’m a bit late to the party but I’m really happy to see an organisation like Which? address this issue head-on. As a reader for many years and a person whose mother also subscribed to your magazine, I have a long history with Which? and have always loved the idea of someone standing up to big powerful corporations on behalf of those without the platform to do so. As a black person though, I have always felt that there was a gap in terms of addressing issues of race as a consumer, which as the article highlights is almost always a significant factor for “people of colour”. So this is a meaningful moment for me. It’s really good to see honest and heartfelt and articles from your contributors and I hope to see this more in the future.