Tower Fire, White Terrorist Attack Bring Worldwide Attention to Britain’s Deeply Ingrained Racism Problem

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Grenfell Tower, London (Wikipedia

As is the case in the United States, racism is a core element of the United Kingdom. Two recent tragedies in the European nation, the deadly burning of a West London apartment building and a white terrorist attack on a mosque, are only two examples of a longstanding and ongoing crisis. England is in a state of denial.

An estimated 79 people are dead as a result of a devastating fire in the 24-story, 120-flat Grenfell Tower apartment building, as NPR reported. Dozens of people had been reported missing since the fire, which took place in the early-morning hours Wednesday, June 14, when many people were asleep. According to records, the building was re-clad with siding containing “a polyethylene core,” rather than more fire-resistant mineral core.  News Corp Australia wrote that two British ministers revealed the cladding used may have been banned under UK law. Following the £10.3 million ($13 million) renovation of the high-rise building, two-bedroom apartments rent for £2,000 ($2,525), as Express reported.

Many residents and others believe the inferno would not have been allowed to happen to a residence that housed wealthy whites. There would have been more care and precaution taken in building construction materials as well as state of the art fire prevention installations built within the infrastructure. The irony of what saved many residents of the Grenfell Tower fire was their Muslim faith. Many Muslims were awake because of the fast for Ramadan, staying up for Suhur, the meal before daylight fasting. The fire alarms in the building meant to notify residents of an emergency situation within the building, were not working. It was the quick action Muslim boys that saved many lives by knocking on neighbors’ doors and helping with the evacuation efforts, as HuffPost UK reported.

Those killed were poor and Black or minority ethnic people who lived in the poorly maintained building. The complex was part affordable low-income housing and part private housing. For years, tenants had complained that management of the tower failed to listen to tenant concerns and cut corners regarding safety. This year, the ruling Conservative Party, 39 percent of whose members are landlords, rejected legislation that would have required landlords to provide livable housing.

The inferno has become a political disaster for Prime Minister Theresa May, who has suffered from low popularity and whose Tories (Great Britain’s mainstream conservative party) lost seats in parliament in the most recent election, as negotiations for Britain’s departure from the European Union, or Brexit, begin. May was accused to failing to show humanity when she refused to meet with the victims of the Grenfell fire, according to The Telegraph. The British prime minister also faced criticism for failing to call out Trump for his Twitter attacks on London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the city’s first Muslim mayor.

This comes soon after as a white man, Darren Osborne, 47, from Wales, is being held by authorities on suspicion of terrorism. Osborne is suspected of plowing down a group of men leaving Ramadan prayers outside a Finsbury Park mosque. Osborne reportedly rammed his van into worshipers before saying, “I’m going to kill all Muslims. I did my bit.” Ten were wounded and one person died at the scene. Osborne’s family claims he is “troubled” but not a terrorist or a racist. News reports described him as a father of four who was born in Singapore, but not as a terrorist.

Britain is a racist country, and the June 2016 Brexit vote to leave the EU is a case in point. The Brexit vote bore many similarities to the subsequent victory of Trump in the U.S., as supporters of both were motivated by white nationalism, xenophobia and racism. Hate crimes rose 58 percent in the week following the vote, as the National Police Chief’s Council reported. After the Brexit referendum, hate crimes rose from 10,793 incidents in the third quarter of 2015 to 14,295 in the third quarter of 2016, according to a report from the Press Association. In the days leading up to Brexit, Labor MP Jo Cox, a supporter of the EU and immigration, was shot and stabbed to death by Tommy Mair, 52, who shouted “Britain First” and had ties to far-right groups in the U.S. and apartheid South Africa. According to Newsweek, Mair bought books from U.S.-based neo-Nazi group the National Alliance, including a book on how to make a homemade pistol.

Racism in Britain extends to discrimination against Black people by way of police abuse and unfair treatment in the criminal justice system that is similar to the United States. Poverty levels for racial minorities in Britain is twice as much as whites. Britain’s history of being a leading colonial empire has shaped its racist attitudes toward Black and Brown people for decades, despite its “cultural air” of being above racialized politics. Peter Herbert, a crown court judge and one of the few Black judges in the entire nation, says “casual discrimination” pervades the legal system, which he says is racist and should not be trusted by ethnic minorities.

“There are fewer overt racial remarks, but the systematic casual discrimination in criminal justice and every other jurisdiction persists,” Herbert told The Independent. “The High Court judiciary are particularly isolated from the real world of diverse modern Britain.”

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