Here, Tamara Muhammad, barrister at One Pump Court, discusses her insight into the law and the unique psychological impact of racism on ethnic minorities
Although the analysis of racism appears in terms of a comparison between the black and ethnic minority communities and white communities, we must accept that modern laws and the psychological impacts of racism are unique to the experience of Black, Asian and People of Minority Ethnic (BAME) origin.
How is the law impacting black people?
If we look at how law and policy affects black people detrimentally in the UK(1), the Windrush scandal represents an all-time low. The complete lack of regard for a generation of people who, for the most part, came to the UK to rebuild the country after the second world war was devastating and has had a huge impact on the community. Having worked and lived in this country, settled their families and retired – believing themselves to have contributed wholeheartedly to their country – their sense of belonging and legal entitlement to reside and remain in this country was cruelly stripped away by an act of bureaucracy.
To add insult to injury, many have been removed from the country and died whilst they were in countries of UK government-imposed exile. For some it may be impossible to overcome legally. For many, it will be impossible to overcome psychologically and emotionally.
Many people who are descendants of ‘immigrants’ are familiar with the anomalies that come with citizenship, but until recently most considered their citizenship untouchable or secure. One of the greatest and most tragic impacts that the Windrush scandal has had upon the Black-African Caribbean Community in the UK is the sense that their Britishness is not legally secure.
their Britishness is not legally secure.
There is currently a sense that there may be a condition precedent to the title ‘British’ for the Black African Caribbean Community as a result of the scandal, or that the idea of a ‘Good Immigrant’ could be expanded to people born UK citizens with some loose affiliation to the commonwealth country of their ancestors. This is a dangerous line, and the Shamima Begum is a good example of why: it exposes a real problem with how modern laws can be interpreted by the UK government without proper regard for human rights and civil liberties.(2)
Shamima Begum is a good example of why
There has been an unfortunate trend over the years to undermine human rights and civil liberties in an effort to take a ‘hard line’ on immigration(3), crime or terrorism. The trend is unfortunate because the effect often is far more detrimental for one community than it is the other. You only have to look at the hostile environment regime rent check legal challenge, which found that people without British passports were more likely to face discrimination when seeking to rent, to see this discrimination in action.
What is the impact on mental health?
If we look at the impact of racism on the mental health of black people, it is important to not just look at the diagnosis of mental -ill health, but at the systems and laws that created a pattern of behaviour which caused them in the first place: educational disadvantage and diminishing resources for young people of BAME backgrounds have an affect on mental health and social care.
When opportunities are diminished and society does not recognize the unique experience of people of BAME backgrounds, laws appear to extend the injustice instead of addressing inequality.
diminishing resources for young people of BAME backgrounds has an affect on mental health
Statistically speaking, the rates of prosecution and sentencing for black people were three times higher than for white people. Additionally, there is a significant and disproportionate number of ethnic minorities detained under the Mental Health Act in hospitals in England and Wales, and African-Caribbean people are more likely to enter the mental health services via the Court or Police rather than primary care which is the main route to treatment for most people. They are also more likely to be treated under the Mental Health Act, and more likely to receive medication, rather than be offered talking treatments such as psychotherapy, and are over-represented in high and medium secure units.(4)
Black people and minority ethnic groups living in the UK are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems, more likely to be admitted to hospital and more likely to experience a poor outcome from treatment. They are also more likely to disengage from mainstream mental health services, leading to social exclusion and further deterioration of mental health.(5)
What should be done now?
In inner-city communities where resources have been shifted away from schools and youth clubs, the social impact of law and policy is clearly visible, in the lack of choices people from certain communities have – and there is a direct correlation between reduced funding for youth services in some predominantly black communities and a rise in anti-social behaviour. The negative psychological impact of the ‘gang matrix database’, which was considered to have been racially discriminatory by the Mayor of London and Amnesty International, is hardly surprising.
The negative psychological impact of the ‘gang matrix database’ […] is hardly surprising
Black and Ethnic Minority Groups represent 26% of the prison population in England and Wales and 9% of the general population, and the modern laws and the psychological impacts of racism on mental health and social care are clear. ‘Looking at the direct experience of Black and Ethnic Minority communities of the criminal justice system [Race on the Agenda – Race and Justice Campaign Report](6) found that Black and Ethnic Minority people were more likely to be prosecuted, less likely to be cautioned, less likely to get bail, and more likely to serve longer prison sentences for similar offences.’
There is no shortage of research to support the view that there is a strong correlation between the application and interpretation of law and the experience of racism.
There is however a need to honestly and openly discuss the direct experience of people from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds in order to affect a true and lasting change.
1.) Perspectives on the Windrush generation scandal: A response from David Lammy MP – British Library October 4th 2018
2.)JCWI – Hostile Environment regime – legal challenge – to the Governments “hostile environment policy” aimed at reducing the number of illegal immigrants in the UK, introduced under the immigration act 2014.
3.)Right to rent checks breach human rights – High Court – BBC News 1st March 2019
6.)Race on the Agenda (November 2008) Less Equal than others the Race for Justice Campaign
One Pump Court, London
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