Racism ‘large part’ of why we left, says Duke

Pay gap: people of colour in the UK earn much less than White people on average

Is Britain a racist country? As Harry and Meghan talk openly about the prejudice they faced in the UK, many say it is time to take a good, hard look at the country’s relationship with race.

Meghan Markle’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, broadcast in the UK only last night, was full of stunning revelations. For many, the most shocking was Meghan’s claim that an unnamed member of the royal family expressed “concerns” over the colour of her unborn baby's skin.

Yet for many people of colour in Britain, this was not at all surprising. For them, Meghan’s interview, coupled with Harry’s claim that racism was a major reason for leaving the UK, is just the latest proof that Britain is fundamentally a racist country.

Some are sceptical of this idea. They say British attitudes have become less racist in recent decades, with Britons now less likely than ever to endorse racist statements. They argue that with the most diverse Cabinet in its history, the UK has demonstrated that people of colour can rise to the very top of British politics.

But critics argue that, even if individual attitudes have become less racist, institutional racism is still rife. They argue it is embedded in education, healthcare and the jobs market, reducing the opportunities for people of colour throughout their lives.

This begins at birth: people of colour are more likely to be born into poverty than White people. In 2019, 46% of Black households lived in poverty, compared with just 20% of White households.

It continues at school, where Black Caribbean students are 3.5 times more likely to be excluded than all other children. In a survey, 49% of young Black people said that racism – especially among their teachers – was the single biggest burden on their academic attainment.

Racism holds back people of colour in the world of work. More than half of Black people say that racist prejudice is the main barrier to getting a job. Many report that simply having a non-White name on their CV is enough to keep some employers from hiring them.

And people of colour are more likely to suffer from poor healthcare than White people. Black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than White women. Now, people of colour are affected disproportionately by Covid-19.

Many feel that the UK's overwhelmingly White media perpetuate racism by stirring up racial hatred and minimising the impacts of racism. Some will have sympathised with Harry's claim, in the same interview with Oprah, that “bigoted” UK newspapers have created an atmosphere of “control and fear”.

What is more, overt racism has not been stamped out in the UK. Some 95% of Black British students report that they have faced racist abuse at school. Racist hate crimes are on the rise, from under 40,000 in 2013 to more than 105,000 in 2020.

While Britons often treat police racism as an American issue, it has been a problem in the UK for decades. Today, Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people.

Is Britain a racist country?

A house divided

Yes, say some. Meghan’s experience has exposed an ugly undercurrent in British society. Black and Asian people still face racist abuse every day, and they are often mistreated by the police. Their lives are shaped by institutional racism, which holds back their academic careers, shuts them out of the jobs market and makes them more likely to die of preventable diseases.

Not at all, say others. There are evidently still problems in parts of British society, but the vast majority of people no longer express racist attitudes, and people of colour have risen to some of the most important positions in our society. Instead of dismissing the whole of the UK as racist, we should identify where racism still exists and unite against it.

You Decide

  1. Is positive discrimination (such as allocating a certain number of jobs for ethnic minorities) the best way to tackle inequality?
  2. Is it helpful to talk about one country being “more racist” than another? Or should we think about how racism differs from place to place?


  1. With a partner, discuss your experiences of racism. Have you seen it in your school? In your town? In the news? Report your findings to the rest of the class and compare experiences.
  2. Draw a timeline of a person’s life, marking down the major events: starting school, starting university, getting their first job, getting married. Then note down the ways institutional racism could affect them throughout their life.

Some People Say...

“What I realized the moment I got to Oxford was that someone like me could not really be part of it. I mean, I could make a success there, but I would never feel it was my place.”

Stuart Hall (1932 – 2014), Jamaican-British cultural theorist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Some organisations are working to overcome institutional racism. Social enterprise Creative Access helps people from BAME and other disadvantaged backgrounds to find jobs and internships in media and journalism. The Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG) is a charity that runs training programmes and apprenticeships for young BAME people so they can secure jobs that they would otherwise be shut out of. And many schools and universities now run BAME mentorship schemes, so that their BAME students have designated people of their own background with whom they can share their problems and ask for advice.
What do we not know?
There is some debate over how far Britain’s ancient institutions are welcoming places for people of colour. Some point out that institutions like the House of Commons and British universities are becoming more and more diverse. However, others argue that discrimination still exists in these places. For example, only 0.5% of historians working in the UK are Black, and the country’s first ever female Black professor of history, Olivette Otele, was only appointed in 2018.

Word Watch

The Cabinet is the name given to all of the UK’s most senior ministers. It is the government’s main decision-making body. Just under one-fifth of the current Cabinet is made up of people of colour.
Institutional racism
Racism that is so embedded in a society, it has become part of everyday life. It can generally be identified by the lower incomes and educational and health outcomes of ethnic minority communities.
Poverty can be measured in two ways, absolute and relative. Most poverty in the UK is relative poverty, meaning that a person’s income is 54% or less than the average.
Black Caribbean
The Black community in the UK is very diverse, with members from various African countries as well as former British colonies in the Caribbean.
A document summarising all of a person’s qualifications, usually requested as part of an application for a job.
Out of proportion when compared to something else. In the UK, Black men are 4.2% more likely to die from Covid-19, and Black women 4.3% more likely.
Hate crimes
A crime motivated by prejudice against another group. Hate crimes might include anything from damage to property, to targeted harassment, to physical assault.
Police racism
In the last year, a spotlight has been put on US police forces after several high-profile killings of Black people by police officers. However, UK police have also been accused of institutional racism, most notably in the milestone MacPherson Report of 1999.
Stopped and searched
In England and Wales, police officers are entitled to search through the clothes and belongings of anyone they suspect of carrying illegal substances or weapons. These powers have been disproportionately used against Black people.

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